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DVD Released: 12/18/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/15/2007
For years, Hollywood has been obsessed with remaking or "reimagining" any old idea that they can. (How ironic that producers were recycling old ideas before there was a writers strike.) The thought behind this is that audiences are dumb enough to see something if they any familiarity with the concept or character. Some of these projects have been no-brainers, but others are quite odd. Take Underdog for example. It doesn't seem all that unusual to bring back this character who has taken on a cult status, but instead of updating the animation, Disney has brought us a live-action version of Underdog. Will this dog have his day?
As Underdog opens, a beagle is captured by Cad (Patrick Warburton) and taken to the lab of Dr. Simon Bar Sinister (Peter Dinklage). This mad scientist is conducting experiments in which he combines the hormones of other animals with dogs. (I'm not sure if we're told what he's trying to accomplish with these experiments.) The beagle gets loose in the lab and all of the vials fall on him. He then escapes and runs into the street, where he's hit by a car driven by Dan Unger (Jim Belushi), but the dog escapes without a scratch. Dan takes the dog home and gives it to his teenaged son, Jack (Alex Neuberger). The dog likes to lick Dan's shoes, so he names is "Shoeshine". Being a moody teen, Jack has no interest in the dog, until he realizes that it can talk. Shoeshine (now voiced by Jason Lee) and Jack soon discover that the dog also has super-strength, super-speed, and that he can fly. After Shoeshine rescues Jack's friend Molly (Taylor Momsen) from a mugger, Jack decides that the dog should be a superhero and thus names his Underdog. Wearing a red sweater and a blue cape, Underdog flies around the city fighting crime. While Underdog is winning accolades from the Mayor, Simon Bar Sinister, realizing who the dog is, is plotting his revenge.
While researching this review, I learned that the original Underdog show aired as part of a package with another animated classic, Tennessee Tuxedo. Well, my local station must have only gotten about 2/3 of this package, because I remember seeing a lot more Tennessee Tuxedo than Underdog. But, I still feel that I know enough about the show to know that the trailers for Underdog made the film look like a total mess which completely missed the point of the cartoon. Well, that assumption was true...sort of.
This Underdog lifts the names of characters and some plot points from the original show, but it is an animal unto itself. Those who come here looking for subversive humor or nostalgia will most likely disappointed, as the movie is basically a straight-forward family film. But, that shouldn't be taken as a negative comment and I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie.
When critiquing most movies, I typically focus on what the movies do wrong, but for Underdog, I want to explore the three things that the most gets right. First of all, the movie uses a cute dog. The beagle used here (I'm sure that it was more than one beagle for some scenes) is sure to get an "Awwww" from most viewers, and it has very expressive eyes. A cute dog never hurts a movie. Secondly, the casting of Jason Lee works very well. It's odd to think that the man who started his film career spewing expletives in Mallrats and Chasing Amy is now doing family films, but his voice gives the dog a great deal of personality. (Although, the voiceovers made me feel like I was watchingMy Name is Earl.) Thirdly, and this may be the most important, the plot of the film is kept very simple. So many movies based on older properties assume that we are so familiar with the characters and concepts that we are ready to swallow a complex story. But, Underdog doesn't go this route as we have a fairly straight-forward story focusing on Shoeshine exploring his powers and then stopping Simon Bar Sinister.
Being a parent, I've sat through some God-awful "family films" and in that sense, Underdog is a pretty good movie. It's not life-changing or a movie classic, but aside from the assets listed above, it make me laugh, and I honestly wanted to see how it ended. As far as being a family film, there are some questionable references and I really could have done without the scar on Simon Bar Sinister's head. Otherwise, this is good fun and who doesn't like to see a flying dog?
Underdog flies onto DVD courtesy of Disney DVD. The DVD carries both the full-frame and widescreen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is a solid transfer, as the image is sharp and clear. The picture shows essentially no grain and there are no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, most notably the reds and blues. Overall, the image does lack in great detail and there was some mild video noise in some shots, but otherwise this is a nice DVD transfer. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Historically, family films haven't provided the best audio effects, especially bass response. But, this track has some nice subwoofer action, most notably the way in which Underdog constantly breaks the sound barrier. The action scenes provide some nice surround sound effects.
The Underdog DVD only contains a few extra features. We start with three DELETED SCENES, which can be viewed with introductions by director Frederik Du Chau, and run about 3 minutes. Two are simply throw-away scenes, the first time that Jack meets Molly is interesting. There is a 90-second BLOOPER reel, which includes behind-the-scenes footage of Lee and Adams doing their lines. "Sit. Stay. Act: Diary of a Dog Actor" (6 minutes) is a making-of hosted by "Underdog" (again voiced by Jason Lee). It examines the animated history of Underdog, the training of the dogs, and the special effects. There is also a branching feature here will allows the viewer to learn more about each of these topics. There is a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Underdog Raps" performed by Kyle Massey. Finally, the DVD includes an episode from the original Underdog cartoon entitled "Safe Waif" (5 minutes).
Disney has also brought Underdog to Blu-ray Disc. The Blu-ray features an 1080p HD AVC transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. This is a very good transfer, but it doesn't have that dazzling clarity which comes with some Blu-rays. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The film's finale takes place in front of an all-white building with stone steps, and these shots don't show any grain or the kind of video noise which one would encounter on a DVD transfer. The colors are good, most notably Underdog's costume. The Disc has a Linear PCM 5.1 Uncompressed audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As with the video, the audio is good, but not outstanding. There is more detail in the front channels than the DVD audio track, especially during crowd scenes, but there's no significant improvement in the surround or subwoofer tracks. The extra features on the Underdog Blu-ray Disc are identical to those found on the DVD, save for two differences. There are two additional DELETED SCENES here. I'm not sure why these weren't included on the DVD, although one could be upsetting to some youngsters. The Blu-ray also contains an additional original Underdog short entitled "Simon Says".
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long