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Have we run out of superheroes to bring to the big screen?
A Scene from "Underdog".
OPENING WEEKEND: $25,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $81,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

February 22nd, 2007: A laboratory accident gives an ordinary beagle named Shoeshine Boy (voiced by Jason Lee) unparalleled superpowers, including the ability to speak with a human voice. He is soon befriended and adopted by a lonely 12-year-old boy named Jack (Alex Neuberger). The two develop an even greater bond when the boy learns of the dog’s incredible powers and secret identity as the crime-fighting pooch named Underdog. Dressed in his very own superhero outfit, Underdog flies over Capitol City, protecting it citizens from unforeseen tragedies and keeping a close eye in particular on a beautiful spaniel named “Sweet” Polly Purebred (voiced by Amy Adams). When the dastardly, mad scientist named Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage) and his overgrown henchman Cad (Patrick Warburton) threaten to destroy the city, Underdog, truly “men’s best friend,” may be the citizens’ only hope.

What to Expect: Underdog continues Hollywood’s obsession with resurrecting old, popular, forgotten, cult, and sometimes even obscure television series of the past. In the last decade, it has become the norm to adapt ancient franchises that once could have never been conceived or even considered as feature length films. Most of the time, the idea appears to be that simply by making the adaptation and slapping that familiar title on it, it will drive audiences to the theaters. In this case, the title Underdog and the image of a flying pooch in costume is all the filmmakers need to make some easy cash with the live-action adaptation.

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For those who have forgotten the original show or are simply unfamiliar with it, the “Underdog” cartoon followed a dog named Shoeshine Boy, who worked as a mild-mannered shoeshine boy, but became the heroic and all-powerful Underdog, with a knack for rhyming couplets, whenever he swallowed a special pill. The vast majority of the episodes revolved around Underdog taking on the nefarious Simon Bar-Sinister to prevent another one of his destructive plots from being carried out. Of course, TV reporter Sweet Polly Purebred, the cartoon’s version of a Lois Lane and Underdog’s love interest, would usually find herself in captivity with Underdog being her only hope. The cartoon, which ran for 10 years from 1964 to 1973, was intended for kids, but was enough of a parody for adults to enjoy.

Frederik Du Chau, director of the mediocre live-action family flick Racing Stripes, which also features an animal behaving out of character, has been chosen to helm the project. In case no one remembers, Racing Stripes follows a talking Zebra that believes that it is a racehorse. Given that film’s premise, its live-action approach, and ultimately, the unspectacular execution, Du Chau is a fitting, albeit unremarkable choice for Underdog. He has promised that his intention is to make a movie for adults that grew up with the show, but I doubt that he is going to get that chance. That sort of comment appears designed to drive the baby-boomer audiences into theaters to see a movie that appears much more appropriate for younger viewers. There is nothing wrong with that, but I expect that older moviegoers are going to walk away disappointed. Du Chau has been working from a script credited to Joe Piscatella, Craig A. Williams, and Adam Rifkin. While Piscatella and Williams have little prior experience, Rifkin has written screenplays for lousy family films like Small Soldiers and Mousehunt in the past. His most recent script was for last year’s nightmarish critical and commercial disaster Zoom, which starred Tim Allen. Needless to say, this combination of director and writers leaves a lot to be desired.

There is, however, some promise in the casting choices that the filmmakers have made. Jason Lee (Vanilla Sky, Dogma, “My Name is Earl”) is an excellent choice to voice the heroic pooch. The actor has done voice work for animated flicks like Monster House and The Incredibles in the past and his trademark cynicism could give the writing a little bit of pizzazz, which could in turn make the flick a little more enjoyable for adults. Lee has reportedly been called in to the studio every few months to read a couple more lines and has admitted that he isn’t exactly sure what the movie is really about. This implies that the production may be a little sloppy, which is not uncommon of flicks that are being fast-tracked for the summer season. Amy Adams (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby), who is another inspired choice, is coming off her Oscar nominated performance in 2005’s Junebug to voice “Sweet” Polly Purebred. The two villains in the film, however, represent the best casting choices of all. Peter Dinklage (Elf, Find Me Guilty) and Patrick Warburton (The Wild, Open Season) should make one memorable pair of criminals with their contrasting, but characteristically small (Dinklage) and large (Warburton) statures. Additionally, Dinklage is a stellar actor, who has received acclaim in the past for his work in movies like The Station Agent, while Warburton’s overwhelming physique is matched by his uniquely deep voice, both of which should be utilized to the fullest in the movie.

The approach that the filmmakers are taking has already raised a few eyebrows, especially from fans of the original show. It is already pretty obvious from the promotional material that a real dog is used for the titular character and that CGI enhancements will be utilized in order to animate the hound into a talking, flying, but still very much dog-like character. Since the pooch doesn’t look even remotely like the cartoon Underdog, it makes one wander if the filmmakers would have been better off going with more CGI, although I must admit that seeing a real beagle in an Underdog costume, with its cute little paws sticking out of the shirt sleeves, gives me a bit of a chuckle. In the original cartoon, Underdog and Polly Purebred were both dogs that had human qualities and lived among other people. Shoeshine Boy had no owner and was treated like an equal to human beings. For the movie, the filmmakers have opted to make him a stereotypical dog with a boy as his owner. This seems like a silly attempt to create some contrived boy-and-his-dog, best friend sappiness, but it also appears to be an even more bizarre attempt at realism. The filmmakers are taking all the necessary steps to make him more like a real dog and appear to be missing the fact that at the end of the day, they are dressing the beagle up in a superhero costume and making him fly. I can’t think of a good reason to ground a premise that is so silly to begin with. Additionally, Underdog’s powers will no longer be attributed to his special pills. Reportedly, when the original “Underdog” cartoons were shown in syndication, the pill-popping scenes were taken out, possibly due to a ridiculous fear that children all over America would begin seeking out such magical pills somewhere on the street. The film will continue in the same tradition, as it will provide a back-story that will attribute Underdog’s superpowers to a laboratory accident. I can see fans of the original show shaking their heads already.

At this point, I would say that it is fair to begin recalling the past, disastrous television cartoon adaptations along the likes of Fat Albert, Inspector Gadget, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Garfield, Scooby-Doo, Dudley Do-Right, and Mr. Magoo. The Garfield and Scooby-Doo flicks, which were actually quite successful commercially despite lacking in quality, bear the closest resemblance to Underdog in approach, premise, and scope. Perhaps I am underestimating the popularity of Underdog, but I cannot imagine that the character would be more popular than either Garfield or Scooby-Doo. Indeed, word from early screenings suggests that Underdog is a lot like Scooby-Doo, at the very least in terms of the way the CGI is used.

In Conclusion: If this movie is well received, Disney is hoping to turn it into a franchise. Like with Garfield and Scooby-Doo, I can imagine a lame sequel, but I cannot possibly fathom how this story could be stretched over a series of films. This movie is going to have to make a ton of money for that to happen because on-set disorganization caused a lot of complaints from citizens in various Rhode Island locations where the film was shot. Consequently, the governor of Rhode Island spoke out to suggest that the crew may not be welcome back. This implies that filming may be more costly the second time around or that Underdog will have to look for a new, possibly more expensive home. While Underdog has the superhero angle going for it, which is currently in major demand among audiences, I think Hollywood is getting more nonsensical with each new adaptation. This is going to be a regurgitation of the same ideas found in flicks like Garfield or Scooby-Doo. By the way, just in case anyone is wondering, Warner Bros. currently owns the rights to Hong Kong Phooey.

Similar Titles: Racing Stripes, Garfield, Scooby-Doo, Doctor Dolittle, Inspector Gadget
August 3rd, 2007 (wide)
December 18th, 2007 (DVD)

Walt Disney Pictures

Frederik Du Chau

Jason Lee, Peter Dinklage, Amy Adams, Patrick Warburton, James Belushi, John Slattery, Alex Neuberger

Total: 109 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Comedy, Kids & Family

Click here to view site

Rated PG for rude humor, mild language and action.

84 min





Underdog at RottenTomatoes.com

Underdog at AskMen.com

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