Underdog

Here we go again, as the money-hungry, clueless morons that seem to be running Hollywood these days destroy yet another cherished childhood memory. Underdog is a mangy mongrel that should have been put down when it was just a pup. And yes, that's enough of the awful canine puns.

The original Underdog was a charming, clever cartoon that originally aired on US and Australian television in the 1960s. The character was a small, anthropomorphised beagle called Shoeshine Boy who, um, worked as a shoeshine boy. But when trouble beckoned, usually in the form of Simon Bar Sinister, he'd take a special pill and become Underdog. He has a girlfriend named Polly Purebred, who is constantly getting into trouble and needs rescuing. Oh, and he only speaks in rhyme. Why? Who knows? Who cares? It was still fun. The show ran on and off for nine years, but Underdog has lived on as part of pop culture — an Underdog balloon appears in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in new York each year, and in 1995 the Butthole Surfers performed the theme for the CD Saturday Morning Cartoons' Greatest Hits.

So, onto this latest version of Underdog, which manages to misfire on almost every level. The evil Simon Barsinister (a passable Dinklage) is conducting genetic experiments on stray dogs. Things go awry, the lab blows up, a stray beagle gets superpowers and becomes Underdog (voiced by Lee). He gets adopted by a family (Belushi and Neuberger) and falls in love with a cocker spaniel (voiced by Adams). Many of the motifs from the cartoon are in evidence — Underdog smashing into buildings, his speaking in rhyme, the terrific theme song — but the execution is woeful. While it has some terrific special effects, and Lee is terrific voicing the titular character, the biggest problem with the film is its awful script and the crowbarring in of the touchy-feely lessons that the executives at Disney feel are a must for any family film. I watched this with my 13-year-old nephew, who didn't laugh once and considered the film an insult to his intelligence. Do yourself a favour and hunt down the original cartoons on DVD instead.
Official site
Underdog at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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