Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Cheap Critic: Underdog -- A Labor of Love


I hadn't expected to like Underdog. The trailers I had seen for it didn't show any tie-in to the original series. I was expecting it to be a pleasant but insubstantial film about a boy and his talking super-dog that took its name from the 1960s cartoon show -- and nothing else but its name. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the writers had gone to considerable lengths to stick to the original material with the main concession to the difficulties of a more-realistic style being that the two lead characters -- Underdog and Polly -- were each split into two individuals (a human and a dog) to avoid the surreality of people ignoring the fact that underdog's alter-ego, Shoeshine Boy, is a talking dog.

And some Disney references, too, here's A Lady and the Tramp riff.

All this effort to tie the film back to the original marks it as clearly a labor of love because it wasn't easy and... nobody will care. The Underdog cartoon show ran from 1964 until 1973. The new movie is a kids film about a forty-year-old cartoon show that hasn't seen many reruns in the last twenty years. Not only will today's kids not remember the show, their parents won't remember it either. It's before their time. All that work to tie a new kids movie to a cartoon show their grandparents used to watch. From a business point of view, what's that all about? It wasn't a business decision: it was just something the people who made the film needed to do -- a labor of love.

Simon Bar Sinister then and now.

Don't get me wrong here, Underdog won't change your life. It is insubstantial but it's fun. It's good family fun with enough references to other things -- not just the cartoon show, but to the Superman films and other Disney properties -- to make it enjoyable for grown-ups too.

It would make a fine DVD rental to watch with your young grandchildren.

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