Judge Franck Tabouring will never get a dog!
There's no need to fear. Underdog is here…
…and that's frightening enough.
Facts of the Case
Shoeshine (voiced by Jason Lee, My Name is Earl) is not a happy beagle. He has just been "fired" from his job as a police dog for mistaking a juicy ham for a bomb, and he has nowhere to go. He has no family taking care of him, no friends, and he can't help but wonder how he turned out to be such a loser. Everything changes, however, when Shoeshine falls into the hands of mad scientist Dr. Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage, The Station Agent) and his minion Cad (Patrick Warburton, The Tick), who exploit puppies for the sake of their dangerous experiments.
After Shoeshine is exposed to a magical substance following an accident in Barsinister's secret lab, the beagle finds himself with unique superpowers and the ability to talk. Teaming up with a troubled teenager (Alex Neuberger, Running Scared) who struggles to get along with his single dad (James Belushi, According to Jim), Shoeshine sets out to save Capitol City from crime and ruthless villains. Woof, woof!
I don't know about you, but as far as talking animals go, I've seen it all. Cats, dogs, horses, pigs, spiders, bees or chipmunks—we've been there, seen that. I also wonder why more and more studios find it absolutely necessary to transform every cartoon ever made into a live-action version. I guess it's more about making money than entertaining the audience. Sure, Underdog is still far better than the film versions of, say, Garfield and Alvin and the Chipmunks, but when it comes to originality, there's not much left to get excited about. Young cinemagoers might appreciate the silliness of a dog with superpowers saving the day, but parents and fans of the original 1964 cartoon probably wish they'd never spent their money on this one.
I could easily come up with a whole list of flaws I encountered in Underdog, but the worst is quite simply the script. Coming up with a good gimmick for a dog that spoofs Superman is one thing, but writing a solid story line is the biggest challenge. Sadly enough, screenwriters Adam Rifkin, Joe Piscatella, and Craig A. Williams missed their target, creating a predictable plot that lacks the magic and diversity of many other Disney scripts. For the most part, it really seems the script was written in a day, and never revised. That said, the end result is plain, superficial routine: dog is kidnapped by madmen; dog heroically escapes; madmen return to seek revenge; dog makes the world a better, safer place. It all sounds fun for the kiddos, but it will drive their parents insane.
Walt Disney films have the tendency to explore the same themes over and over again, and Underdog is no exception. The film offers us nothing we don't already know, focusing more on a fragile father-son relationship instead of a dog saving the world. On a different note, the countless attempts by the filmmakers to supply their viewers with humor only partially work. The film comprises a few decent dog jokes that could temporarily make you smile, but the majority of gags are simply too embarrassing to enjoy. That's unless you appreciate countless references to poop and vomit. Annoying is also Shoeshine's repetitive signature line, "There's no need to fear. Underdog is here," which he says at least twice every five minutes.
Another aspect that undoubtedly contributes to the failure of Underdog is the lack of decent characters. The script obviously fails to give them enough attention or strong personalities, making it harder for the actors to deliver authentic performances. Even so, James Belushi, Peter Dinklage, and Patrick Warburton are miscast, and listening to Jason Lee's voice-over as Shoeshine often feels like listening to a screeching rooster. Sad to say, the only thing exciting about this family film is the relatively fast-paced plot and the look and sound of some action sequences, but that, my fellow readers, is certainly not enough.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The audio transfer on the DVD is top-notch, especially during the explosive action sequences, and even Jason Lee's terrible voice-over is mixed in well with the rest of the sound. The image is sharp and clear as well, and although I don't fully agree with the quality of some of the CGI, the quality of the picture looks great.
The bonus features, in their entirety, are not among the best, but the disc comprises some distinguishable marks that earn the DVD some praise. Besides three mediocre deleted scenes and a rather boring blooper reel, the special features include "Sit. Stay. Act: Diary of a Dog Actor," an interactive 16-minute behind-the-scenes look. Members of the cast and crew talk about how challenging it is to work with real dogs on the set, and briefly discuss the film's action scenes. This piece is particularly interesting because it touches on a variety of topics related to the production of the film, including a look at what techniques animal trainers use to stage a scene. Since there's no filmmaker's commentary I'm sure they could have put even more emphasis on this making-of, but all in all, it's a fairy compelling featurette.
The best extra on the disc is a real jewel. Of course, I'm talking about the very first episode of the original 1964 cartoon, in which Underdog destroys a couple of banks in search of a missing boy. Watching this wonderful episode is a relief for everybody who got sick listening to Jason Lee. It's fun, it's exciting, and it will undoubtedly make you wish you had bought the ultimate Underdog cartoon collection instead. Woof!
Although I definitely expected more from the DVD edition of Underdog, the special features section is still the most compelling part of the disc. All in all, it's pretty safe to say that the release of a live-action version of the popular cartoon was completely unnecessary. Nonetheless, I still have some faith in the folks at Walt Disney Pictures. Last year's surprise hit Enchanted proved they still have what it takes to produce a magical family adventure. So come on, Disney, start surprising us again!
Guilty. The court hereby orders Walt Disney Pictures to ban all talking animals from upcoming live-action films.
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Scales of Justice
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