Directed by Frederik Du Chau
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 82 minutes
Audio: PCM 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Release Date: December 18, 2007
Review Date: December 18, 2007
In the same decade when Underdog began its run on Saturday morning television as a children’s animated series, Walt Disney was filling movie theaters with films about teenagers turning into dogs and a lovable Volkswagen with a mind of its own. So, the story comes full circle with the talking, flying dog superhero now a Disney family film. Only this time, it’s not a cartoon but rather a live action feature film. All of the voice talent is new, but the basic cast of characters from the 60s cartoon show are the same. Sad to say, the same slim plotting of those five minute cartoons is also at play here in an 82-minute film. The thin premise is stretched to the snapping point in one of the studio’s feebler comedies.
The same basic CGI methods that allowed pigs and other farm animals to talk in the Babe series are similarly utilized here to allow Underdog, his sweetheart Polly Purebred, his nemesis Riff Raff, and their animal friends to speak, and it‘s amazingly lifelike to be sure. However, the wit and heart in those pictures are nowhere to be found in this empty concoction, and we don’t come to care about any of the characters either human or otherwise.
We see Underdog created by a chemical reaction when a table full of test tubes and beakers crashes and spills their contents on Shoeshine (voiced by Jason Lee), a lovable beagle who was dismissed from the police force for having a faulty sniffer. He comes into the possession of former policeman Dan Unger (Jim Belushi) and his alienated son Jack (Alex Neuberger). Jack soon realizes Shoeshine’s amazing abilities and fashions for him an outfit so he came become a crime fighting canine called Underdog. The scientist who was indirectly responsible for the beagle gaining super powers is the evil Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage). Together with his bumbling henchman Cad (Patrick Warburton), they go searching for their creation so they can use him for their own evil purposes.
The crime plot is really nothing, so the film’s only amusement lies in seeing the dog performing these unbelievable stunts while aiding the police but generally making a big mess in the process. One of the running gags of the original cartoon series was that Underdog wasn’t the neatest or most organized hero in his search and rescue missions. That motif is carried right over into the live action version.
It couldn’t have been easy accomplishing the shots with all of the trained dogs interacting with the live actors, so praise must go to director Frederik Du Chau for patience if nothing else (and he‘s returning to the genre of talking animals after Racing Stripes). The cast does what it can with the weak material offered (script by Adam Rifkin, Joe Piscatella, and Craig A. Williams), but expert actors like Peter Dinklage and John Slattery (who plays the town mayor) have so very little to work with and must etch their characters through pratfalls and desperate attempts to spin gold out of straw. And perhaps my memories of the late Wally Cox are just too strong, but I didn’t feel that Jason Lee with his huskier and less lyrical voice quite nailed the right tone for the rhyme-spouting pooch.
The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented on Blu-ray with a 1080p encoding using the AVC codec. The picture is very sharp and clean with flesh tones that often appear just slightly too pink. But color is otherwise strong, and black levels when they occur are outstanding, easily blending into the letterbox bars at the top and bottom. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The PCM 5.1 soundtrack (48mHz/24 bit, 4.6 Mbps) is excellent utilizing the rear channels for explosions and other ambient sounds as well as music which keeps the surround channels very busy. With the amount of action in the film, the surrounds could have been used even more, but what’s here is first rate.
The Blu-ray offers six deleted or extended scenes. They can be played with or without director Frederik Du Chau’s introductions and run a total of 8 minutes. They are presented in 1080p as are most of the other bonuses on the disc.
A series of bloopers both on set and in the recording booth runs about 1½ minutes.
“Sit. Stay Act: The Diary of a Dog Actor” is an amusing interactional featurette which features Jason Lee’s Underdog commenting on how the film was accomplished. The basic featurette runs 6 minutes but at on-screen prompts, the viewer can branch off into more specific vignettes for information on the origin of the television series, the training of the animals, the voice casting process, and how the flying scenes were produced. The branching featurettes run a total of 9 minutes.
A music video of the Underdog theme done partly as a rap song by Disney Channel star Kyle Massey runs 2½ minutes.
The Blu-ray offers two original Underdog cartoon shorts. Presented in 1080i (VC-1 codec) pillar boxed to the original 4:3 framing, these cartoons offer the first episode installment of Underdog and the first cartoon featuring Simon Barsinister.
Blu-ray trailers are offered for the upcoming Sleeping Beauty, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and The Game Plan. The trailer for Underdog is not present on this disc but has been presented on several previous releases for the past few months.
2.5/5 (not an average)
Totally innocuous and safe for families looking for something frivolous for leisure viewing, Underdog comes to Blu-ray with an excellent quality transfer but little of substance. The kids may like the talking pets, but the adult members of the family will likely have to grin and bear it with this one.