I’m starting to get back on the bandwagon of this site by continuing where I had left off when I made a Twitter poll asking what type of films I should watch next and kids films won. I’ve actually owned this one on DVD for quite a while and have seen parts of it more than once as my daughter was a fan of this movie. I wouldn’t quite say that I was a huge fan of the original Underdog cartoon, but I had seen several episodes and from what I remember I enjoyed them well enough. But when this film came out, I could tell that it was just a shlocky kids film trying to cash in on a little bit of nostalgia and somehow wrangled a handful of decent names, or at least names that were on the rise like Peter Dinklage and Amy Adams. Jason Lee was a bit of a mixed bag as this was also the same year that he starred in the live-action Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. But as expected, this is a schlocky kids movie that felt like it was trying too hard to cash in on a random piece of nostalgia while missing the mark as to what made that property great in the first place.
While it might seem a little over-critical to be hard on a film that is trying to update a superhero that was a dog who talked in rhyme and took pills to gain his super powers, this feels like just about any of dozens of other talking animal movies. For one thing, it decides to move the focus away from Shoeshine Boy slash Underdog himself in order to give kids someone to relate to, and likely also to lower the dog lip synch animation budget. So the focus is split between Underdog and this kid and his father. There’s an attempt at a connection between Underdog and the father as they are both ex-police officers. The big difference is that Underdog left the force because he sniffed out a ham instead of a bomb and was kicked out on the street in a scene that felt completely unrealistic and didn’t make any sense. The father on the other hand quit the force of his own volition to become a security guard after his wife died because he was afraid of dying in the line of duty and leaving his son an orphan. But for some reason he’s a laughing stock of the other officers even though the film implies that he was a very competent officer.
Getting back to Underdog himself, he does narrate most of the film from the perspective of a comedy dog perspective. As in, he really only sees things from an apparent dog-styled perspective when the filmmakers thing it would be funniest, otherwise he sees things completely normally. One of the few clever moments the film has was the soundtrack drop when Polly Purebred is first introduced which connects her with Lady from Lady and the Tramp as they are both Cocker Spaniels. Even after he becomes a superhero, he generally acts selfishly. He steals food more or less whenever he wants and causes plenty of damage without concern, remorse, or even really any comedy. They even play out the dual identity where Polly supposedly doesn’t care about Shoeshine, but has the hots for Underdog despite the fact that all dogs have an excellent sense of smell and she would likely be able to tell that Underdog and Shoeshine were the same dog because they had the same scent. But besides the logic of it, it again doesn’t play that well as comedy either.
Of course, there can’t be a hero without a villain and for this movie we have Peter Dinklage playing Simon Barsinister with Patrick Warburton playing the dimwitted-but-lovable henchman as he is oft to do. He has some unspecified plan involving giving human DNA to dogs but it’s a generic lab accident with dozens of beakers full of colored liquids falling on our dog that gives him super strength, flight, and the ability to speak English which is generally used for childish comedy like misunderstanding that hot dogs are made from dog meat and his exclamation spontaneously causes several random people who happen to be eating hot dogs to spit out their food in disgust. The comedy as a whole was geared towards low brow, childish humor with mostly physical gags and Patrick Warburton dressing up as an old woman who gets dragged around the city by Underdog. And yet somehow there’s no negative press about Underdog seemingly injuring an elderly woman. It all culminates in the climactic action sequence where Simon is able to extract Underdog’s powers and put them in pill form a la the cartoon, so Underdog has to fight three powered German Shepherds and a powered Simon himself. There’s not much action to it, some childish comedy, and a supposed redemptive moment for the dad.
All in all, this felt right along the lines of a Buddies movie with only slightly less childish humor, but not any more complicated plot. The special effects were passable for a ten year old movie, but the film just wasn’t very interesting. Underdog himself was given the barest of barebones backstory as a failed bomb-sniffing dog. The kid and his father are just as shallow with their estranged relationship that magically gets better because the dad gets his chance to be a hero and get his old job back. And the comedy never hit with me at all except for a single visual gag where Warburton looked like he was scaling a narrow ledge of a building until the camera cut to a wide angle and he was only a foot off the ground. It’s just another attempted kids movie cash grab with only a few token nods to the original property. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.