Friday, May 1, 2015
Azu At The Movies #1: Underdog
Release Date: August 3, 2007
Runtime: 84 minutes
Director: Frederik Du Chau
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Ah, Underdog. This was a film I watched a couple of times on the Disney Channel when I was a kid. At the time, I liked the movie OK. Watching it again at an older age, I still enjoy the film. For me, I think it's a pretty entertaining movie. However, it seems like most of the reviews about this film seem to be rather scathing. For example, Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 16%, with the critic's consensus saying: "Underdog is a mostly forgettable adaptation that relies far too heavily on recycled material and sloppy production." Another review of this movie by Ken Fox of TV Guide said: "If you set your expectations just low enough, or are an easily satisfied 8-year-old, you might have a bit of fun." Despite this information though, I do have one question. Is this film really as bad as the reviews suggest? Well let's take a look.
The film opens with a compilation of clips from the original 1960's cartoon set to an awesome cover of the cartoon theme song by the Plain White T's. This by far is one of the best elements of the film! It's fast paced, energetic, and it really gets hyped for the movie! For an opening sequence, it does its job pretty well. After that, we cut to the mayor of Capital City giving a speech about the growing problem of crime in the city. We are then introduced to the main character in the form of an inner monolog, who tells the audience that he works for the bomb squad and explains how beagles have an excellent sense of smell. He then sniffs one of the boxes near the mayor and barks, thinking that there's a bomb inside. Unfortunately, when the human bomb squad workers open up the box, they discover that the "bomb" was a ham and the main character gets made fun of by his fellow canines and ends up quitting the force.
However, the main character ends up getting captured by Cad Lackey, the right hand man of Simon Bar Sinister, and ends up taking him to an underground genetics lab. Simon decides to test a new serum on the main character. When Simon tries to inject the serum into the main character, he rejects it and runs around the room as Simon and Cad try to catch him. As he's running, the main character knocks over a whole cabinet of chemicals, which end up giving him superpowers as he breaks through the thick doors of the room and escapes. When he escapes, the main character is confronted by Riff Raff and his lackies, who wish to beat him up. The main character then runs from Riff Raff but gets run over by a car in the process. It's at this moment that we are introduced to ex cop, Dan Unger. The main character emerges from underneath the car unscathed and when Dan doesn't see a collar on the main character, he decides to take him home.
When the main character arrives at the Unger house, we are introduced to Dan's son, Jack. Dan then decides to name the main character Shoeshine. However, Jack doesn't seem to like Shoeshine due to the fact that Dan hasn't fulfilled his promise to spend more time with him after he quit the force. We also learn that this isn't helped by the fact that Jack's mother has passed away. Jack leaves for school and Dan for work, leaving Shoeshine at the house alone, where he, still unaware of his new powers, accidentally makes a very large mess of the place. Jack comes home to the destruction and begins to clean up, complaining, to which Shoeshine claims it was an accident, leading to both of them realizing (to their shock) that Shoeshine can speak human language. Jack initially tries to get away from Shoeshine, but after they reach a park, the two begin to talk and bond a little when a friend of Jack's, Molly, walks over and introduces them to her Cavalier Spaniel, Polly, whom Shoeshine is smitten with on sight. After the girls leave, Jack and Shoeshine experiment with his powers through various habits of dogs.
Far away, Molly and Polly are being mugged by two men, and Shoeshine hears Molly's call for help and rushes to their aide, running faster than he has ever before, and discovering he can fly in the process. He rescues the two without them seeing him, and returns home with Jack, making him promise never to tell anyone about his powers, then helps his new friend try to clean up before Dan comes home. Cad shows up at the door with posters of Shoeshine, as Barsinister wants him back for his power, but Jack is able to get him to leave without suspecting anything just before Dan comes home to discover the mess. Meanwhile, Simon and Cad find a new lair beneath the city, then plan a robbery to get the funds they need to rebuild Simon's lab. Cad leads a band of thugs to rob a jewelry store, seen on the news by Shoeshine and Jack, who convinces Shoeshine to use his powers to save the hostages inside. Shoeshine consents, disguising himself with a fish kite so he won't be recognized, and saves the hostages, though Cad escapes with some of the stolen goods. From then on, Shoeshine adopts the alias Underdog, and becomes the city's resident superhero, donning a shrunken red sweater and blue cape as his disguise.
Simon's attempts to recreate his serum are unsuccessful time and time again, so he sends Cad to try and obtain a sample of Shoeshine's DNA, hoping to use it to recreate the serum. Shoeshine, meanwhile, is unsuccessful at trying to ask Polly out, but gets an idea when she reveals her crush on Underdog to him, prompting him to ask her on a date as Underdog, which goes successfully. Meanwhile, Cad's attempt to capture Underdog goes unsuccessful, but he does manage to obtain his collar, which has his name and address on it. Simon and Cad go to the house and kidnap Dan, making him believe they have Jack to subdue him, and force him to call for Shoeshine for help. Shoeshine hears Dan's cries, and he and Jack go to rescue him, only for Simon to use both Jack and Dan as hostages to convince Shoeshine to give up his DNA. Not wanting his family to be hurt, Shoeshine complies, and Barsinister makes a whole jar full of pills that contain Underdog's super powers. Simon convinces Shoeshine to take an antidote pill, turning him back into a real beagle, then feeds the super pills to three German Shepherds he obtained and trained. He and Cad leave the family trapped in the sewers, but thanks to Dan's experience from the police force, he is able to set everyone free and they take off after Barsinister with a hypodermic filled with the super power antidote.
Meanwhile, Simon takes the Mayor hostage in city hall and instructs Cad to attach a bomb rigged with a mind control serum to the roof of the building. Molly and Polly follow Cad after witnessing him head through the service entrance. Shoeshine, meanwhile, smells the bomb Cad is carrying, at first doubting his nose, but decides to trust his instincts and heads inside the capitol building despite being powerless to confront Simon. During a short struggle (in which the mayor is knocked unconscious), Shoeshine accidentally rips open Simon's pocket, gaining access to the super pills and eating one, getting his powers back. He does battle with the three German Shepherds, whom he temporarily incapacitates after hearing Polly and Molly in danger, as they were captured by Cad and tied to the roof of the building beside the bomb. Enraged with Underdog's return to foil his plan, Simon eats at least two of the super pills and gains super powers himself, fighting Underdog until he distracts him with one of his natural instincts; chasing a frisbee, which is actually a giant iron shield from a statue. Underdog is knocked down by rubble long enough for the German Shepherds to recover, but he convinces them that Simon isn't a good master by pointing out Simon's mistreatment of them and the fact that he has never given them real names. The German Shepherds turn on Simon, realizing their role is as man's best friend, not man's best slave, and restrain him with their strength while Shoeshine rushes to disarm the bomb.
The Mayor regains consciousness and stumbles outside, allowing Dan through the police barricade to deal with Simon by injecting the antidote into him. Shoeshine quickly dons his Underdog uniform again and flies to the top of the town hall, freeing Polly and Molly, then taking the bomb to a nearby park, where he digs a hole miles beneath the surface, and buries the bomb. He attempts to rush out of the hole before it detonates, but is caught in the blast halfway out and is blasted so high he reaches orbit, then falls back to the Earth, where he lands unconscious. Jack, Dan, and everyone in the crowd begin to mourn the fallen hero, but Underdog wakes up, singed, but unharmed much to everyone's joy. Simon and Cad go to jail, and Shoeshine returns to his normal life protecting the citizens of Capital City as Underdog. The film closes with the citizens reciting the same phrases from the original Underdog cartoon, "Look, up in the Sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a frog! (as one goofy citizen always comments)", to which Underdog replies, "Not bird, nor plane, nor even frog, it's just little old me, Underdog!".
One thing I enjoyed about this movie is that it really shines when it focuses on the characters from the original cartoon such as Shoeshine/Underdog, Polly Purebred, Simon Bar Sinister, Cad Lackey, Riff Raff, etc. Why, you may ask? Well, in the original cartoon, there are various conventions of the superhero genre that were cleverly parodied, such as Underdog causing a lot of property damage while fighting off bad guys and reacting to the damage with a calm demeanor. In the film, those conventions are also parodied with a modern twist. Also, when I say "modern twist" , I don't mean that they add gross out humor like burping or farting as a superpower or feature a bunch of pop cultural references (though there are a couple when Jack is giving examples of a superhero's catchphrase). The character's personalities are kept in tact for the most part, with the exception of Shoeshine/Underdog having a few more sarcastic quips. For example, the traits they keep in tact are: Underdog being braver than his Shoeshine persona, making up a bunch of corny rhymes, and saving the day and the damsel, Polly Purebred, while causing property damage. This is what makes the spoofing of superhero conventions excel in this movie. When we're focusing on the spoofing and characters from the original series, this is as close as the movie comes to resembling the original cartoon.
Another thing I enjoyed about the movie was the performances from the villains, especially Peter Dinklage as Simon Bar Sinister. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think the performances from the other cast members are bad. However, there seems to be more heart and energy thrown into the antagonists. With these characters, I was excited to see them! They really soak up these roles that they're given. It seems like every second they're on screen, they're having a field day playing these characters and get so caught up in the roles, that I actually think they have transformed into Simon and Cad themselves. Sure, they aren't given much material to work with (i.e Dinklage playing Simon the mad scientist type villain from the cartoon and Patrick Warburton playing the typical right hand man), but they really do everything they can to make the characters enjoyable to watch. This, along with the opening sequence, is probably one of the best elements of the film!
If there was one problem I had with the movie, it would be the parts where we focus on the other human characters besides Simon and Cad such as Jack and Dan Unger, The Mayor, Molly, and the school principal. This is by far the weakest aspect of the movie because these characters are so bland and boring. Like Simon and Cad, they aren't given much of a personality. However, their performances aren't very engaging and most of the time, they seem to speak in a monotone voice. I also feel like these parts were added in just to extend the movie's runtime and I think this pointlessly pads out the movie.
So, if the other human characters aren't engaging or interesting, why even have them in the film? Well, some may argue that by focusing on these characters, the movie can convey a message about how everyone is a hero in their own way. However, by juggling these parts around with the scenes focusing on the characters from the cartoon, the message gets so jumbled to the point where I forget what the message was even supposed to be about as the movie nears the end.
So after all that said, is this movie really as bad as the reviews suggest? Well to be honest, while I do consider this one of the better films in the "Films based on a cartoon" genre for the abundance of likable elements, I can't really guarantee that it makes the film good because the parts focusing on the other human characters besides Simon and Cad really drag down the quality of the film. At the same time however, I can't really go as far as to say that it was terrible movie because there are parts in the movie where I could tell that it was at least trying to be funny, smart, and entertaining.
Would I recommend this film? I guess so. However, I'd only recommend watching this film if you're looking for an entertaining movie to watch when there's nothing else on.
Overall score: C