Underdog (2007)

Rated: PG
Grade: CACC=C
Budget: Unavailable
Box Office: $44 million US, $16 million int’l, $22 million DVD

Directed by: Frederik Du Chau, and here’s the only thing you need to know about him. His only major prior work was writing and directing the highly disappointing Racing Stripes.
Starring: Peter Dinklage, James Belushi (Presumably the same guy we all know as Jim Belushi), Patrick Warburton, Alex Neuberger, and the voices of Jason Lee and Amy Adams.

An evil scientist creates a pill that turns a failed police Beagle into the super-powered but slightly inept dog hero of our youth who was the cartoon animal version of Maxwell Smart. In the process, his laboratory is destroyed, and he must try to recapture the dog, who is now part of a single-dad ex-cop’s family, so that he may take over the world, or the city, or whatever mad scientists take over.

Entertainment Value: C
I loved Underdog as a kid, hence I was skeptical about this, yet another, remake of my childhood cartoons into live action films. In the end, rather than being a faithful remake, it was basically just like any other Disney live action film that just happened to be about Underdog. If they would have called it Superdog, they would likely have been freed from feeling the need to honor the original at all, and they probably would have made a better movie, although they wouldn’t have been able to profit on the collective warm fuzzies we all feel about the real Underdog. He doesn’t even rhyme his communications!

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence B, Language A, Illegality A
I was really surprised by the PG rating, both before and after I watched the movie. Before because I was stunned that anyone would make Underdog PG. After because I thought the movie should have been rated G. Spencer watched it, and, though a couple of the scenes with Barsinister’s scars were creepy, we never covered his eyes or anything. They say it was for crude jokes and action, but I didn’t see anything PG here, unless you just can’t have a kid’s action movie get a G anymore.
Significant Content: C I know that the themes here are supposed to be things like talk to your parents, do good deeds, and the best heroes are the reluctant ones, but I just found myself not caring about much the movie had to say. It was a bit like eating cotton candy, no nutritional value at all and it doesn’t even taste quite as good.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
The CGI was pretty good in terms of getting the dog to look like a talking superhero. Otherwise, I once again had an overwhelming sense of blah about this movie. They stole scenes from other movies, particularly Superman and Spider-Man, but they weren’t really homages so much as plagiarisms. I didn’t like the fact that Polly is relegated to a subplot of a subplot of a character rather than being the focus, but I guess some sacrifices had to be made once the decision was made to focus on Underdog having a human owner and focusing on that story more.

Discussion Questions:
~When Underdog initially rescues Polly, he prevents the theft of a digital camera, but in the process he destroys perhaps a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of office space and cars. Similar scenes occur throughout the movie. Should such recklessness be celebrated as heroism?
~Does Jack’s father seem like a good father to you?
~In what sense is Underdog really an underdog? In order to be one, you have to overcome disadvantages and difficulties in the face of superior opponents. Does this fit his name?
~Is the movie serious about its own message that it doesn’t take super powers to be a hero? If so, why does Underdog need to regain his abilities to vanquish Barsinister?

Overall Grade: C
There’s probably not a decision that was made in creating this film I wouldn’t have made otherwise, including letting Jason “My Name Is Earl” Lee voice Underdog (I always get him confused with Ryan Reynolds), but it wasn’t awful in the end. My recommendation would be to rent the now available Underdog episodes on DVD.

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