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Sony Family Wonder presents
The Underdog Chronicles (1964)

"Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog. It's just little old meˇUnderdog!"
- Underdog (voiced by Wally Cox)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: September 10, 2001

Stars: Underdog, Sweet Polly Purebred, Simon Barsinister
Other Stars: Riff Raff, King Klobber
Director: (uncredited)

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (animated violence)
Run Time: 00h:51m:08s
Release Date: August 07, 2001
UPC: 074645406398
Genre: animation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B-B-B+ A

DVD Review

Underdog made his television debut in 1964 and immediately scored a pop-culture hit, giving rise to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Underdog balloon and playing in syndication for many years after the show finished its broadcast run in 1969. I had an Underdog coloring book as a child in the early 1970s, and the mild-mannered Shoe Shine's transformation into Underdog carried more dramatic import than, say, Terrytoons' Mighty Mouse, who barely appeared in his own cartoons.

The Underdog series featured simple artwork, drawn and animated in a limited style similar to Jay Ward's cartoons of the same period (The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show), with a sense of humor also inspired by the Ward approach, though more kiddie-oriented with few topical or adult references. Voice characterizations were often inspired by Hollywood personalities, with audible echoes of Lionel Barrymore, George Raft, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Humphrey Bogart among the bad guys; Wally Cox provided the soft-spoken voice of Underdog. The series was an early example of the animation outsourcing common today, with production handled in Mexico City by Gamma Studios without benefit of modern communications technology. As such, the editing is often clumsy, and movement tends to be mechanical and uninspired, though Joe Harris' striking character designs have held up well over the years.

This The Underdog Chronicles DVD features three stories from the original show, though the "complete and uncut" label is a bit misleading, as the shows are not presented as broadcast. The rotating "cliffhanger" segments that originally interrupted the serial story flow have been removedˇeach concatenated plotline (which originally ran over two broadcast episodes of the show) runs about seventeen minutes, and new, jarringly digital episode title cards have been inserted. The stories on this disc include:

The Ticklefeather Machine

Perennial villain Simon Barsinister schemes to get himself elected dictator by inflicting hysterical laughter on all potential voters, preventing them from going to the polls. When the temporarily victorious Barsinister forces television reporter Polly Purebred to perform in Carmen Miranda drag, Underdog zooms to the rescue in this classic episode.

Guerrilla Warfare

Wolfish gangster Riff Raff and his gang employ then-novel guerrilla warfare tactics in a daring heist of the valuable painting, "Whistler's Father," during which Riff Raff inadvertently discovers Underdog's secret identity. Uncensored scenes of cigar smoking, flying bullets and Underdog's reliance on a "super energy pill" make this a refreshing, slightly shocking look back at kidvid standards of the 1960s.

Zot

Underdog, the strongest man in the universe (pre He-Man, apparently) finds himself cast as the groom in an alien wedding on the planet Zot. His impending marriage to King Klobber's daughter Glissando is thankfully interrupted by a two-headed dragon, and all turns out well in the end.

The three episodes on this second Underdog disc (following the Underdog: Collector's Edition) seem representative of the show, though the edited presentation means none of them are rendered "as broadcast," and a shameless advertisement for Sony's Underdog and Felix the Cat video releases follows the presentation. Fortunately, the disc does include some of the interstitial segments (Tennessee Tuxedo, Commander McBragg and friends) as "bonus" supplements. The restructuring makes a "time warp" back to the show's glory days difficult, but the flavor of the series remains largely intact. Modern eyes will be amused by the show's on-screen, nose-punching violence and a surprising number of flying bullets; Underdog's pill-popping and frequent destruction of phone company property may raise a few eyebrows as well. I think most fans will find this a worthwhile sampling of Underdog; assuming there's insufficient demand for a complete series release, there's enough here for aging fans (like me) who want to spend some time with an old animated acquaintance.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The Underdog Chronicles features a "digitally remastered" image, presenting the material in its original 1.33:1 full-frame TV aspect ratio with bright, rich colors. Unfortunately, the digital restoration process seems to have introduced some edge softness and color bleeding as well, as though the recolored footage was output to quarter-inch videotape, interlaced at 30 frames-per-second, and then transferred to DVD. The video resolution of this second Underdog DVD release is much improved, avoiding the obviously digital, sub-DVD blockiness that plagued its predecessor. The disc is drawn from clean, largely damage-free source prints, and the detail is sharp enough to reveal considerable shadowing and dust on the animation cels. But the disc still resembles high-quality videotape, with distracting, noisy reds that betray the image's analog origins; one still wishes for a direct-from-film transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The Underdog Chronicles features the shows' original monophonic audio, encoded as Dolby Digital 2.0 for ProLogic direction to the center speaker. The tracks sound just fine, clear and comprehensible with a remarkable lack of hiss. Frequency range is inherently limited by the age of the material, and the sound naturally has a heavy "studio" character about it, but there's nothing to complain about in the transfer to DVD.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Early Cliffhanger Episodes
  2. Joe Harris Interview/Unseen Storyboard
  3. DVD-ROM Weblink, Screensavers, Audio Clips
Extras Review: Sony Wonder supplements The Underdog Chronicles with substantial additional material, adding nearly an hour to the DVD's running time. Extras that are sure to please fans of the mild-mannered canine superhero include:

Early Cliffhanger Episodes:

Short episodes starring Underdog's fellow travelers are a substantial bonus, though the theme-song openings have been omitted. These short cartoons were originally aired to break up the serial flow of the primary Underdog stories, as noted in a handy "history" text screen. These formulaic shorts are brief and gimmicky, not as consistently entertaining as the main attraction, but they're still fun to have onboard:

Commander McBragg in Khyber Passˇ 1:30

The famous braggart makes up an outlandish story about his adventures in the Middle East.

Go-Go Gophers in Moon Zoomˇ 4:15

The (outrageously stereotyped) Native American rodents take on arrogant Civil War-era military brass.

The Hunter in The Brookloined Bridgeˇ 4:08

The incompetent but consistently lucky canine private eye tracks down The Fox, who has made off with the Brooklyn Bridge and is attempting to fence it on the street.

King and Odie in Riches to Rags and Nose for the Nooseˇ 8:15

This two-part episode challenges the King (a lion) and his faithful servant Odie (a skunk) to overcome dastardly palace intrigue in an oddly hybrid New York setting.

Klondike Kat in Honor at Steakˇ 4:16

"Savoir Faire ees everywhere!" as the none-too-bright Mounty cat attempts to recover a steak stolen by his tiny French nemesis.

Tennessee Tuxedo in The Rainmakersˇ 8:40

Penguin Tennessee Tuxedo and his walrus pal Chumley attempt to pass themselves off as meteoroligists.

Tooter Turtle in Failspin Tooterˇ 4:07

The Walter Mitty-esque, country bumpkin turtle travels back in time to fight the Black Baron during World War I.

Joe Harris Interview/Unseen Storyboard:

This is an unexpected gem of an extraˇit's not a storyboard, exactly, but I'm not complaining. Underdog's co-creator Joe Harris presents Nug of Nog, a hand-drawn Underdog story he created back in the 1960s for a couple of young family friends, a fun, casual piece that was never intended for production or broadcast. Harris provides character voices himself, and animation director Vincent Apollo adds simple movement to the rough, energetic drawings. The wonderfully freewheeling story concerns Underdog's seaside encounter with a Genghis Khan-like villain and his robot volleyball team. Adult Underdog fans may appreciate Harris' drawings of Polly Purebred bound and gagged in a revealing bikini, and the plot's climax prefigures George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode IˇThe Phantom Menace by a good thirty years. Kudos to the DVD producers and Mr. Harris for including this long-lost treasure!

DVD-ROM Weblinks, Screensavers, Audio Clips:

I don't have a DVD-ROM drive and was unable to access these features (some of which will not work on the Apple Macintosh), but they appear to include Underdog screensavers, audio clips, and an HTML page linking to the official Underdog Video website.

Previews of Other Underdog Episodes Available on VHS:

Brief promotional clips of additional Underdog adventures currently available only on VHS videocassette, drawn from The Mad Scientist Chronicles, The Gangster Chronicles and The Alien Chronicles.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

The Underdog Chronicles pays sincere homage to the mild-mannered canine superhero who provided Saturday morning and weekday afternoon entertainment for several generations of kids. Sony Family Wonder's DVD suffers slightly in the video department, but it's a great improvement over the earlier Underdog release, and the supplements make this a must-have disc for any true Underdog fan. A fine bit of nostalgia, and a great way to introduce contemporary children to a rhyming, bullet-dodging, pill-popping cartoon friend.

 


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