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Golden Books Family Entertainment presents
Underdog: Collector's Edition (1964-1969)

"There's no need to fear - Underdog is here!"
- Underdog (voiced by Wally Cox)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: September 30, 2000

Stars: Underdog (Wally Cox)
Other Stars: Sweet Polly Purebred, Simon Barsinister, Riff Raff, Overcat
Director: (uncredited)

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (animated violence)
Run Time: 00h:51m:19s
Release Date: October 03, 2000
UPC: 074645540696
Genre: animation


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

DVD Review

Underdog made his television debut back 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 know I had an Underdog coloring book as a child in the early 1970's, and I always thought the mild-mannered Shoeshine Boy's transformation into Underdog carried more dramatic import than Terrytoons' vintage deus ex machina cartoon superhero Mighty Mouse, who barely appeared in his own cartoons. But I digress -

The Underdog series featured simple artwork, drawn and animated in a style similar to Jay Ward's cartoons of the same period, with a sense of humor also inspired by the Ward (The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show) approach, though not as sharp, topical or adult-oriented. 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.

This Underdog: Collector's Edition DVD features three "complete and uncut" stories from the original show, with the rotating segments that originally interrupted the serial story flow removed—each concatenated plotline (which originally ran over two broadcast episodes of the show) runs about seventeen minutes:

Vacuum Gun

This final episode of the original series has Simon Barsinister inventing a powerful "vacuum gun," capable of sucking up valuables, his rival criminals and Underdog himself. Conclusive proof that Simon Sucks!

From Hopeless to Helpless

Riff Raff enlists the aid of Tap Tap (a criminally-inclined diamond cutter with a remarkable resemblance to Underdog) in a scheme to frame our hero. This episode benefits from a great performance by Wally Cox as Underdog resigns himself to life in prison, believing he must somehow have committed the crimes of which he stands accused.

Underdog vs. Overcat

Underdog fights an extraterrestrial cat villain, as powerful as Underdog but several times his size, in a bid to reclaim the earth's cows, who have all been kidnapped (but thankfully not mutilated) by aliens from the milk-starved planet Felina.

These three episodes are representative of the show, though the "uncut" presentation and added video episode titles means none of them are rendered "as broadcast." More disappointing, the interstitial segments (Tennessee Tuxedo, Commander McBragg and friends) are missing altogether, though their theme-song introductions are included as supplements. This makes it difficult to truly "time warp" back to the show's glory days, 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 habit of popping a "super energy pill" may raise a few eyebrows as well. I think most fans will find this a suitable dose of Underdog; assuming there's insufficient demand for (or, honestly, value in) a complete series release, there's enough here for aging fans (like me) who want to spend some time with an old cartoon friend.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: Underdog: Collector's Edition 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. Oddly, one of the supplemental promo spots, in poorer condition and "gone pink" to a great extent, looks significantly sharper than the remastered material, leading this reviewer to conclude that some part of the restoration process was done without the DVD resolution "target" in mind. The material still looks good, taken 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 ultimately looks like high-quality videotape, lacking the stunning, revelatory quality a direct-from-film transfer might have achieved.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Underdog: Collector's Edition features the shows' original monophonic audio, encoded as Dolby Digital 2.0 for ProLogic-decoding through the center speaker. The track sounds just fine, clear and comprehensible with a remarkable lack of hiss. The audio on the supplemental "introduction segments" for other members of the Underdog Show family is exceptionally clear, as though the songs were taken from a source other than the film prints (perhaps original studio tapes or even a children's record.) 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.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 12 cues
3 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Underdog Trivia Game, Underdog Theme Song Sing-Alongs
  2. Interview with Underdog's Co-Creator Joe Harris
  3. The Underdog Show's Family of Characters
  4. Archival Underdog Introductions, 4 Bonus Shorts
  5. DVD-ROM Weblinks, Screensavers, Audio Clips
Extras Review: Golden Books Family Entertainment's Underdog disc shines in the extras department, making this a true Collector's Edition for Underdog and vintage TV animation fans, though it's not quite in the same league as Image's Beany and Cecil disc. The disc provides 4 chapter stops and nicely animated menus for each of the primary attractions, and backs up the package with substantial supplements:

4 Bonus Shorts:

Four short, self-contained Underdog stories are included here:

Safe Waif: the pilot episode (with a more bumbling, property-damage-causing, unapologetic version of Underdog)

Simon Says: the first appearance of perennial nemesis Simon Barsinister

Tricky Trap by Tap Tap: a short sequel to From Hopeless to Helpless, in which Underdog's doppelganger Tap Tap attempts to escape from prison

March of the Monsters: a great Underdog-vs.-Giant-Robots short, apparently "Unseen in over 30 years!" after its original broadcast run

Interview with Underdog's Co-Creator Joe Harris:

Cartoonist, character designer and co-creator Joe Harris discusses the series' genesis, production and impact on pop culture of the time. It's an eight-minute piece, too brief for serious exploration, but it does a nice job of presenting some interesting trivia, and Mr. Harris is obviously pleased by the continued interest in Underdog after all this time.

Underdog Trivia Game:

25 questions on the Underdog characters and history, complete with on-screen feedback and scoring after all the questions have been answered, a nice implementation taking advantage of DVD's limited programmability.

Underdog Theme Song Sing-Alongs:

Good old-fashioned "bouncing ball" sing-alongs for two versions of the Underdog theme song, one featuring Riff Raff and the other featuring Simon Barsinister in the accompanying film footage.

Archival Underdog Introductions:

Three brief TV promo spots advertising the next exciting episode—middling condition, but historically valuable.

The Underdog Show's Family of Characters:

The brief introductory songs and animation for a number of other Underdog "family members" are presented. These were rotating segments originally used to break up the main Underdog story on each episode, and the theme songs are sure to be memorable to many—included are Tennesee Tuxedo, The World of Commander McBragg, Go-Go Gophers, Tooter Turtle, King and Odie, Klondike Kat, and The Hunter.

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 a Mac), but they appear to include Underdog screensavers, audio clips, and an HTML page linking to the official Underdog Video website.

Previews of VHS Underdog:

Brief promotional clips of some Underdog adventures currently available on VHS videocassette, including Underdog vs. Riff Raff, Underdog vs. Simon Barsinister, and Underdog vs. Overcat.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Underdog: Collector's Edition pays sincere homage to the mild-mannered canine superhero who provided Saturday morning and weekday afternoon entertainment for several generations of kids. Golden's DVD suffers a bit in the video department, but 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 kids to an old bullet-dodging, pill-popping cartoon friend.

 


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