Just in advance of the live action Underdog movie that is supposed to
be hitting theater screens in August, Classic Media has released a compilation
disc of the classic Underdog cartoons: The Ultimate Underdog
Collectgion Volume 1. A childhood favorite, I was excited when
the disc arrived but I soon discovered that the show hadn't aged as well
as one would hope. An amazingly repetitive show, seen today through
adult eyes the program just doesn't have the charm or humor that it once
had. Added to that is the bizarre way that the disc is arranged.
They don't present the show as it was originally broadcast, but instead
mix together Underdog chapters with several other shorts that the same
studio produced. When will the DVD publishers learn that people want
their TV shows they way they were originally broadcast, uncut, with original
When the world's in trouble, I am not slow,
So it's hip! hip! hip! and away I go.
So declares Underdog, the anthropomorphic savior of the world.
Whenever danger rears its ugly head "humble and lovable" Shoeshine Boy
speeds to the nearest phone booth and transforms into the super-powered
Underdog. (The phone booth dramatically and inexplicably explodes
with each transformation.) Underdog can fly and has super strength.
Whenever he gets in a jam, he takes an Underdog Super Energy Pill which
has the same effect on him as spinach does on Popeye. Many of the
shows plots revolve around Underdog loosing the ring he keeps the pills
in, or becoming trapped so that he can't move his ring within pill-popping
distance of his mouth.
four-part Underdog story has our hero facing one or more of a rotating
lineup of villains. His main foils include Simon Barsinsiter, a short
evil scientist complete with a Lionel Barrymore-like voice who uses his
super-technological inventions to conquer the world, and Riff Raff, a gangster's
gangster who was patterned after movie tough guy George Raft.
When the show aired on TV, both originally and in syndication, the half
hour program was divided into four parts, a formula that Underdog's creators,
Leonardo Television/ Total Television, had success with in the past.
Each show had two section of a four-part Underdog story that started and
ended each episode. Sandwiched in-between were two other comedy shorts.
In the first season viewers got to see The Hunter and The World
of Commander McBragg (more on these later.) In 1966 two new cartoons
took up the center section, Go-Go Gophers and Klondike Kat.
For some reason, this set doesn't present the show the way it was originally
broadcast (or ever shown as far as I could tell.) They do keep the
four-part formula, but the middle two cartoons include example of just
about all of the six-minute shows that Leonardo Television ever created.
This only serves to remind viewers just how horribly bad some of their
other shows were. This "Ultimate Underdog Collection" doesn't bother
to start with the first story either, it consists of three complete Underdog
stories (six episodes) plucked from various seasons of the show.
What's even worse is that these shows are slightly altered from the
way they originally appeared. The most glaring omission is that the
Underdog segments are missing our hero's background story that opened each
show. "One of the city's most humble and loveable characters was
Shoeshine Boy..." In addition to that, for some reason, they don't include
the opening songs for the non-Underdog segments as they were originally shown. (The Underdog theme song is still in place luckily, but as reader Eddie D. pointed out, they only used the first half of the song. The second verse, which starts "When in this world the headlines read..." is missing.) I can only assume
that they cut them out due to copyright issues, but it is really irritating
since the songs were often better than the shows themselves. Some
thing that is definitely in this disc's favor is that the Underdog
segments themselves are not edited. In the 1970's someone had the
idea that Underdog's Super Energy Pills were condoning drug use, so they
were clipped out of the syndicated shows which made for some incomprehensible
story lines. Happily the pill-popping segments are included in these
Aside from those mistakes though, how does this childhood favorite stand
the test of time? Not that well actually. While I couldn't
wait to watch the show as a child, but now the thing that strikes me is
how much repetition there is in the program. With each story broken
up into four chapters, the creators are able to eat up a lot time by recapping
what happened twelve minutes ago. Not only that, but Underdog goes
through the same gags over and over in each show. Whenever someone
points out the damage that Underdog has done while battling villains he
always replies "I am a hero who never fails. - I cannot be bothered with
The main problem is that the show isn't that exciting or funny.
It lacks the humor of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and it doesn't have
the action of Spiderman or even Space Ghost. With the
jokes being repeated so often they lose their punch, and the battles are
over so quickly that there really isn't much suspense.
The center shows are even worse. They run from the bland and boring
of The Hunter (an inept detective dog) or Tooter Turtle (about
a turtle who gets to try a new job every episode and ends up hating it)
to the truly bad like Klondike Kat and the Go-Go Gophers.
The former fails due to being even more formulistic and repetitive than
Underdog. Klondike, a Royal Canadian Mountie and take off
of Dudley Do-Right (who himself was a parody), was always chasing
a French mouse, Savoir-Faire. Nearly the entire show consisted of
the various characters spouting their catch phrases over and over:
"Ooooh! I'll make mincemeat out of that mouse!", "Savoir Faire ezz evvvverrrywhere!",
"Klondike Kat always gets his mouse" etc. etc. Even as a kid I knew
that this cartoon was bad.
would be hard pressed to find a more politically incorrect cartoon than
the Go-Go Gophers. The plot is simple: Every member
of the Gopher tribe of American Indians has been killed except two, Ruffled
Feathers, who talks only in grunts and wild body motions and Running Board.
The commander of the local army fort, Colonel Kit Coyote who looks and
talks like Teddy Roosevelt, is trying to kill these last two members of
the tribe in order to secure the town of Gopher Gulch. Fortunately
the Gophers are much more wily and clever than the Colonel and they always
end up getting the best of him. Now maybe I'm just not thinking outside
of the box, but I've never thought of genocide as being really funny.
Of course, this cartoon isn't which proves my point.
There are some fun cartoons in the middle sections however. I've
always enjoyed The World of Commander McBragg, a show about an old
explorer who regales his companion with tall tales about his adventures,
in the fashion of Baron Munchausen. These are a bit more creative
than the others and hold up pretty well. Tennessee Tuxedo
is also a fun show, concerning the adventures of a penguin and walrus and
features informational lectures on a variety of topics by the all-knowing
Underdog stories featured in this collection are:
The Big Dipper: Simon Barsinister
has invented a machine that will condense all of the water in the world
into tiny jars. Quicker than you can say "Simon say: Dry up!"
The evil scientist has all of the water in the world in his briefcase.
Only Underdog can save the thirsty world.
The Gold Bricks: When Underdog is
given the job of driving an armored truck filled with gold across the country,
Riff Raff sees his chance to score big. Managing to fool Underdog
into leaving the truck for a moment, the dastardly dog switches cars and
Underdog arrives at his destination without the gold. Since he's
the only one who had access to the shipment, it's obvious that he stole
the precious metal and is promptly arrested. But with Underdog in
jail, who is going to stop Riff Raff?
Fearo the Ferocious: In a blatant
ummm, homage to King Kong, Polly Purebread travels to an island in the
South Pacific where she meets Fearo the Ferocious, along with some dinosaurs.
Capturing the brute, he's brought back to civilization and put on display,
but he doesn't like it and manages to escape and seize Polly at the same
The mono soundtrack isn't bad, but it is showing its age. There
voices are easy enough to hear and though there isn't much dynamic range
the music sounds fine. The problem is that there is a fair amount
of tape hiss and a hum in the background. This varies from show to
show. Ironically the short subjects in between the Underdog
cartoons generally sound a bit better, and the Underdog episode
The Gold Bricks sounds the worst. Frankly, I was expecting
more from a disc that claims it was "digitally re-mastered".
Luckily, the video looks better than the audio sounds. These shows
have been cleaned up, and while they didn't do a perfect job, the results
look very good. The colors are solid, though just a little muted,
and the level of detail is good, with the lines being generally tight.
There are some spots here and there, they aren't very rare but not distracting
either, and a vertical line pops in a few times. The episodes also
suffer from an odd defect where the image gets a little darker for a second
and then lightens up again. This looks like it comes from the animation
process, like an extra cel layer is included in some shots then removed
in others. On the digital side things look pretty good. Aliasing
isn't a problem, and neither is blocking or other common problems.
In addition to the six Underdog shows, there is an 8-minute interview
with Joe Harris, Underdog's co-creator. He talks about who inspired
each character, Sweet Polly Purebread was based on Marilyn Monroe, but
oddly enough doesn't mention who he patterned Underdog after. (Probably
because he doesn't want DC to sue him.) The only other extra is a
reel of opening songs from the secondary characters that have appeared
in between the Underdog segments. Unfortunately these songs aren't
the original songs, they have been re-recorded for this disc.
This is a rather disappointing selection of extras. On a previously
released disc, Sony's Underdog Collector's Edition, they included
the Harris interview along with several other video extras including the
pilot show, Underdog's first encounter with Simon Bar Sinister, 'stay tuned'
teasers, screen savers and more. It's a shame that they couldn't
port over the other bonus items on this disc.
Though I had fond memories of this show from when I was a kid, I found
that it hasn't aged well. While the Underdog segments aren't
horrible, they are a bit repetitive and lack the dynamic punch that they
had when I was six. The middle cartoons are a mixed bag, but most
of them are pretty awful. Add to that the fact that this disc has
edited shows (minor though they are) and only mediocre audio quality and
that makes this a good rental.