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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Ultimate Underdog Collection Volume 1
The Ultimate Underdog Collection Volume 1
Classic // Unrated // July 24, 2007
List Price: $12.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted July 18, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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The Series:

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 music.


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.

Each 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 Ultimate collection.

One 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 shows.

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 these details."
 
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.

You 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 Mr. Whoopee.

The 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 time.

The DVD:


Audio:

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".

Video:

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.
 
Extras:

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.

Final Thoughts:

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.
 

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