Saturday mornings aren't what they used to be. I remember getting up at 6:30 AM, as the sun was just starting to peek out, to watch "Daniel Boone" and "Transformers" on the local ABC affiliate, flipping from channel to channel for around hours until "Solid Gold" and the like would came on. For every "Batman Beyond" on today, there are 7 or 8 formulaic live-action tween sitcoms and 5 Japanese cartoons unmercifully gutted and dubbed to the point of becoming unrecognizable. Thanks to Golden Books/Sony Wonder, I had the opportunity to spend this Saturday morning with an old friend who I hadn't seen in over a decade. Some of my earliest memories involve standing around in the kitchen while my mother made pancakes, with "The Underdog Show" playing on an old 13" TV with fake wood paneling and half a Garfield sticker permanently stuck on the side. Even as recently as a couple of years ago, it wasn't too uncommon to hear me reciting a misremembered version of the theme song and, in my best Simon Barsinister, chanting, "Simon says, 'Go snow!'". Although the marketing machine of companies like Mattel and Hasbro probably had more to to with my watching "Masters of the Universe" and "G.I. Joe" than I realize, corporate tinkering and meticulously led focus groups had nothing to do with me tuning into "The Underdog Show", which after nearly 40 years still manages to outclass most of the animated programming on today.
Three full-length adventures are included on this special edition release, and they are:
Video: "Underdog" is presented in full-frame, just as it has been shown for decades. The color in the television broadcasts I remember always seemed flat and washed-out, exactly like the introduction clips archived on the disc. These episodes are much more attractive color-wise, though inconsistent; Underdog's red costume ranges from maroon to nearly orange, depending on the clip being viewed. The soft "Vacuum Gun" and "From Hopeless To Helpless", as well as most of the shorts, seem to have been mastered from video. "Underdog Vs. Overcat" is by far the best looking of the three full-length episodes, and the short "Safe Waif" is speckled with so much dust and specks that it's safe to assume a new transfer was done there. "Underdog" doesn't look nearly as good as it could've, but the presentation isn't disappointing to the point of being difficult to watch.
- Vacuum Gun -- This was the final episode of the series, with Simon Barsinister assembling much of Underdog's rogue gallery to form an army that easily manages to conquer the country, thanks in large part to the titular weapon.
- Tricky Trap By Tap Tap -- Ooh, alliteration! Riff Raff hires an imposter in a caper to lift the priceless Hopeless Diamond, leaving the real Underdog locked in the slammer.
- Underdog Vs. Overcat -- Extraterrestrial superpowered bully Overcat steals all the cows on Earth and kidnaps former farm gal Sweet Polly Purebred after the milk wells on his home planet run dry, climaxing in a no-holds-barred battle royale in a custom-built boxing ring.
Audio: It probably comes as little surprise that "Underdog" is in 2.0 Mono. The three full-length episodes are as crisp and clear as a 40 year old animated show is likely to sound, though the occassionally distorted-sounding shorts are a bit worse off.
Supplements: "Underdog: Collectors Edition" is fat-packed with extras, most notably the four bonus shorts and the interview with Joe Harris. The shorts fit in very well with the full-length episodes. Considering the inclusion of the final Underdog adventure, "Vacuum Gun", it's only natural to include the pilot, "Safe Waif", featuring a bumbling, destructive Underdog. Underdog impersonator Tap Tap turns up again in "Tricky Trap By Tap Tap", and the first appearance of perhaps the most memorable Underdog villain, Simon Barsinister, is recorded in "Simon Says". Finally, there's the unseen "March of the Monsters", with Underdog causing widespread property damage and using the same "I can't be bothered with such details" rhyme from the pilot. The interview with Joe Harris, though it sounds more like Harris is reading from a teleprompter than speaking of the top of his head, details the series' popularity and pop culture status, along with information about the voice actors and the inspiration for the characters on the show.
I don't ever remember seeing Underdog without shorts of "The World Of Commander McBragg", "Go-Go Gophers", "Tennessee Tuxedo", and "Klondike Kat" attached. The opening themes for these (and a few others I don't remember as being part of "The Underdog Show") can be viewed, along with brief Underdog interstitials and a sing-along for the timeless Underdog themes. Previews for three VHS releases and a lengthy trivia game round out the player-accessible supplements.
There are PC and Mac specific areas on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc. Being a PC devotee, I don't have much of an idea what's on the Mac side, but an executable with 3 distorted Underdog sound clips and a series of the worst screen savers I've ever seen seem to make up the bulk of the DVD-ROM extras. The couple of screen savers I tested seemed to just be a single still image. The border seemed to very slowly change size, but maybe I was just staring at it for too long.
Conclusion: Though the quality of the presentation isn't remarkable and the capacity of the disc goes largely unused, "Underdog: Collectors Edition" is a nostalgic blast, and the $15 price tag at most stores is as easy to swallow as an Underdog super energy pill. Highly recommended.