Based on a series of five minute cartoons that ran for 124 episodes between 1964 and 1973, Underdog tells the story of Shoeshine, a Beagle that was once employed by the police force. During a task that involves sniffing out explosives, Shoeshine accidentally picks out a ham instead and is consequently retired from the force.
Feeling sorry for himself, he wanders the streets until he is picked up by what he thinks is the dog patrol and taken back to the pound.
It's here that he realises that he is in fact in a laboratory of some kind and attempts an escape. An accident ensues and various chemicals from the lab are mixed up and cause an explosion. Shoeshine is caught up in the explosion and smashes through the wall to make his getaway.
Shoeshine then bumps into a couple of other dogs in an alley. The dogs make it clear to him that he's in the wrong part of town and to get out of their alley. Running away again, he forces security guard Dan Unger (played by James Belushi) to slam on his brakes...when he gets out of the car, Dan finds Shoeshine lying down in front of his car. Fearing that he has hit him, Dan puts Shoeshine in his car and takes him home...instead of taking him to the vet...
Now, Dan has a son, Jack (played by Alex Neuberger). A teenage son to be precise. In addition, like so many teenagers in Hollywood, Jacks life lacks any kind of direction or motivation. Jack is in bed when Dan brings Shoeshine home, but the next morning the two are introduced and Dan discovers that the dog can talk. Not only that, but he can also catch a mean Frisbee...
Dan bumps into his friend from school, Molly (played by Taylor Momsen) who has her dog with her. Shoeshine falls for the poodle straight away - but she doesn't want to know. However, on their way home from the park, Molly and her dog are mugged. Shoeshine can hear they are in trouble and dashes to the rescue - HE CAN FLY!
From there on in, the dog gets a costume, becomes a celebrity and spends the film trying to avoid being recaptured by Dr Barnister, the mad guy who owned the lab where the initial explosion took place...who recognises the money making potential that several Underdogs would have.
Voiced by Jason Lee (from TV's My Name Is Earl, Underdog never seems to shut up...he just talks all the time! Moreover, this goes to show exactly who this movie is aimed at - five's and under. It's great the first time you hear him - but then you just want him to shut up. Any of you that may have seen the cartoons will know that Underdog is a bit of a poet. Every two lines he says have to rhyme for some strange reason...and it's not funny to anybody that's out of kindergarten.
The special effects are mediocre and you'll never believe a dog can fly. You'll believe he can talk for about a minute and then you won't care. James Belushi seems to have found his niche acting with canines and he looks comfortable playing the role. He doesn't have a lot of competition it must be said, and he is the best thing in the movie.
Another person who seems to be in the comfort zone working with animals is director Frederik Du Chau. He was at the helm for talking Zebra flick Racing Stripes - a film that I haven't seen as yet so can't really comment.
At the end of the day, if you are five years old or over, I don't think that Underdog will be for you. Nevertheless, if you have young children in the house along with a Blu-ray player, I can see parents and children sitting down together and enjoying this. Unfortunately, my youngest child is a teenager so had to watch it on my own....
This film is yet to have a UK theatrical release. This is scheduled for February 1st. If you're five or under and reading this, go on - go and pester your dad into taking you to see it. I'm sure he'll love you for it...