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Film / Underdog

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A live-action film based on the original Underdog animated series that was made in 2007 by Disney. It tried to reinvent a Funny Animal cartoon as a snarky comedy starring an actual dog. It is directed by Frederik Du Chau and written by Adam Rifkin, Joe Piscatella and Craig A. Williams.

A small police beagle (voiced by Jason Lee) ridiculed for his terrible sense of smell is captured by the Mad Scientist Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage) and his dimwitted henchman Cad Lackey (Patrick Warburton) to perform experiments on. These grant the dog superpowers and it escapes. He is found by retired cop Dan Unger (Jim Belushi) and his teenage son Jack (Alex Neuberger) and given the name Shoeshine. Jack discovers Shoeshine's secret when the dog starts talking to him and convinces him to become a superhero under the name Underdog. But Bar Sinister is looking for Underdog to try to gain the powers for himself.

The film also stars John Slattery as the Capitol City mayor, Brad Garrett as Riff Raff and Amy Adams as Polly Purebred.

Underdog provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
  • Adaptation Distillation: Shoeshine, as Underdog, rhymes far less in the film than the cartoon. In fact, he gets called out on this by Polly because it was quickly getting old.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Riff Raff is changed from a wolf to a Rottweiler.
  • And Starring: The cast roll here ends "with Amy Adams as the voice of Polly Purebred and Jason Lee as the voice of Underdog".
  • Animal Talk: Animals understand each other, and can understand humans, but only Shoeshine can speak when he has his powers.
  • Animal Superheroes
  • Anthropomorphic Shift: Inverted: all the dog characters are reduced from Funny Animals to nearly normal animals.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Underdog says two things to Barsinister's German Shepherds that push their The Dog Bites Back moment.
    "Has he even given any of you a name?"
    "Who is he to call you worthless?"
  • Bad Boss: Barsinister doesn't give any of his German Shepherds names, doesn't feed them treats, and calls them "worthless mutts" when they don't immediately kill Underdog. Lampshaded by Underdog: "If he was a better boss, he'd be able to afford a higher quality sidekick!"
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Underdog gets hurled out of Earth's atmosphere by the bomb he buries, but that doesn't make any difference.
  • Big Bad: Dr. Simon Bar Sinister is responsible for all of the danger in the plot.
  • Canon Foreigner: Everyone except Underdog, Polly, Simon, Cad and Riff-Raff. Kinda justified since the show never really had other recurring characters outside those five (not counting the various other segments). Plus the animal characters in cartoon are all sapient and human-like.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Invoked with bar Sinister's "Simon says..."
    • Also, after Jack tells him he needs one, Underdog goes through several, winding up with "There's no need to fear; Underdog is here."
  • Chekhov's Skill: Shoeshine's bad sense of smell. And his frisbee-catching, and his super-speed digging.
  • Clark Kenting: Nobody recognizes Shoeshine despite not even wearing glasses.note 
  • Company Cross References: Dogs on a date batting meatballs back and forth? Lady and the Tramp. One of them is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, similar to the movie.
  • Cone of Shame: Underdog wears this to avoid being recognized.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Several characters, but notably Shoeshine and Bar Sinister.
  • Demoted to Extra: In the show, Riff-Raff was the most often-recurring villain aside from Barsinister and regularly posed a threat. Here he's just a random antagonistic dog Shoeshine encounters a couple times and isn't a match for Shoeshine's powers.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Simon of course.
  • Disney Death: Underdog, at the end.
  • Do Wrong, Right: One of Jack's teachers when he attempts to skip a class: "I don't know what disappoints me more. That you forged a note to get out of class, or that you did it so poorly you couldn't even fool a high-school gym teacher."
  • The Dragon: Cad Lackey, although he thinks he is in a Big Bad Duumvirate with Dr. Simon Bar Sinister.
  • Going for the Big Scoop: Polly Purebred's owner, Molly, evokes this, and runs into the same kind of trouble.
  • Girls Stare at Scenery, Boys Stare at Girls:
    Polly: It's beautiful, isn't it?
    Underdog: Yes, you are. Uh... you are right about that.
  • Hero's First Rescue: Shoeshine saves Molly and Polly from muggers.
  • Heroic Dog: Who do you think?
  • Human-Focused Adaptation
  • I Have Your Wife: Barsinister pulls this on Underdog. Given that Underdog is an Expy of Krypto, this worked about as well as you would expect.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Shoeshine.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: After Cad catches her spying and ties her up, Molly tells him that he and his leader won't go unpunished for their plots. Cad retorts that they're partners. Molly asks their reasons for the current plot. Immediately, Cad answers that his partner threatened to sack him if he didn't follow orders.
  • In Name Only: Well, it uses some of the names from the cartoon. Everything else is different.
  • Insistent Terminology: Barsinister is Cad's "partner", not his "boss".
  • Ironic Echo:
    • After Barsinister finds out Underdog's secret identity, he kidnaps Dan to force him to call the dog. In the middle of the scientist's rant, Dan calls him insane. Barsinister roars back, "I prefer the term 'visionary'!". Later, Dan goes to apprehend Barsinister, who greets him by calling him a heroic idiot. Dan answers with the same phrase and jabs him with a needle, bringing him down to normal.
    • When Barsinister first meets Shoeshine (at this moment, one of his lab animals), the dog whines and the scientist tells him, "It will only hurt a lot." Later, after Underdog has completely torn apart the beliefs Barsinister's German Shepherds have about their master, destroying their loyalty to him, he echoes the phrase.
  • LEGO Genetics: The source of Underdog's powers, like most adaptations, is made to be genetic splicing of various animals. Notably, Underdog's flight is from eagle DNA, even though he doesn't gain wings.
  • Loves My Alter Ego: Shoeshine has the same problems as the early Clark Kent did getting his Love Interest's attention.
  • Mad Scientist: And is named so by the supporting crazy hairless dog.
  • Manly Tears: Jack sheds these during Underdog's Disney Death.
  • Missing Mom: It's mentioned once by Jack that she passed away before the events of the film. A picture frame featuring him, his dad, and a woman who can presumably be said mother appears a few minutes before.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Barsinister's German Shepherd minions, who turn on him when they realize that he sees them as tools and not as "sparkling individuals."
  • Mutually Unequal Relationship: Barsinister considers Cad merely a lackey and doesn't even like him very much. By contrast, Cad apparently has some affection for his boss, given his panicked reaction when he falls victim to a lab accident, and believes that they're partners.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The film's intro has clips from the cartoon.
    • Underdog's secret identity is named "Shoeshine". In the original cartoon, Underdog's secret identity was as a shoe shine boy who is named Shoeshine Boy.
    • Possibly an unintentional one, but while brainstorming ideas for Shoeshine's hero identity, Jack can be seen eating from a box of Cocoa Puffs. General Mills was a major sponsor of the original Underdog show and many of its' contemporaries from both Total Television and the closely-linked Jay Ward cartoons.
    • When he first dons his iconic outfit, Shoeshine, looking at his reflection, stands up and mimics a bicep flex. His cartoon counterpart would do a similar pose upon transforming.
    • Polly's Distress Call in the cartoon is used an a slightly more snarky manner here, though the film has her wanting to talk to Underdog while the cartoon is whenever she's in danger.
    • A newspaper headline depicting Underdog saving people in a falling elevator has him looking like a modernized version of his cartoon appearance.
    • When Bar Sinister takes Underdog's powers away, he turns them into pills, only for Shoeshine to swallow one of them and regain his powers. The original run had Underdog taking pills to receive and renew his powers; obviously, most modern reruns cut those parts out, except when they were integral to the plot.
    • Molly, Polly's human owner, is an aspiring news reporter; Polly herself was a TV news reporter in the cartoon.
    • At the end of the film, Shoeshine changes to his Underdog identity in a phone booth— and destroys it.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: While Barsinister's German Shepherds might have listened to Underdog anyway, Barsinister didn't help his case by calling them "worthless mutts".
  • Racial Face Blindness: Variant. Shoeshine can't identify a suspicious man who tried to kidnap him (a disguised Cad). In his own defense, he says: "How should I know? All you humans look alike."
  • Reactive Continuous Scream: This is how Jack and Shoeshine respond to the fact that they can understand each other, after the latter claims a mess he made was an accident. The teaser trailer uses a piece of Shoeshine's dialogue from later in the movie ("Give... the dog... your... foooooood...") in place of what he said in the film proper - to hilarious effect, as it's right after the trailer states that, among the tricks he can do, "he speaks".
  • Reimagining the Artifact: The origin of Underdog's powers changing from pills to mad science experiments as the original source is not acceptable now that steroids are well-known by viewers.
  • Remake Cameo: In the Latin Spanish dub, the police chief is voiced by Arturo Mercado, who dubbed Barsinister in the Underdog animated series.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Shoeshine, as Underdog. Though less than his cartoon counterpart.
  • Secret Identity: Of course.
  • Self-Botched Catchphrase: At one point, Underdog is trying to come up with a catch-phrase but constantly screws them up or makes an awful rhyme, before he settles on the classic "There's no need to fear, Underdog is here!"
  • Shout-Out: Lots.
    • Several to the Superman movies.
    • One to the sequence in the first Spider-Man movie where the hero gains his powers. And the second one, in the scene with Cad impersonating an old lady while hanging from a building, with an American flag no less.
    • Bar Sinister is a Small Person version of Doctor Doom, complete with scarred face.
    • "It's clobbering time!"
    • One of the main characters in The Perishers is a dog named Boot, whose mother was Cherry Blossom - named after a well-known British brand of boot polish. And now there's a dog called Shoeshine...
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: While the setting of the original show never even had a name, here the action takes place in the fictitious "Capital City". Addresses and license plates don't specify a state, but the capital building is actually the Rhode Island State House in Providence. (Doesn't help that some shots used the skyline of nearby Boston, while the above poster depicted New York City.)
  • You Can Talk?: What precedes the Reactive Continuous Scream mentioned above. Interestingly, not only is Jack surprised that Shoeshine can talk to him, but Shoeshine is also surprised that he's able to talk himself.
  • You're Insane!: Dan Unger, held hostage by Barsinster calls the mad scientist insane. The latter's response?
    Barsinsister: I prefer the term "VISIONARY!"