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Friday, March 16, 2012

Underdog: Cutest Superhero Ever

Watching first-season episodes of the 1960s' Saturday morning comic superhero cartoon series "The Underdog Show" for this review of Shout Factory's complete collector's edition DVD set that includes all three seasons of this classic was an incredible treat during the week in which I seriously was contending with a threat from the family of real-life  "Rock Throwing Teen."

The most noteworthy element of watching the episodes for me was that it triggered memories of dressing as Underdog for my first trick-or-treating excursion. I also remember pretending that red M&Ms, which had the tasty carcinogenic Red Dye #2 in those days, were the super energy pills that were the source of Underdog's powers in some episodes.

I have also shared with my Shout Factory friends that the lyrics "speed of lightning, roar of thunder, fighting all who rob and plunder" from the highly memorable "Underdog" theme have been stuck in my head since learning of the complete series release.

I will spare my readers from sharing my fate of having another memorable theme song from the series stuck even more firmly in their heads.

These episodes were additionally a special treat because Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade staple Underdog is an incredibly cute and endearing character. An early scene in the pilot in which Underdog's cape flops over his face when he lands to save the day made me laugh out loud and set a great tone for the series.

I can additionally say with complete sincerity that Underdog should appeal to everyone of every age. It is hard to imagine anyone not liking this very earnest hero who is brave, true, and clumsy enough to be entertaining.

An early scene of most episodes of this humorous parody of Superman shows "humble lovable" Shoeshine Boy transforming into Underdog in response to his super hearing picking up a cry for help. The episodes are typically broken into four chapters, which are divided into two episodes.

The first three chapters end with a cliffhanger in which the villain du jour, usually mad scientist Simon Barsinister or wolf gangster Riff Raff, has Underdog or the general population in peril regarding the latest evil scheme. Underdog saves the day in the fourth chapter, which usually ends with him crashing into an obstacle while he flies away.

I imagine that many of my fellow Gen Xers who were introduced to "Underdog" through the after-school syndicated version of the '70s that the Tennessee Tuxedo cartoons in those episodes were not part of the original run. Fear not good citizens, our heroes at Shout Factory have released a complete series set of "Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales."

Our other favorite cartoons that were sandwiched between the Underdog chapters are included in the set. First season episodes have "Go Go Gophers" and "Commander McBragg" cartoons. "Klondike Kat" shows up later in the series.

"Go Go Gophers" is a wonderfully un-pc cartoon that has two stereotypical Native Americans who are the last of the Gophers battling two dim-witted Calvary soldiers for possession of land that the Native Americans occupy. A neat twist is that the Native Americans always win.

"Commander McBragg" depicts a less offensive stereotype of an early 20th Century British adventurer/soldier who sits in his private club spinning tall tales of how he single handed saved the day in an adventure. 

Underdog and his friends are all very entertaining and pull off the tough trick of keeping the same premise fresh through roughly 60 episodes. Underdog particularly makes you feel for this animated character. I was rooting for him when Simon Barsinister's first attempt to turn him into a snow dog only partially succeeded.

Shout Factory deserves high marks for adding this show to the list of beloved classics that had only received limited release. 

I remember literally staying up all night searching online for reasonably priced copies of the discontinued three volumes of "Underdog" that were released on DVD several years ago. I recall that I ended up finding a set that was not too unreasonably priced.

Shout Factory also includes its standard well-written and interesting booklet on the series and a "making of" DVD extra feature. The extra feature's treats include explaining the "It's a bird." "It's a plane." "It's a frog." "A frog?!" element of the show.

Shout Factory further demonstrates its integrity by providing several notices that it tried really hard to get the original footage of the cartoons and that the picture quality varied. 

Although some of the "McBragg" cartoons looked a little washed out, none of the picture quality in any of the cartoons struck me as being of poor quality. This is particularly true considering that "Underdog" is a 50 year-old cartoon series that ran on network television.

I would love to receive other folks' vintage or new memories of "Underdog."