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The Spin Sheet

DVD review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Underdog: The Complete Collector's Edition (DVD)

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Underdog: The Complete Collector's Edition
1964-1966 (2012) - Shout! Factory
Released on DVD on February 21st, 2012

Dolby Digital

Program Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/C/B+

Well thank the DVD gods for small miracles - in this case, thanks be to the good people at Shout! Factory. For the first time ever, every single episode of The Underdog Show that aired Saturday Mornings on NBC from 1964 to 1966 (and reconfigured over the years to continue running up until 1973) are joined together in a spectacular nine-disc collection.

Don't let the spotty animation fool you kids - Underdog is awesome. Yeah, yeah - I can hear those of you raised on the Pokewhats and CGI shows like Clone Wars shrugging off a minimalist-style cartoon show about a pill-poppin' super dog supported by shorts featuring an old man with Pseudologia fantastica and an F-Troop rip-off starring coyotes and gophers as passé; but honestly there is a nostalgic beauty to the show even through it's flaws and it holds real value as a piece of classic animation history.

Underdog was conceived in a time when cartoons were meant to support the whims of the commercial sponsor (in this case General Mills) and get kids in front of the TV and sell product and follows the adventures of a lowly shoeshine boy who, when trouble rears it's head, pops into a phone booth (pops and energy pill) and turns into a superhero who spouts rhyme and kicks ass. Voiced by famed milquetoast game show star Wally Cox, Underdog became one of the most iconic cartoon characters of all time simply based on his overall design. Over the years his image has shown up on t-shirts, dolls, statues and a famous Macy's Thanksgiving Parade float. The stories may have been throw-away, but Underdog was an icon.

By today's standards, the animation is crap, the stories are slightly goofy and only a few eyebrow wiggles and eye-winks above straight Superman parody. Add to that, the implications of special powers through pill-popping and the secondary/supporting cartoons starring Go Go Gophers and Commander McBragg being very much politically incorrect and you have something that many parents would think twice about leaving their kids watching on their won. But let's cut it some breaks, it's a cartoon. I hate to idea of censoring a cartoon from a by-gone time and white-washing the past. Kids are smart and once you explain some historical things to them, I think they'll get beyond it and enjoy it the same way most of us did.

Quality-wise, Shout! does the pre-emptive strike and calls out the problems most DVD reviews are going call: video problems. Every disc, before the main show, we are informed that the video quality will flux because of the quality of some of the video sources. Sure enough, there are some moments of really sub-par quality and some moments of truly stellar quality. To that I say: eh. When taken as a whole, this whole set presents the show quite well and the drops in quality are to be expected for a cartoon show shown in the late 60s/early 70s. Honestly, we've seen worse. The cherry on top is, from what I can tell - these are the completely uncensored editions of the cartoons (remember the pill-popping? Networks pulled these scenes from syndicated copies of the show in the 80s). Audio is presented in a nice Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack supports the show and shares some of the drops in quality that the video featured. Again, I'm just happy to have these cartoons in my library finally.

The extras included here are a selection of ten commentary tracks that are only okay. Some are informative, others are sadly lacking in info. You'll do much better focusing your attention on the short featurette on Disc One: "There's No Need to Fear… Underdog is Here" which offers up a pretty nice history of the cartoon and includes some fun and informative talking head interviews from a grand majority of surviving members of the show's production. And if Guillermo del Toro doesn't know who his father is - he may want to start a conversation with animator Roman Arambula - just saying.

To sum up: Underdog - awesome toon. Underdog: The Complete Collector's Edition - for simply existing at all: awesome set.

Todd Doogan

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