Ever get really sick of being teased by the sluggish release of a TV show on DVD? The frustration grows when the show hits stores on a single DVD with random episodes and not even season sets. Such was the fate of Underdog over the last decade. Spotty DVDs with episodes missing major elements like the theme song. Would nobody save us? Someone heard these screams. Now the little dog with a cape is no longer being kept down by a digital Simon Bar Sinister.
Who is Underdog (voiced by Wally Cox)? Most of the time he’s simple Shoeshine Boy. When trouble hits town or reporter Sweet Polly Purebreed sings her danger song, he rushes into a phone booth and emerges as Underdog. He’s a canine Superman complete with a cape. What sets him apart from the man of steel is that the dog of bone rhymes his lines as he battles evil. He also takes a pill to kick up his energy levels. Most of the trouble takes the form of two super villains. Riff Raff is a wolf dressed like a gangster. He’s always coming up with a criminal plot with his gang of henchmen. He’s based on the legendary mobster actor George Raft. Simon Bar Sinister is the evil scientist with numerous inventions meant to destroy Underdog. He’s assisted by the not as smart Cad Lackey. He’s so mean that he creates a time machine so he can stop Thanksgiving.This episode aired to coincide with Underdog getting a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There are other villains that pop up over time so it’s not always Riff Raff and Simon Bar Sinister having their genius plans foiled by Underdog. Most of the adventures are spread over four segments on two episodes. Previous DVD collections have just edited the four parts together. That’s not the case here.
Underdog had two other cartoons in an episode. Over the years these segments were treated as completely interchangeable. For this collection, the first two seasons contains all the episodes of Go-Go Gophers and The World of Commander McBragg. Go-Go Gophers plays cowboys and indians with creatures of the west. Two gophers dressed as indians refuse to follow the directions of coyote cavalry soldiers. The gophers always get the best of the coyotes over the course of 48 shorts. World of Commander McBragg is the classic old British explorer with his tall tales of adventure. The episodes are less than two minutes long so the outrageous stories don’t get boring. For the Season Three episodes, Klondike Kat, Tooter Turtle and The Hunter rotate as support cartoons. Klondike Kat is a cat Mountie chasing an evil rat around the Canadian frontier. Tooter Turtle is a goofy turtle who gets a lizard wizard to make him live his dreams like being a star quarterback or Arctic explorer. Except reality always gets to be too much for the turtle and the wizard brings him back. The Hunter is detective dog versus thieving fox in the big city.
People often get confused and think that Underdog was created by Jay Ward. It wasn’t. Total TV made Underdog along with Tennessee Tuxedo and King Leonardo.. But it’s easy to see why folks over the year perceive that Underdog is related to Rocky and Bullwinkle. Both shows were produced by General Mills. Both shows were animated at Mexico’s Gamma studios so they have the same visual feel. The structure of both shows is the same with two segments dedicated to the title cartoon and a pair of shorts featuring other characters. At one point, the syndicator shuffled segments from Total TV and Rocky and Bullwinkle so you could see the superhero dog on the same show as the moose and squirrel.
Underdog: Complete Collector’s Edition does its best to put the show back together in its early broadcast order. Over the decades, the show has been carved up and shuffled in various ways. The last time I saw them broadcast on cable, the opening songs to the segments had been snipped. They’ve somewhat restored these missing elements. Since the Masters for these elements have vanished from the vault, they’ve been replaced with videos of varying degrees of quality. A few short bumpers are missing the original music. But at least the songs and teasers are back with the show. It’s a relief to finally get Underdog in one boxset with all his friends. This is a unexpected superheroic event.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The cartoons themselves are in fine shape. There are elements during the show that are rough in quality since they couldn’t locate the masters and went with dub tapes. Frustrated fans shouldn’t be bothered by the quality drop since at least they found something. The audio is mono. The quality varies with the video. The meat of the cartoons sounds fine.
Commentary tracks are featured on 8 cartoon segments. The experts chatting include co-creator W. Watts Bigger, historian Mark Arnold, voice actor George S. Irving, modern voice actor Wally Wingert and Alison Angrim, the daughter Norma McMillian, the voice of Pearl Pureheart. They give enough background about the show and the voices that worked on it.
There’s No Need to Fear…Underdog Is Here (29:16) gives the history of the series with co-creator W. Watts Bigger and animation historian Mark Arnold. They explain how the show hit Saturday morning in the ‘60s. Don Knotts was considered for the voice until Wally Cox opened his mouth.
Underdog: Complete Collector’s Edition is a pure delight as it restores the show to it’s original glory. No longer must Underdog segments be butchered and intermingled with other cartoons. This is pure Total TV in the boxset.
Shout! Factory presents Underdog: Complete Collector’s Edition. Starring: Wally Cox, Norma McMillian, George S. Irving and Allen Swift. Boxset Contents: 62 episodes on 9 DVDs. Released on DVD: February 21, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.