DOGS have accomplished remarkable feats of bravery, daring and affection in darkened cinema theatres.
The eternally youthful Lassie barked defiantly in the face of danger, warning her owners of impending disaster.
A plucky mongrel called Old Yeller famously helped a young boy to oversee the family ranch before a Labrador and English Bull Terrier embarked on an Incredible Journey.
A pack of huskies risked life and tail to save their owner from frostbite in Eight Below and more recently, a plucky German Shepherd kept Will Smith company in I Am Legend’s post-apocalyptic future.
So it was almost inevitable that man’s best friend would don a cape a la Superman and save mankind from gnarly tricksters and thieves.
Based on the ’60s animated series, Underdog is a lively adventure about a supercharged beagle, with a nose for trouble and a desire to save the citizens of Capitol City from a mad scientist and his lumbering henchman.
Frederik Du Chau’s film revives the classic catchphrase “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!” marrying nostalgia with state-of-the-art special effects to allow the animals to converse in a Babe-stylee.
The eponymous hero is a police sniffer dog, who inadvertently falls into the clutches of maniacal Dr Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage) and his dim-witted lackey Cad (Patrick Warburton).
The mutt escapes only to be drenched in the doctor’s experimental serums, which invest the pooch with supercanine strength and speed... and the ability to talk.
Discovered walking the streets by kind security guard Dan Unger (James Belushi), the dog is re-christened Shoeshine by Dan’s rebellious teenage son Jack (Alex Neuberger), who becomes the first person to discover the beagle’s special talents.
The youngster suggests Shoeshine (voiced by Jason Lee) use his incredible powers for good, clad in a natty knitted costume.
As Underdog’s reputation soars, Dr Barsinister and Cad scheme to capture the airborne hound and steal his DNA, then genetically engineer an army of subservient dogs with which to demand a £1 million ransom from the mayor.
Will Jack and his pet save the day?
Underdog isn’t the finest pedigree family film – the plot is threadbare, even at 81 minutes – but there are sufficient slapstick interludes to keep younger audiences entertained, like when Shoeshine accidentally wrecks the Ungers’ home and Dan walks in to find a gloopy brown substance smeared on the kitchen cupboards.
“This better be chilli!” he bellows.
The father/son relationship begins with animosity – “All he does is eat, sleep and poop!” Jack whines when he first takes charge of Shoeshine; “Well then, the two of you have a lot in common,” retorts Dan – and mellows into mawkish sentiment.
Dinklage and Warburton throw subtlety to the wind in their portrayal of the comic book villains while the escapades of the four-legged cast are more interesting than the owners, right down to the cute if obvious homage to Lady And The Tramp.