"UNDERDOG"


        MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Jason Lee as UNDERDOG
    Peter Dinklage as DR. SIMON BARSINISTER
    James Belushi as DAN UNGER
    Patrick Warburton as CAD
    Alex Neuberger as JACK UNGER
    Taylor Momsen as MOLLY
    Amy Adams as POLLY

    Rated PG
    Studio: Disney

    Directed by: Frederik Du Chau

I tend to get pretty irritated at movies that are made – or at least titled – for no good reason. The thought of a live-action version of “Underdog” isn’t an awful concept, but how it eventually came to fruition is. In Disney’s live-action version of “Underdog,” they trample over the good name of the cartoon. Instead of a loveable shoe-shine boy who is secretly the rhyming superhero, they give us a watered down, DCOM style film.

Instead of telling the story of a canine superhero, it tells the story of an awkward teenage boy who discovers a beagle who has been given miraculous powers from a failed experiment. The dog is voiced by Jason Lee, whose narration makes you think you’re in a bad episode of “My Name Is Earl” throughout much of the film. And while the loveable Amy Adams voices Polly Pureheart, she’s only dropped in occasionally during the film.

Still, “Underdog” as a film is not totally worthless. It’s a winner with kids, as is anything with a talking dog. And if it wasn’t called “Underdog” and was just called ‘SuperMutt” or something innocuous like that, I might have warmed up to the film more. However, it was clear they were cashing in on Underdog’s good name and had no intention of making a decent Underdog film.

Maybe things wouldn’t have been so bad if they didn’t use the catch phrases from the cartoon, have updated music with the same themes or wouldn’t have shown a clip from the old cartoon as the opening of the film, all of which might have led the viewer to believe it would be a honorable adaptation.

The DVD isn’t a total waste for the kids, at least, and with a release so close to Christmas, it might see a sales bump. There are a nice assortment of special features, including deleted scenes, bloopers, a Kyle Massey “Underdog” rap (which could have been called “Underdawg”) and several imbedded selections in the movie that can be activated with your remote during the film.

One of the best features, which also serves to kill the movie in a way, is the original “Underdog” cartoon “Safe Well.” This is a breath of fresh air for anyone who wishes to see the original Underdog without the Disney spin. Still, you might be better off buying or renting the “Underdog” cartoon series.



"HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2: EXTENDED EDITION"


        MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Zac Efron as TROY BOLTON
    Vanessa Hudgens as GABRIELLA MONTEZ
    Ashley Tisdale as SHARPAY EVANS
    Lucas Grabeel as RYAN EVANS
    Corbin Bleu as CHAD DANFORTH
    Monique Coleman as TAYLOR MCKESSIE

    Rated TV-G
    Studio: Disney

    Directed by: Kenny Ortega

My wife is a grade school teacher, and one day I was visiting her for lunch. While she was pulling hall duty, she was chatting with one of her students, who was wearing a “High School Musical” tee-shirt. I pointed to the shirt and said, “Hey, I met those kids.”

It was like I told her I met Jesus. The girls freaked and wanted to know everything I could tell them about Zac Efron (which was admittedly very little considering I just sat in on a roundtable interview). This shows the power of “High School Musical.” So I can say anything I want to about this film, and the teenybopper girls aren’t going to stop themselves from buying and watching this DVD.

That said, I still will be honest. I felt “High School Musical 2” was a step down from the original “High School Musical” that took cable television by storm last year. Still, I respect it for the fact that it brought the cast back in total and actually put together a coherent story, and this is quite a feat for a movie that was clearly meant to be a one-shot run on the boob tube.

The new movie follows the kids as summer hits. The cliques start again as everyone gets summer jobs at a local resort. Rich kids Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan Evans (Lucas Grabeel) are also at the resort on vacation. However, Sharpay has eye for Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and wants to woo him from Gabriella. Of course, there’s also a resort talent show for everyone to do battle on the stage rather than rumble in the streets.

The DVD comes with a few special features, and the “Extended Edition” subtitle is really only applicable to an additional song-and-dance number dropped into the video release. After watching it, I can see why it, like many deleted scenes, was left on the cutting room floor. And considering how the flaming nature of Ryan’s character in the scene, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were his agent that called for the scene’s deletion.

Other features include rehearsal footage of the dance number as well as karaoke versions of the songs so you can sing along at home.

If you’re bummed there’s not enough bonus material, take heart. Once the Christmas sales for “High School Musical 2” wane, there’s surely be a super-extended edition coming out this summer.



"THE SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE"


        MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Tim Allen as SANTA CLAUS/SCOTT CALVIN
    Elizabeth Mitchell as MRS. CLAUS
    Eric Lloyd as CHARLIE CALVIN
    Judge Reinhold as NIEL MILLER
    Wendy Crewson as LAURA MILLER
    Spencer Breslin as CURTIS
    Martin Short as JACK FROST

    Rated G
    Studio: Disney

    Directed by: Michael Lembeck

As I watched the special features for “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause,” I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, someone kicked some sense into the folks making this DVD series.

You see, I was dreading a DVD filled with the cheese from the second DVD, in which the cast and crew actually acting as if they shot at the real North Pole as guests of the real Santa Claus and elves. Similar to how the “Star Wars” DVDs came with a special feature about how much of a diva R2-D2 is, this was cute for about five minutes. But for an entire DVD – including a 90-minute commentary – it got really old.

The DVD of the third “Santa Clause” is much more acceptable, and it offers a fine assortment of special features. And upon watching things again, I realized that I didn’t hate the movie, just the last five minutes. In fact, the majority of the film was remarkably okay.

This time around, Santa Claus (Tim Allen) is faced with a challenge from Jack Frost (Martin Short), who thinks he should be the head of Christmas. Using a loophole in the folklore, Frost manages to travel back in time to stop Scott Calvin from putting on the red suit all those years ago. Time shifts, and Jack Frost becomes the new Santa, sending the modern-day Scott on a quest to save Christmas.

While there are stumbling blocks in this film, like Jack Frost bursting into show tunes (which is expected from Martin Short) to the Disney machine hypocritically shaming us for commercializing Christmas, it’s a decent family film. Just watch out for the ending, which offers too much sweetness even for the holidays.

The DVD comes with a nice selection of bonus features, including a blooper reel, an alternate opening, different looks for Mrs. Claus and Jack Frost, a spotlight on Tim Allen and Martin Short as comedians, a visual effects featurette, a music video and a karaoke feature for Christmas carols.



"WISH GONE AMISS"


        MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Kyle Massey as CORY BAXTER
    Miley Cyrus as MILEY STEWART/HANNAH MONTANA
    Dylan Sprouse as ZACK MARTIN
    Cole Sprouse as CODY MARTIN

    Rated TV-G
    Studio: Disney

With Miley Cyrus concert tickets being scalped for thousands of dollars and shows like “The Suite Life” breaking records on cable television, it’s always a good time to cash in on these hits with a DVD release. Disney Channel has wrapped three episodes of their hit shows into one DVD called “Wish Gone Amiss.”

The shows “Cory in the House,” “Hannah Montana” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” each set themselves up with a similar plot. The main stars would wish on a star, have the wish come true and then discover the pitfalls of getting what they wish for.

Cory Baxter wishes to become President, and he soon learns that he doesn’t have the responsibility for all the power when alien robots invade. Miley Stewart wishes she could be Hannah Montana all the time but soon learns the diva life takes its toll. Then Zack and Cody each wish to become superheroes, but they soon learn it takes a lot of effort to battle the super villains.

Not too long ago, the Disney Channel experimented with a similar cross-over with “That’s So Suite Life of Hannah Montana.” The DVD sold well, which I’m sure helped spawn this one. In general, if you like the shows, you should like this DVD. While the plots follow similar arcs, they each have the unique spin of the respective series.

The DVD comes with only a single bonus feature in which Jason Earles from “Hannah Montana” takes the audience through a guide of wishes.



"MY FRIENDS TIGGER & POOH: SUPER SLEUTH CHRISTMAS MOVIE"


        MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    Not Rated
    Studio: Disney

One of the newest preschool programs on television is the latest incarnation of the Winnie the Pooh franchise. “My Friends Tigger & Pooh” takes all the friends from the Hundred Acre Wood and puts them into a CGI environment, similar to the style of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Instead of Christopher Robin, the human companion is Darby, a young girl who interacts with the stuffed animals.

It didn’t take the Mouse House long after the show premiered to put together a special Christmas episode. The characters gather as Super Sleuths to solve mysteries in the show. This special mystery occurs when Santa’s magical toy sack goes missing. It’s up to the gang in the Hundred Acre Wood to find out where it went.

While the show runs only a half-hour on television (which amounts to only 22 minutes of story), this Christmas special is twice as long. The rudimentary nature of the show grinds a bit on the grown-up nerve, but still it’s one of the better preschool programs out there. The show itself, and the Christmas special, teach fine lessons to kids and keeps them interested with characters that have proved their worth for decades.

In the new CGI format, the show isn’t as heartwarming as the original animated shorts from 40 years ago or so, but they’re also far better than the crappy animated television series that ran in the 1980s.

The DVD comes with a bonus episode of the series and a set-top game that kids will enjoy playing with a grown-up’s help.

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