A Broadway musical based on the animated movie The Last Unicorn is in the works. Alan Arkin, Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Angela Lansbury and Christopher Lee voiced characters in the 1982 film, based on author/screenwriter Peter S. Beagle's 1968 fantasy novel about a unicorn, who has to battle an evil king to save her species. The film has recently been re-released in theatres and now Beagle is developing a Broadway musical.
Look in the sky. It’s a plane. It’s a bird. It’s a frog. No it’s just little old Underdog or as his young master so aptly calls him “Superman with a flea collar.” In Disney’s live-action version of the 1960s animated superhero parody the canine crimebuster (voiced by Jason Lee) returns to nip at the heels of arch nemesis Simon Barsinister (Peter Dinklage). Unlike the cartoon Underdog who took on human characteristics this pooch keeps all four paws on the ground Except of course when he’s zooming off to save the day. And it’s all thanks to the mad scientist Barsinister that Shoeshine—Underdog’s secret identity—runs as fast as a cheetah and flies like an eagle. Shoeshine turns into the Mutt of Steel after coming into contact with a serum created by Barsinister. His transformation from zero to superhero leaves Barsinister desperate to replicate the results of this lab accident for typically evil purposes. Assuming that is he can get his hands on Shoeshine who’s already found refuge in the Capitol City home of an ex-cop (Jim Belushi) and his son Jack (Alex Neuberger). With Jack’s help Shoeshine finds his true calling as man’s best super-powered friend. Oh and when he’s not thwarting jewelry heists he’s trying to win the heart of his very own Lois Lane “Sweet” Polly Purebred (voiced by Amy Adams). But Underdog must set aside his feelings for the King Charles spaniel when Barsinister and his dimwitted henchman Cad (Patrick Warburton) attempt to extort $1 billion from Capitol City. Let the dogfight begin! How wise of Disney not to unleash a computer-generated Underdog à la Garfield or Scooby-Doo. In or out of his formfitting superhero costume Leo the Lemon Beagle deserves a big juicy bone for his energy and resourcefulness. It certainly helps that director Frederik Du Chau knows how to work with animals having previously directed Racing Stripes. Beware though: Leo’s so darn cute that your kids will beg you for a Beagle for Christmas. Jason Lee who crosses over to the side of good after voicing The Incredibles’ malevolence Syndrome makes Underdog as humble and affable as his TV alter ego Earl Hickey from My Name is Earl. Still there are times that Lee’s so laidback with his narration you’ll swear you’re watching an episode of My Name is Underdog. Amy Adams delightfully kooky in Junebug makes for a surprisingly bland Polly. Brad Garrett though makes sure the bullying Rottweiler Riff Raff’s booming bark is worse than his bite. As for the humans K-9’s Jim Belushi is once again upstaged by a canine costar and Alex Neuberger does nothing to suggest he’s got what it takes to be the next tween heartthrob. Disheveled and disfigured Peter Dinklage is suitably hammy as the maniacal man of science. A bleach-blonde Patrick Warburton continues to exploit his Seinfeld fame by playing yet another Puddy-like himbo even though this act lost its novelty many dog years ago. Superheroed out? Then it’s certainly not enough for director Frederik Du Chau to make us believe a dog can fly. That said this Underdog is more for pups than parents. If your child’s never seen an episode of Underdog they’ll certainly get a kick out of the obvious efforts to spoof Superman from our hero’s phone-booth costume changes to his struggle to retain his secret identity. Du Chau doesn’t show much imagination when it comes to chronicling Underdog’s pursuit of truth justice and the American Kennel Club’s Way but at least he gives the predictable proceedings some oomph. He also keeps the poop jokes to a bare minimum and avoids making the kind of sexual innuendos that ruined The Cat in the Hat ensuring this four-legged superhero offers nothing but good clean fun for kids who have grown tired of Ratatouille. Parents though may find themselves wishing they were watching Spider-Man 3 again. Underdog makes no effort to appeal to anyone who isn’t suffering from a severe case of arrested development. Sure those weaned on the cartoon should come away mightily impressed with Underdog’s efforts to stay as true to its source material as possible. But there are only so many times you want to hear Underdog rhyme while he fights all who rob and plunder. Kids though will certainly walk out of the theater singing the beefed-up theme song and rooting for Underdog to save another day.
Although actor/screenwriter Mike White writes with hilarious wit for his comrade in comedy Jack Black--in films such as School of Rock and Orange County--he is also becoming a master at the slice-of-life dramedy. With The Good Girl he expertly gave us a bored married woman stuck in a nowhere job trying to capture a little happiness. Now with Year of the Dog he hands us the ultimate sad sack Peggy (Molly Shannon) who is practically inseparable from her beagle Pencil. Life is uncomplicated and safe with her beloved pet an excuse she uses to great effect in order to avoid human contact as much as possible. But Peggy's world comes crashing down when Pencil meets a mysterious demise in the neighbor's yard. Shattered Peggy isn’t sure where to turn to fill the void. Friends family and co-workers try to distract her but in the end she emerges from her loss with a newfound sense of what will make her happy in the world. Molly Shannon huh? The SNL alum has generally been relegated to kooky sidekick roles after her disastrous (but somewhat guilty pleasure-ish) starring vehicle Superstar. But who knew she had the chops to pull something like this off. She’s perfect as the lonely downcast Peggy who has completely resigned herself to living with her dog as her only companion. Shannon gets to show off her wacky side in certain moments--like when she “adopts” about 20 dogs and lets them run all over her house--but the actress plays the majority of her role with restraint and great subtlety. Also quite good is Peter Sarsgaard as a fellow dog lover who starts off as a potential love interest for Peggy but ends up disappointing her like all the other humans in her life. His character’s unassumingly sweet and charming personality still wins you over even when he’s being a jerk to Peggy. Someone needs to give him an Oscar. In supporting roles there’s John C. Reilly as a blowhard and hunting enthusiast who lives next door to Peggy (and could be the reason Pencil died in the first place); Thomas McCarthy and Laura Dern as Peggy’s concerned but rather uptight brother and sister-in-law; and finally Regina King as Peggy’s saucy workmate just trying to give her friend a little excitement. Kudos all around. Mike White also tries his hand at wielding the camera for the first time with Year of the Dog--and much like his minimalist writing style he keeps the action fairly simple and focused. He seems to love the one-on-one scenes with his characters sitting across from each other--either in the living room at a lunch table or a desk--oftentimes with filled with long uncomfortable (or sometimes very comfortable) silences. Static yes but White obviously realizes his movies are more about what’s being said (or not being said) than the visuals. He also shows a real talent in guiding his actors to pitch-perfect performances--a very important part of being a good director. Of course not a lot happens in Year of the Dog which can be a drawback to indie movies of this ilk. It could be considered a giant bore-fest if you can’t connect with people who love their pets way too much. But if you can settle in and really listen to White’s quirky but ultimately realistic view on life as its dealt out you’ll really enjoy this stellar effort from the burgeoning filmmaking talent.