‘Underdog’ on the way

Disney putting classic TV toon on bigscreen

Disney needn’t fear; “Underdog” is here.

The Mouse House and Spyglass Entertainment are putting the final touches on a deal to bring the classic TV cartoon to the bigscreen as a live-action feature.

Disney has high hopes for the property as a possible franchise for its Walt Disney Pictures label.

Spyglass’ Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber and Jonathan Glickman are producers on the pic, along with Jay Polstein (“Frida”), who brought them the project.

Spyglass optioned the property from rights holder Classic Media three years ago with a preemptive bid of mid-six figures against north of $2 million (Daily Variety, June 12, 2002).

“Anything where you have a dog in that superhero context, that’s appealing on a global basis,” Barber said. “Those films do very well, and there’s no better brand than Disney for this kind of movie.”

Spying success

Disney and Spyglass have had good results from their joint ventures of late. “The Pacifier” exceeded expectations, while “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was a solid performer in relation to its costs.

Executive producers on “Underdog” are Classic Media topper Eric Ellenbogen and former Classic veep Bob Higgins, who is now at the Cartoon Network.

Nina Jacobson, Brigham Taylor and Louanne Brickhouse are shepherding the pic for Disney. Erin Stam oversees for Spyglass.

Spyglass hopes to start prep in November and begin shooting in January in Canada, possibly in Vancouver.

Taking a shine to it

The tongue-in-cheek “Underdog” skein, created by Buck Biggers and Chet Stover, made its debut in 1964 on NBC and ran until 1973. The character was an unlikely superhero: a beagle who sheds his milquetoast identity of Shoeshine Boy to become a caped superdog who speaks in rhymed couplets. Wally Cox provided his voice.

Original episodes have been rerun recently on Cartoon. Underdog also is featured in a popular Visa Check Card commercial, appearing opposite an array of Marvel Comics heroes.

In the feature script, by Joe Piscatella and Craig A. Williams, a diminutive hound named Shoeshine gets superpowers after a lab accident. When he’s adopted by a 12-year-old boy, the two form a bond around the shared knowledge that Shoeshine is really Underdog.

Characters kept alive

“We want to keep many elements from the classic cartoon,” said Birnbaum, including mad scientist Simon Barsinister and Underdog’s love interest, Sweet Polly Purebred.

Unlike “Scooby-Doo,” another toon favorite that was made as a live-action feature, this pic will use a real dog for the title role, though with CGI enhancements. Underdog will talk and fly, just as in the cartoon. Spyglass is pondering a nationwide talent search for the next dog star.

Aside from Disney’s plans for its new Underdog, Classic Media maintains an aggressive licensing and promotion campaign for the original toon, including a recent NASCAR tie-in and plans for a videogame.

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