A Title Indicative of The Film Itself
Underdogs is a rarity- it’s a great animated feature film produced outside of the United States that loses nothing in translation, is tricky to find and has a generic name that makes it even trickier to identify. All of that being said, overcome the obstacles and you’re in for quite a charming film that’s equal parts Toy Story, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Everyone’s Hero.
Beginning life as an Argentine theatrical film called Metegol and costing $21-million to make, this one was in theaters back in 2013 competing with big boys like Despicable Me 2 and Pixar’s Monsters University. Surprisingly enough, not only does it bear the distinction of being the most expensive film ever made in Latin America, it took in $25.1-million at the box office, beating out the giants mentioned above in that region.
Films with that kind of notoriety rarely stay put and thus was the case for Metegol. First it received an English dub and a new name (The Unbeatables) for the UK market. Then it received another English vocal performance with different actors, another new name (The Underdogs) and brought over here to the United States.
Where things get tricky is that legal issues have kept the film from being released here on DVD from the Weinstein group as originally planned. In June of 2016 it arrived to Netflix and at the time of this review’s writing, it is poised to be released on DVD officially to North America tomorrow (July 19th) after countless pushed-back release dates.
Finally, making this even crazier, the Underdogs just so happens to the name of yet another film that also came out in 2013; this one a live-action drama directed by Doug Dearth.
If you can make sense of all this- The Underdogs is a 97-minute long CG animated feature film written and directed by Juan José Campanella and tells the tale of a father named Jake narrating a story to his son, discouraged about not scoring a single goal in soccer all season, that winning isn’t as important as giving it one’s best.
His recollection includes a bit of a magical element that turns inanimate toys into a cast of nonstop hilarity.
At its core, the tale is a love story reminiscent to the dynamic witnessed in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs between lead character Jake and high school crush Laura. The villain in this one, though, comes not from a machine that turns water in food but rather in the form of a soccer star named Ace; a lad so diluted, so pompous that he speaks with an English accent despite coming from Orlando.
Unable to accept defeat in any capacity, Ace comes back to his small hometown after making millions of dollars playing professional soccer with plans of leveling the place on account of the fact that Jake had beaten him in a game of Foosball years earlier at the cafe there.
While writing out the summary, it all sounds a little silly but in action it’s- well yeah, it’s pretty silly. But the good news is that it works. The narrative, the pacing, the humor, all top notch.
I have gone on record stating that taking a foreign film and slapping an English dub atop it is the formula for disaster in the CG animated film game more times than I care to recount and yet here, this may be the only time I can recall where it works. And works it does!
How the individuals responsible managed to match up Spanish-speaking character mouth flaps for the English dub is truly anybody’s guess. But even more importantly than that- the natural timing of an English spoken conversation is perfectly in tact here as well. The difficulty of this process is certainly not lost upon this critic and can be witnessed in literally hundreds of lesser projects littering the Redbox and Netflix streams as we speak.
All in all I came away from the piece absolutely astonished with the end-result. Not that we Americans, spoiled as we are by the likes of Sony, Pixar and DreamWorks haven’t seen better, I think a lot of the charm in this one stems from the fact that it manages to accomplish so much on so little. That and this is truly one of the only projects I’ve witnessed to date that manages to deliver so flawless a dub. Until I dug into the press materials, I had literally no idea that this wasn’t a project born, produced and animated around an English-speaking voice cast.
Here’s hoping the official DVD release comes to pass this time. Truly this underrated gem needs to adorn the shelves of any true fan of the CG animated film medium.