Courage the Cowardly Dog premiered on November 12, 1990, ran four four seasons, and ended on November 22, 2002. Created by John R. Dilworth for the Cartoon Network, it was the sixth and final series to be spun from World Premiere Toons. It started off as a seven-minute short cartoon, “The Chicken from Outer Space,” with the only line in it spoken by Courage. The evil villain was a red-eyed chicken from–you guessed it–Outer Space. The short was nominated for an Academy Award. The series was produced by Dilworth’s Stretch Films Studio. The studio produced for the Cartoon Network 4 seasons of 13 episodes per season. Later, Boomerang decided to air it in reruns showing every night, and on July 7, Cartoon Network decided to re-air the show.
Underdog debuted October 3, 1964, on the NBC network and was primarily sponsored by General Mills. It was produced by W. Watts Biggers and his Total Television company, with the animation produced in Mexico by Gamma Studios. It continued in syndication until 1973, for a run of 124 episodes. Underdog’s altar ego was the Shoeshine Boy, and he was voiced by the comedian Wally Cox. The syndicated version of The Underdog Show consists of 62 half-hour episodes, with supporting cartoons in between them, like Tennessee Tuxedo, Go Go Gophers, Klondike Kat, and Commander McBragg. However, it began as a series of four-part episodes, with other cartoons in between the parts. It originally appeared on NBC, then later on CBS.
Category 1 – Main Characters
Courage the Cowardly Dog
Courage the Cowardly Dog (Marty Grabstein)
Muriel Bagge (Thea White)
Eustace Bagge (Lionel G. Wilson, episodes 1-33; Arthur Anderson, episodes 34-52, due to an illness Lionel Watson had, which led to his eventual death)
Underdog (Wally Cox)
Sweet Polly PureBred (Norma MacMillan)
Simon Bar Sinister (Allen Swift)
Courage is cowardly, but somehow always manages to get beyond his cowardice when it comes to saving the lives of the two most favorite people in his world, Muriel and Eustace. Underdog is meek and mild when he’s the Shoeshine Boy, but whenever his girlfriend Sweet Polly Purebred or anyone else is in danger, he takes a red pill with a U on it, and transforms into a brave, crime-fighting superhero complete with an array of powers, like the power of fight, super strength, near invulnerability, and the following:
* X-Ray Vision
* Super Breath
* Cosmic Ray Vision
* Atomic Breath
* Atomizing Eyes (?)
* Ultrasonic hearing
* Great Calculating Brain
Muriel is grandmotherly, friendly and kind and always trying to take care of Courage and Eustace, though she is very gullible and gets tricked by the evil villains in the show a lot. Eustace is sort of grandfatherly, but he’s a very grumpy, mean-spirited sort of old man, and often he’s sort of stupid. He sometimes grudgingly shows his affection for Courage and Muriel. It’s apparent he loves them, though he doesn’t always act like it. Sweet Polly Purebred, as her name suggests, is generally very sweet-acting. She’s a television news reporter, and she often reports on Underdog’s heroics. She often gets kidnapped or in the way of the plans of the bad guys, and Underdog has to come to her rescue. Simon Bar Sinister is one of the main villains, appearing in more episodes than any other, so that’s why I included him here. He is super intelligent, though Underdog always foils his schemes. You can see him with his henchman in the picture I chose from this Old School cartoon.
I like Courage quite a bit, but when you take into account Underdog’s many super powers, I’d have to say that in this category, Underdog comes out as the winner.
Category 2 – Secondary Characters/Villains
Courage the Cowardly Dog
* Benton Tarantella and Erroll von Volkheim
* Cajun Fox
* Freaky Fred
* Jeeves “Evil” Weevil
* The Big Ape & Monkey Man
* The Chicken from Outer Space
* Dr. Vindaloo
* The Duck Brothers
* The Star Maker
* Conway the Contaminationist…and many more
* Cad Lackey
* Riff Raff
* Sandy the Safecracker
* Spinny Wheels
* Dinah Myte
* Tap-Tap the Chiseler
* The Marbleheads from Planet Granite
* The Magnet Men from the Magnet Planet
* The Flying Sorcerers from the Saucer Planet…and a few more
For this category, in my opinion Courage the Cowardly Dog is the clear winner, because in most of the episodes he faces an entirely different villain. In Underdog, sure, Underdog sometimes has to battle an entire planet full of aliens, or spaceships full of them, but in general, his foes are Simon Bar Sinister and his henchman, Cad Lackey, and the wolflike Riff Raff and his gang. That’s most of the characters on the list, and while they’re great and memorable characters, I declare the winner of this category to be Courage the Cowardly Dog.
Celebrities Who Did Cartoon Voices
Courage the Cowardly Dog
* Marty Grabstein, Courage
* Thea White, Muriel
* Lionel G. Wilson, Eustace
* Arthur Anderson, Eustace
* John R. Dilworth, Cajun Fox
* Simon Prebble, the voice of Courage’s computer and other voices.
* Paul Schoeffler, Freaky Fred, Clutching Foot, Katz, LeQuack, The Snowman
* Billie Lou Watt, Ma Bagge, and she appeared in other cartoons, like Kimba The White Lion, as Kimba and Gigantor (as Jimmy Sparks)
* Peter Fernandez, Benton Tarentella and Erroll von Volkheim
* Arnold Stang, various voices
* Tim Curry, the Goose God. He’s also appeared in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and in Clue, as Mr. Body, and did the voice of Nigel, the father in The
* Ringo Starr, the Duck Brother voices. He’s better known as, of course, the drummer of the Beatles.
* Wally Cox, Underdog’s and Shoeshine Boy’s voice, also was in the television series Mr. Peepers (1952-55) and was a guest star in several television programs.
* George S. Irving, the Narrator, was Heat Miser in The Year without a Santa Claus. and around a decade later in A Miser Brothers’ Christmas.
* Allen Swift, who does the voices of Simon Bar Sinister and Riff Raff, did many other voices in other cartoons, like Tom and Jerry (1960-62), and he did Howdy Dowdy’s voice after Buffalo Bob Smith had a heart attack.
* Norma MacMillan, who does the voice of Sweet Polly Purebred, also did the voices of Davey in Davey and Goliath, and the title characters from Casper the Friendly Ghost and Gumby.
Tim Curry is by far the most recognizable actor/celebrity that most people would still know today, so I am very tempted to give this one to Courage, the Cowardly Dog. Then, when you add the voice of the drummer of the Beatles, Ringo Starr, into the equation, doing the voices of the Duck Brothers, the choice seems to be an obvious one. However, Wally Cox has appeared on many television show, and some movies, and most people may not know the names of George S. Irving, Allen Swift, and Norma MacMillan, but they are very familiar with the cartoon voices they did. They may not be huge celebrities, but neither is Tim Curry, though I really liked him in the roles and voices I mentioned. I would call this a tie, just because the characters of Heat Miser, Casper, Davey, and Gumby are so iconic and memorable, but Ringo Starr’s voice talents tips the winner of this category to Courage, the Cowardly Dog.
Category 3 – Over-all Concept
Courage the Cowardly Dog and Underdog both have as their main characters dogs, and both are mild-mannered, until Courage is forced to act courageously to save Muriel and/or Eustace, or the Shoeshine Boy takes his little red pill marked with the U whenever Polly or others are threatened. Courage is far from being a superhero, though, unlike Underdog, and would be content to just lie on Muriel’s lap and bask in her attention. The winner of this category probably depends on whether or not you prefer humorous cartoons or action ones, though their is plenty of sly humor in Underdog. This is a close call, IMHO, but I’ll say the winner of this category is Courage, the Cowardly Dog.
If only the elements that make up the categories I already mentioned are taken into account, though I like Underdog, I’d probably declare Courage, the Cowardly Dog the winner, just because I like to see that he’s afraid and squirms in the face of danger, but he still finds the strength and courage to somehow act, even though it goes against his nature.
Favorite Episode or Moment
I’ll chose two episodes from each series and explain my reasons. For Courage, the Cowardly Dog, my first choice is “The Duck Brothers,” in which two alien ducks come to Earth and put a mind controlling device on Muriel so they can use her as a tool for getting their brother back. I like the episode, but I’d say it’s one of my favorites because the Beatle Ringo Starr does the voices of the ducks. My second choice would be “The Gods Must Be Goosey,” in which a goose god falls in love with Muriel and tries every possible way to take her to the heavens as his queen. This is because Tim Curry does the voice of the Goose God.
My two choices from Underdog would probably have to be the four-part “Magnet Men,” and “Mole Men,” episodes, just because I remember them the most of all of the other episodes. Still, if I watched the series more recently, maybe I’d make different choices…but I haven’t, so I’ll go with the ones remember.
This, to me, is the category that really swings my decision of who the overall winner is to my final choice. One of the intangibles, for me, is the famous Underdog theme song:
When criminals in this world appear,
And break the laws that they should fear,
And frighten all who see or hear,
The cry goes up both far and near for…
Speed of lightning,
Roar of thunder…
Another big intangible is the popularity of both shows over the years, and the amount of merchandising the characters of the shows are responsible for having been manufactured and sold. Courage, the Cowardly Dog has had a lot of merchandising related to the series, but Underdog has had much, much more. The catch phrase, “Have no fear! Underdog is here!” is also very well-known, and there’s been an Underdog movie made by Spyglass Entertainment for Walt Disney Productions with live actors and a real dog. Also, there’s been a balloon of Underdog made for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and it’s one of the most popular ones in it. The comparison of the different intangibles is rather unfair, if for no other reason because Underdog has been around for so much longer than Courage, the Cowardly Dog. But based on this category, the balance of the scales tips for me to make Underdog the winner.
Both shows are pretty awesome, each in its own ways. If I didn’t take the last category into account, I’d have declared Courage, the Cowardly Dog to be the narrow winner, and I’d have to say I likely have got the most laughs out of watching Courage cartoons. Still, Underdog brings back a lot of memories for me and many others, and seeing his balloon every year in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has etched this character into my mind permanently. That’s why I’ll declare the over-all winner to be Underdog.
What are your opinions on this? Do you agree or disagree with my choice as the winner? Please feel free to leave your comments below, and your reasoning about why you chose either cartoon!