Films based on a friendship between a kid and a pet, usually a dog, is not a recent trend. This is especially true of films coming from Walt Disney Studios. Ever since Old Yeller, this type of film has been extremely popular with audiences. But few would have guessed that a film about a basketball playing dog in 1997 called Air Bud would have had this much success to create a franchise with a sequel coming out almost every year. However, it’s not just the original Air Bud, his “kids” have since starred in a new Disney film franchise, Air Buddies, Snow Buddies, Space Buddies, etc. Based on the success of these films about talking puppies, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a special edition of the original Air Bud at your local DVD store.
The story goes something like this. Buddy is a very talented Golden Retriever that’s part of an act called “The Clown and the Hound” which does children’s birthday parties. Norm Snively (Michael Jeter), the clown in the act, gets angry at the dog and decides to take him to the local pound. But on the way, Buddy’s crate falls off the truck and he runs away. Meanwhile, Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers) has just moved to town with his widowed mother (Wendy Makkena). He is a lonely boy who misses his dad, a test pilot who was killed in a crash. One day he discovers an abandoned basketball behind an old church and in the bushes nearby, Buddy. He immediately takes to the dog, especially when he discovers that he can pass a ball by hitting it with his nose and even score baskets. Josh convinces his mother to let him keep Buddy in the back yard. Soon, Josh and his basketball playing dog, Buddy, are the talk of the town, which can only lead to more trouble.
This is a film aimed at kids, so if you’re aren’t a kid you’re probably a grown-up reading this review. But if you were under the age of 18 when this film first hit theaters, you probably did think that Air Bud was the greatest film ever. Long before the world of YouTube videos, this is probably the first time you have seen a dog playing basketball. However, this story is about as predictable as you can get. All the cliches that have appeared in previous family films involving kids and dogs are on display. From the lonely boy who is going through a tragic time to the cute dog that he befriends and changes his life to the former NBA star school janitor who takes over from the “mean and abusive coach” and becomes the “do it the right way” coach that leads to success. Throw in the mean original owner of the dog that now wants the dog back after the dog has made a name for himself, and you get a film that doesn’t have many surprise twists and turns.
That being said, there are still some heartwarming moments in Air Bud. The dog and boy are likable enough, but really everyone else are just playing stereotypical characters found in other films like this one. There’s plenty of slapstick comedy and chaos caused by the dog. This will certainly appeal to kids, but don’t confuse this dog feature with the ones that include talking chihuahuas. Buddy doesn’t talk in this film, which is actually a positive.
More than 10 years later, it has become clear that Air Bud is still the best in the series of films featuring dogs in the air, snow, or in space. Overall, it makes for excellent family viewing with what was, at the time, a unique premise. Yet, in hindsight, it feels more like a Disney Channel Original movie – something that wouldn’t get a big summer release in theaters.
The video included is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen color, which is enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The quality is okay, but not great. The colors are not as solid as they could have been, but it’s probably about as good as you can expect from a film this old. It’s definitely an improvement over the original DVD release of this film.
The audio included is available in either English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. There are subtitles available in English and Spanish as well. The dialogue and music come out loud and clear, so no major problems here either. Like the video quality, the audio quality is pretty average, but still definitely an improvement.
This is an unique audio commentary featuring the offspring of Air Bud and stars of Air Buddies, Space Buddies, etc. Buddy and Molly, the “parents” of those wacky puppies are also “commenting” as well. Really this is just for kids and for comedy. They do “talk” about the film, but it’s mainly “in-character” so you never know if they are telling facts or not. A director’s commentary would be way more interesting than this one. But give them points for trying something different.
“Buddy” Dog Tag –
The only other “extra”, if you don’t count the theatrical trailer for this film, is a metal dog tag marked with “Buddy” and a paw print on it.
Air Bud is the best of all the sequels and spin-offs it generated. A good rental for families, but this new SE release is not a must-have upgrade. Even those who fondly remember this film growing up will probably be disappointed watching this film again.
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Air Bud. Directed by Charles Martin Smith. Written by Paul Tamasy and Aaron Mendelsohn (screenplay); Kevin DiCicco (characters). Starring Michael Jeter, Kevin Zegers, Wendy Makkena, Bill Cobbs, and Brendan Fletcher. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: March 3, 2009.
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