Air Bud

on August 01, 1997 by Dwayne E. Leslie
Contrary to the trailers might lead one to expect of this Walt Disney release, "Air Bud's" Buddy the dog never slam dunks or twirls a basketball on his paw--although he can hit a shot from the free-throw line. And that attention to realism is to the good: The filmmakers here were opting away from slapstick parody.
Still, if "Air Bud" were more about that lovable golden retriever instead about his new owner Josh (Kevin Zegers), the film could have been a family classic. The small Washington State town of Fernfield, where apparently anything is possible, provides the setting for a slow beginning that wags itself into becoming something worthwhile. Such common childhood dilemmas as moving to a new town and a new school and meeting new kids, all while coping with the loss of a primary parental figure, are part of what Josh must deal with. Not until he becomes friends with an abandoned dog that like a seal does tricks with balls does he begin to find his footing and a motivation to go on with his new life.
Although Buddy is the title character, the dog is more of a co- star, leaving some of his talents and screen appeal wasted; he pops in to do a few tricks, then he's gone. When the canine is onscreen, interest from youngsters in the audience will likely shine; even though Buddy doesn't make his first basket till halfway into the movie, children will fall in love with him. Clarification on a few matters are overlooked or just plain forgotten once Buddy puts on his doggie hightop sneakers and becomes the star player on Josh's school basketball team, the Timberwolves. But, because that excitement starts late, at least the film's emotions end on a high note. Starring Kevin Zegers, Wendy Makkena, Bill Cobbs and Michael Jeter. Directed by Charles Martin Smith. Written by Paul Tamasy and Aaron Mendelsohn. Produced by Robert Vince and William Vince. A Buena Vista release. Comedy. Rated PG for brief mild language. Running time: 98 min
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