Few companies throughout the history of the world have been so shameless in their pursuit of the almighty dollar as the Walt Disney Company. After breaking the mold in 1934, Disney has never shied away from creative marketing and release strategies to wring every last dollar out of its most beloved pieces of intellectual property. Each week, we’ll look at the House of Mouse’s various sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and various misadventures, relegated from the silver screen to the small screen. Is there any artistic merit to be found? Or was each film mostly conceived as an excuse to print more money? Join me as we search for the answers from the wonderful world of Di$ney.
Why does this exist?
You may not remember too many specifics from 1997’s Air Bud, but surely you remember that there was a real movie that existed wherein a golden retriever was allowed to play basketball. And maybe you also remember that the film spawned a whopping four sequels with the same premise applied to football, soccer, baseball and volleyball as the sports of choice.
Perhaps this column should have covered 2006’s Air Buddies, since it was technically a straight-to-DVD spinoff of Air Bud. But that film is its own entity, which would spring forth a host of its own additional films. Also, Disney only tangentially worked on the film, as it was distributed by the subsidiary Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Bottom line: It’s weird and doesn’t make any sense, and no amount of financial persuasion could convince me to willingly spend additional time in this universe (though you’re welcome to try!).
What’s going on here?
I assume this is addressed in Air Buddies, but at some point, Air Bud and Molly reproduce and the Buddies films revolve around their offspring. All five puppies have distinct personalities that they glean off their owners, all children. B-Dawg is — to put it sensitively — a tough guy. Buddha practices yoga and keeps calm. Mudbud likes to get dirty (one of the film’s running gags involves other characters’ confusion whenever he’s clean). Rosebud is a girl. Budderball … uh, likes to eat. I probably didn’t need to dive into this, though, because we all know these things by heart by now.
Anyway, the Buddies get themselves stuck into the back of an ice cream truck that gets — I swear I’m not kidding — air-dropped into the middle of Alaska. They meet up with Shasta, a Siberian Husky whose owner, Adam (also a kid), wants nothing more than to mush in the town’s annual dogsled race but doesn’t have enough dogs and whose parents forbid it anyway. Because kids are the worst and never listen to their parents (I’m a father of two, so I’m allowed to say it), Adam goes anyway to race against the elements and a badly accented Frenchman.
How much of the original is preserved?
At one point, someone utters the line “There’s nothing in the rules that say a kid and some puppies can’t run the race,” which is a sly reference to the infamous line in the original Air Bud, used to justify a dog playing in a human sport.
When discussing these live-action films like the ones in the Buddies franchise, I won’t be using this column to talk about their quality. I don’t think anyone goes into these films expecting anything close to Disney’s ultimate capabilities. My 3-year-old watched this and was entertained enough, and that’s the extent of how much Disney cares. Snow Buddies’ greatest feat is in casting over-capable actors and actresses, both for voiceovers and in-person roles. Tom Everett Scott, Molly Shannon, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Belushi and Dylan Sprouse are just a few of the voice actors, and Richard Karn and John Kapelos show up in the flesh.
The biggest change from the Buddies films and the Air Bud films is that the animals talk. No, the dialogue isn’t great, nor does the effect look very good. But I don’t think it’s possible for a talking animal movie to ever look good.
Does this ruin the original film?
FIVE PUPPIES DIED DURING THE PRODUCTION OF SNOW BUDDIES!
Yes, if you got stressed out by watching six puppies pulling a sleigh through unsavory conditions, you were clearly more concerned about their safety than the filmmakers. However, they didn’t die from sledding exhaustion, but from a contagious virus because the puppies were too young when production began. It’s a miracle that more Buddies films were made because of this — to say nothing of the film’s quality — and I’m sure it’ll be in the back of my mind in the next few entries.
- Next Time: The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning provides one last gasp of animated fare before we plunge into the abyss.