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?
Look, if it wasn’t evident already that Disney was basically spinning its wheels with its home releases, look no further than the fourth and fifth entries in a series that barely justified its own existence past the first film. Spooky Buddies is the franchise’s Halloween entry and Treasure Buddies is very much an Indiana Jones riff, or is at least adjacent to it. Though 2011 and 2012 were relatively creative and critical low points in Disney and Pixar’s theatrical output, it was a fruitful period for the home-release productions, with six films that we’re covering in this series (including two today) being released during that time.
What’s going on here?
Spooky Buddies expands the lore of Fernfield by opening with a flashback of Warwick the Warlock attempting to summon the Halloween Hound by sacrificing the souls of five puppies. I know it’s purely coincidental, and Disney would very much like the world to forget it happened, but I couldn’t help but have the off-screen incidents from Snow Buddies in the back of my mind with this plot device. Before Warwick can complete the spell, he’s foiled by the local sheriff and escapes. All five of the puppies are turned to stone, but only one of them has its soul visually represented as a floating ghost that looks like a combination of Casper the Friendly Ghost with a dog’s head.
Flash forward to present day, and the Buddies are preparing for Halloween. Billy, B-Dawg’s owner, comes across Warwick’s staff while on a class field trip. Because the mere act of typing this is making me sleepy, I’ll skip ahead to what passes for action: Warwick and the Halloween Hound return in the hunt for the Buddies and Warwick’s spell book. Warwick manages to turn the town’s adults into walking zombies in his quest to … take over the world? Anyway, the Buddies stop him and the ghost puppy’s soul is returned to his body where he’s reunited with his now elderly owner.
Treasure Buddies feels like the inverse of Spooky Buddies in nearly every manner. The film almost exclusively takes place outside of the pups’ town, only involves one of their human counterparts and features almost no recognizable physical or voiceover performers. It’s almost as if both were filmed back-to-back and the later film could only use what was left over from the previous film’s budget. Consider the scene late in the film where a lightning storm is seen and heard in the distance. One character goes out of his way to comment to another that no rain would be coming. I read this mostly as the filmmakers’ way of saying they didn’t have the cash for artificial rain.
Thomas Howard, curator of Fernfield’s local museum, believes it’s a great idea to bring his grandson Pete — MudBud’s owner — on a treacherous journey to Egypt (read: a Hollywood backlot filled with sand) to locate the lost, ancient tomb of Cleocatra. (GET IT? CLEO-CAT-RA!!!) The Buddies stow away and chase after Pete with the help of a capuchin monkey and a camel that’s in search of her parents. The previous two sentences comprise at least the first 20 minutes of screen time.
Thomas and Pete find their way to the tomb using various mystical clues, only to discover that their local guides, including a hairless cat bent on recovering Cleocatra’s necklace, are evil. Absolutely nothing worth mentioning occurs throughout the rest of the film.
How much of the original is preserved?
If there’s one difference in Spooky Buddies compared to the series thus far, it’s in the film’s heavier reliance on the humans over the puppies for the bulk of the action. And whereas previous films at least cut away to different locations, this film takes place entirely in Fernfield. Despite my skittishness about the implications around the puppies’ danger in Spooky Buddies, both films are largely devoid of any animal action. Most scenes with the Buddies are structured around the animals simply sitting and “talking” or reacting to human stuff. The most perilous scene in both films sees the Buddies briefly swimming in a shallow pool for a few seconds.I wrote previously about the Buddies franchise’s strange acknowledgment of organized religion, and both of these films continue the tradition in new ways. When wondering aloud what happens to the puppies’ souls when they leave their bodies, one character explicitly mentions heaven when they could have just as easily swapped the word out for any other ambiguously spiritual unknown. And during the film’s climactic battle with Warwick, his spell book is swapped out with the Bible, where he begins to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Treasure Buddies is less explicit, but it does at least acknowledge Islam once or twice. None of these developments may amount to a hill of beans, but just try imagining WALL-E or even The Little Mermaid making any references to any organized religion. Disney’s globally focused braintrust would never allow it.
Does this ruin the original film?
The biggest sin for each film is being boring and long. Spooky Buddies weighs in at 92 minutes and Treasure Buddies an unforgivable 96, both the longest installments in the franchise outside of The Search for Santa Paws. Neither film has any inexplicably bonkers developments in line with previous franchise installments that at least made them feel like less of a slog. Of the three remaining films in this series (!), two will be continuations of the Buddies franchise. I’ve been wrong before in this column, but it’s hard to imagine anything else plumbing the creative depths of these two films.
- Next Time: ¡Ay (Beverly Hills) Chihuahua (3)!