DVD Review: Air Bud (1997) -- Special Edition

Making a Slam Dunk
In a Special Edition DVD

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So the theme for this one is don't judge a Bud by its Buddy. Despite the fact that when it comes to pets I'm definitely a dog person, I was less than terribly impressed by the most recent foray into Walt Disney's wildly successful Buddies series.

Therefore, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect when I popped in the brand new special edition of 1997's Air Bud-- the Walt Disney film that inspired the entire franchise of adorable Golden Retrievers who do extraordinary things. However and much to my surprise coming right off of the heels of the often hilariously clever yet unfairly maligned Beverly Hills Chihuahua, instead of being disappointed by comparison, Air Bud reaffirmed the belief I had growing up that when it comes to children's entertainment and especially those involving dogs-- you don't get much better than Walt Disney.

Yes, Air Bud does move into a sappy and highly unbelievable finale as Buddy-- the fiercely loyal Golden Retriever becomes not only a mascot for the local basketball team but also the fifth player on the court during a crucial match, but when you overlook that-- it's a wonderfully touching work that had much more in common with the studio's excellent Homeward Bound: An Incredible Journey and Oliver and Company than some of the Bud and Buddies sequels that followed.

In an admittedly overly broad beginning, we're introduced to the dog who's cruelly used by his abusive owner (Michael Jeter) in what has to be the worst children's party clown act known to man. When the talentless Jeter bombs in a room full of children and the dog steals his thunder before disaster hits the room, Jeter's clown proves he's incapable of laughter, deciding to drive the dog to the pound presumably to surrender him under the lie that he's a dangerous and vicious animal.

Luckily for the dog and Walt Disney who wanted to ensure their film would remain PG, the door to the back of Jeter's truck swings open and the dog flies out in his portable kennel where he's promptly hit by a frazzled mom in an SUV. While the mother is unable to see the dog, her twelve year old son Josh catches sight of him in the car mirror as he runs-- now free-- off into the distance.

Lonely, shy, and nervous about starting a new school, Josh-- who is still trying to recover from the tragic death of his test pilot father a year earlier-- stays mostly to himself in their new suburban neighborhood. When he discovers an abandoned old church, he clears away the brush in the back to shoot hoops in peace alone, only to realize that in the distance, the dog he'd noticed on the side of the road has also come to the exact same spot.

Luring the four legged hungry dog (still sadly in his clown costume) with applesauce and pudding snacks, Josh quickly befriends the dog and discovers his natural athleticism and ability to bounce balls. After the two build a quick rapport playing basketball together, he sneaks Buddy home and-- wanting to present the dog with his best paws forward-- he bathes him, brushes his teeth, applies perfume and tries to sweet talk the mom with the classic "can we keep him?"

While Buddy's introduction to his mom leads to chaos when he stumbles over wallpaper and painting materials-- she eventually agrees that, provided he put up posters about the missing yellow dog, she'll let Josh keep him just until Christmas. Of course, soon the two are inseparable and when Josh becomes a member of his school's basketball team after first helping out from the sidelines, Buddy is perpetually at his heels, initially stealing the halftime shows before his ability to bounce a ball directly in the hoop garners the attention of the local media and predictably, Buddy's former evil owner.

With a valuable message of friendship and proving that the best inspiration is love and having someone (including a pet) to believe in and one that does the same for you, Air Bud overcomes its standard formula in a touching and genuine film that goes much deeper than the surface level idea of a dog playing basketball may imply.

In the newest edition of the original Air Bud, Walt Disney served up the film in a collectible outer box complete with a "Buddy" dog collar, the original theatrical trailer and a bonus "Dog-U-Commentary" featuring the picturesque Buddies pooches, wile maintaining the nice widescreen aspect ratio that's enhanced for compatible televisions along with Dolby Digitial 5.1 Surround Sound as well as a Spanish language track and subtitles.

Kicking off this month with more installments of Disney dogs following last month's releases of Space Buddies and Oliver and Company by debuting Air Bud's Special Edition the same day as Beverly Hills Chihuahua hits stores-- all leading up to the hotly anticipated debut of Bolt on DVD and Blu-ray, Air Bud makes a solid addition to the Disney shelf in your home and one I'd recommend introducing kids to before you venture into the land of the Space Buddies.