I am an unabashed dog person, and have rarely been without at least one canine companion for most of my life. My adult years have been spent with a variety of mostly Golden Retriever mixes, a breed that is both incredibly cute in puppyhood and, once you get past the manic chewing phase, incredibly smart, loyal and well-behaved in adulthood. So you'd think I'd be at least tolerably interested in Space Buddies, Disney's new straight-to-video knockoff of its theatrical Air Bud from a few years ago, which evidently is their latest franchise to exploit. Alas, Space Buddies has very little to offer anyone over 7 or so, and even some tots are going to be nonplussed by one of the more rote Disney films, theatrical or non-, in recent memory.
The plot of Space Buddies can be summed up quite succinctly: a gaggle of Golden puppies secretly accompanies their children on a field trip to the exhibition of a new spacecraft, where of course they impishly get on board and fly the craft to the moon. Along the way they meet up with a Russian "dognonaut," bringing a bit of international comradeship to outer space. Also along the way we meet the spacecraft's absent-minded creator, Professor Pi (Bill Fagerbakke), whose name is about the subtlest thing this film has to offer. There's also the evil assistant, Dr. Finkel (Kevin Weisman), whose every attempt to put the kibosh on the project ends up backfiring. There are also the adorable kid owners of the dogs, all of whom have their own "personal styles" (little princess, budding rapper, etc.) which have been passed on to the dogs themselves. Fagerbakke, who has made a career out of playing dumb (despite some evidently impressive theatrical performances, including Shakespeare), does his patented dimwit routine here, which simply flies in the face of credulity, considering the fact that his character supposedly built a sleek aircraft (with dogpaw-like windows, no less) capable of lunar exploration. Weisman, who is working with material not exactly at the Shakespeare level, seems to be auditioning for a touring company performance as Roger DeBris, the simpering director from The Producers.
There's simply not very much here in any way, shape or form. The comedy is lame-brained and consists of things like dog allergies cropping up from the hidden puppies, or even fart jokes when one of the puppies asks to have his paw pulled. The CGI to achieve the talking dogs is truly abysmal, with a bottom row of "teeth" on each of the dogs which is just laughable (I'm being charitable and assuming that that's what the Imagineers had in mind). Even my kids (who are, to be fair, somewhat older than the probable target demographic) couldn't believe how "fake" the CGI was of the dogs supposedly walking on the moon.
The problem with these by-the-numbers knockoffs is that if you've seen one, you've seen them all and, unless this is your first experience with this lamentable genre, you're going to know everything that's going to happen within the first couple of minutes of the film. There is not one genuine surprise throughout Space Buddies, including the tepid attempt at pulling the heartstrings as the film winds up its entirely too predictable course.
I can't imagine any kids older than 7 or so finding anything to sustain their interest in Space Buddies, sadly. Is Disney really so bankrupt of ideas that it needs to re-mine these concepts which weren't exactly groundbreaking to begin with? (Anyone heard of Francis the Talking Mule or Mister Ed, f'rinstance?). Even giving the Disney greenlight committee a little slack in that regard, can't the creative team behind these efforts find some way to invigorate them with at least one or two new ideas or plotlines? This film reeks of creation by committee, pandering to the lowest common denominator, which in this case is pretty awfully low.
Space Buddies' 1080p AVC 1.78:1 transfer is OK, nothing more, nothing less, but certainly not anything approaching a Blu-ray reference quality disc. There's just not a lot of high def-worthy material here. What you do get is well saturated and excellent color, completely lifelike, with equally excellent sharpness and detail. Contrast and black levels (in the space sequences) are also fine. There's just nothing here that is going to knock your socks off, image quality wise, and the resolution of the BD means that the really spectacularly bad CGI is delivered in jaw-dropping (not in a good way) clarity.
The DTS HD-MA 5.1 mix is better than the image quality, but aside from such LFE as the spaceship roaring off into the outer atmosphere you're not going to get a lot of surround sound experience here. There is some good use of directionality with puppies prancing in from various channels, and all dialogue is clear and easy to understand. Fidelity and range reproduction are top notch across the board. English subtitles are available.
Disney provides its by-the-numbers extras to go along with its by-the-number home video knockoff experience. You get a blooper reel, facts about the puppies, a "Disneypedia" selection of facts about space travel, a "Buddy Finder" game (think "Where's Waldo," canine style) and a music video for the closing credits use of "Dancing in the Moonlight."
Bad dogs. Bad dogs. If you have kids younger than 7 or so, this is an OK rental idea, nothing more, Otherwise, Skip It.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet