"Buddy" is a somewhat flawed children's film, but I think it didn't connect with audiences simply because it's an old-fashioned, sweet and simple children's picture that is rarely seen anymore, with the exception of films like "My Dog Skip".
"Buddy" is the true tale of Gertrude Lindz, an eccentric woman living in the 30's with a wealth of pets that she treats no differently than people. One day, she brings home a sick ape and after caring for it till it recovers, she names it Buddy. And, like everything else, Buddy grows up.
She also has a husband (Robbie Coltrane) who remains unirritated when his wife continues to bring loud, untrained animals into the house for herself and the maid (the excellent actress Irma P. Hall) to take care of. Coltrane's character isn't particularly realistic in the relationship with Russo's - he seems to simply be there for the entertainment of watching whatever mess she'll get herself into next.
There's not a great deal of story to work through - and at only 84 minutes, it remains a fairly thin offering. Most of the early proceedings revolve around the apes acting like humans or getting into trouble. I certainly am no longer in the intended age group for this kind of film, but I can't see many not feeling as if the first half isn't noticably slow. Not only that, as the film goes onwards, it does become noticably more frightening (especially for younger members of the audience) as Buddy grows up a bit too far and becomes dangerous.
The animatronic animals are decently done, although to be honest, I never found them to be realistic (in other words, never did older Buddy not look like a guy in a Gorilla suit.) The actual animals though, are well-trained and perform quite well in their little roles. As for the humans, Russo becomes a little too sappy at times to be believed, with decent supporting performances from Coltrane and Hall. I think "Buddy" could have been a better picture had it been a less theatrical/"fairy tale" exploration of this woman's real life story.
VIDEO: Although Columbia/Tristar has done their usual wonderful job with the anamorphic presentation for "Buddy", the film also benefits from impressively beautiful and detailed sets and scenery. The film is presented in it's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (there's also a pan&scan version) and for the most part it looks simply wonderful. Sharpness is accurate to the film's look, which seems like it's going for a slightly softer, period feel.
Colors are a pleasure to look at; the film is bathed in golden tones that are well-saturated and warm without flaw. There are some other flaws to mention that do appear now and then, though. Some minor pixelation is noticed as well as a tiny bit of edge enhancement. The print was generally crisp and clear, with little speckles and marks rarely visible. There's so many subtitles they needed their own menu - English/Spanish/French/Portuguese/Thai/Chinese and Korean.
SOUND: "Buddy" offers a Dolby Digital 5.0 presentation that really doesn't provide anything beyond dialogue and Elmer Bernstein's light, perky score. There's little surround use at all, and almost all of the audio comes from the front of the room. A mild thunderstorm livens the sound up towards the end of the film, but this is really the only sequence with much activity. Dialogue though, remains natural and clean.
MENUS:: Menus are rather basic, with limited graphics and film-themed backgrounds.
EXTRAS: Trailers for "Buddy", "Running Free", "Adventures Of Milo and Otis", "Fly Away Home", "Matilda" and "Stuart Little" A short 5 minute "making-of" featurette and talent files are also included.
Positive: Tristar provides a pleasing presentation in terms of audio/video quality.
Negative: "Buddy" may make for a decent family rental, although some children may find the picture too slow and other younger children may find it too scary at times.