They shoot! They score! They talk! Well, that's what the film's advertisers claim anyway. The emphasis is on talking dogs in what seems like the bazillionth installment of Disney's popular Air Bud franchise, which features a dog who is particularly talented at playing human sports. Is it possible to keep the charm of the original after just about every sport under the sun has been covered?
In Air Buddies, Air Bud, having found love with the girl dog next door (okay, across the street)is now a daddy to five adorable puppies. There is MudBud, who loves to roll around in the dirt, RoseBud, the girly-girl, B-Dawg, who has a penchant for hip-hop and basketball, Budderball, who never ate a meal he didn't like, and Bud-Dha, the Zen one of the bunch. Chaos abounds when the puppies create chaos in the home and their owners realize it may be time to find them homes, compounded by the fact that kidnappers are after the family.
The idea of talking dogs is at first gimmicky and silly, but in Air Buddies, it works. The script is crisp and witty; it will not be lost on yoga lovers that Bud-Dha's favorite position is Downward-Facing Dog. The action flows quickly enough to entertain even the littlest members of the family, while just engaging enough to keep the adults from squirming in their seats. Add to it the fact that the puppies are just so cute and the film has absolutely zero moments that are objectionable for kids to see (the villains are harmless), and you have the recipe for a fun evening of family entertainment. The only drawback to little sports fans in the family is that there is far more focus on the dogs' travels and adventures than on actual sports.
Air Buddies has some very nice lessons in it without being overly preachy. It deftly handles themes of childhood separation anxiety when it comes to leaving one's parents for any length of time, and it deals touchingly with the fact that there is no way all the dogs can live under one roof. The Green Mile's Michael Clarke Duncan contributes a brief but powerful voiceover as a wolf, and the voice of the late, great Don Knotts is instantly recognizable as a bumbling bloodhound who has lost his ability to sniff out the pups. Home Improvement fans will recognize Richard Karn as the dad.
Kids will love the pratfalls and numerous fart jokes, while parents will marvel at the filming process – there are more dogs than people, and it is staggering to think what it must have taken to wrangle five puppies effectively in order to get them to perform. It truly is a remarkable feat.