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Air Bud Spikes Back

List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 1, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Having conquered basketball, football, soccer, and baseball, this fifth installment in Disney's Air Bud series has their flagship athletic animal tackling one of the few recognizable sports remaining, volleyball.

Bud is the bestest pal of Noah Framm (Jake D. Smith), a young lad who's trained his four-legged friend to dart through an obstacle course for a competition at the county fair. Bud's inevitable victory doesn't do much to lift the spirits of Noah's older sister Andrea , who's crushed that her best friend is moving away to California. Andrea wants to spend what's left of her summer in San Diego, hoping to earn enough money dogsitting to catch a plane due west. A destructive mishap empties her jar o' cash, but Andrea learns from her new neighbor Connor (Tyler Boissonnault) that the grand prize for a victory in a local volleyball championship is a trip to California. The only problem -- Andrea doesn't know how to play! After a couple of shaky games and a team member that's forced to bow out, it dawns upon Andrea that she has the perfect replacement waiting at home... Meanwhile, a group of jewel thieves scheme to kidnap Bud to steal a pricey diamond from a museum whose layout is strikingly similar to Noah's obstacle course.

Air Bud Spikes Back is a tough movie to lavish with praise. No, not because it's a bad movie -- that's beside the point -- but because I'm not really up on my volleyball terminology, despite having invested countless hours playing Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. I don't know enough about the sport to make witty, poster art copy-worthy analogies like "Disney hits a home run with Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch" or "Air Bud: Golden Receiver is a comedic touchdown!" If there's a volleyball equivalent revealed in this most recent entry in the series, I didn't pick up on it. "Disney...hits the ball over the net and the other team...doesn't hit the ball back over" just isn't as eminently quotable. Sure, I could take the predictable route and prattle off something like "Disney scores again with Air Bud Spikes Back" or "Air Bud Spikes Back serves up the laughs!", but y''s just not the same.

Viewers who go in expecting an hour and a half of a dog smacking a volleyball with his snout will probably come out disappointed. The word "volleyball" isn't mentioned until more than twenty minutes in, and Bud doesn't leap into a game until the last third or so of Air Bud Spikes Back. Bud (he's not called "Air Bud" until the final line of the movie) is really more of a supporting character, but saving the volleyball action for the end wasn't the result of stingy producers trying to keep animal training costs to a minimum. There are quite a few critters performing throughout, including a dozen dogs that charge through an art fair and Gram's beloved pet parrot Polly. This being my introduction to Air Bud, I'm not sure if the various sports took a backseat in previous installments, but it seemed to work well enough here. The story has a little more substance than just the novelty of a dog and a ball, though the various subplots aren't as tightly woven together as I would've liked.

Much of Air Bud Spikes Back's younger two-legged cast members don't have a lengthy list of credits to their names, but leads Katija Pevec and Tyler Boissonnault both put in believable performances. I've never really been much of a fan of the obwigatowy cute kid wif a disawming speech pwobwem, but Jake D. Smith keeps the saccharine cuteness within tolerable boundaries. The acting from some of the older cast members, particularly the jewel thieves, is intentionally hammy, but again, nothing unexpected.

...and sure, some suspension of disbelief is required. When Andrea disappears before a game and returns with a golden retriever in a custom jersey, no one on the team seems to find their new addition the slightest bit unusual. Oh, and Bud never serves, and that's not really fair!

Air Bud Spikes Back is a cute, goofy movie that's pretty clearly geared towards the younger set. Though I haven't caught any of the other movies in the Air Bud series, I'd imagine this latest entry will appeal to fans of the four flicks before it. I had a reasonable amount of fun watching Air Bud Spikes Back, and I wouldn't mind sitting through it again with a group of kids if I found myself in that situation. Air Bud Spikes Back hits DVD with a full-frame presentation, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and a decent assortment of extras.

Video: Air Bud Strikes Back is presented full-frame, not entirely surprising for a direct-to-video Disney release. The movie was apparently framed to accomodate matting for widescreen presentations when 16x9 displays take more of a stranglehold, judging from the letterboxed 1.78:1 outtakes provided elsewhere on the disc. I'm not sure what the preferred aspect ratio for Air Bud Strikes Back is, but it looks fine with the full frame exposed.

Letterboxed outtake Full-frame movie

The image is sharp, bright, and colorful, free of any notable speckling or assorted print flaws. Edge haloing creeps in intermittently and to such an extent that it's pretty tough to overlook. A cropped example of one of the nastier instances is provided below.

Haloing aside, the presentation of Air Bud Spikes Back is pretty typical for a modestly budgeted direct-to-video studio flick.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (448Kbps) doesn't take full advantage of the six channels at its disposal until its last half hour. In the first few minutes of Air Bud Spikes Back, a small army of kids excitedly dart out of school, tossing papers and books in every conceivable direction, while Bud scampers throughout the city and a local fair. Although that would seem to be pretty ideal conditions for activity in the surrounds, there's hardly a murmur from the rear portion of the soundstage aside from Brahm Wenger's orchestral score. What effects limp from the rears in the first hour tend to be comparatively subtle, such as echoed dialogue in the museum bathroom, the arming of security lasers, and the flapping of a pet parrot's wings. The lower frequencies are somewhat more prominent, such as the thump of spiking volleyballs, a destructive critter stampede, and the placing the Jewel of Eternity on its secure cradle. Both the LFE and surround channels are put to more frequent and effective use in the last third of the movie, when both the jewel heist and a series of volleyball games are underway. A decent track, but nothing that'll curl the toes of any budding young home theater enthusiasts.

Also included are English subtitles and closed captions.

Supplements: "Behind the Net" (4:12) is a brief featurette centered around interviews with the cast and crew, chatting about how wonderful it was to work with the animals and even some of their bipedal co-stars. "Bump, Set, Spike!" is a set-top accessible game that allows players to move a cursor around a net and play a virtual game of volleyball as Buddy. The novelty is dampened by the grating, distorted audio (LPCM 2.0; 768Kbps), which bellows both underneath the game and the grainy full-frame 'reward' footage that follows a victory. The last of the extras on the "Special Features" menu is a two minute reel of outtakes, featuring the cast flubbing their lines and cracking each other up. The noisy, non-anamorphic footage is letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Apparently having made the leap from Warner's waters to Buena Vista, the first of the disc's "Sneak Peeks" are a Most Xtreme Primate teaser (0:27) and a Pokemon 4Ever trailer (1:09). They're joined by trailers for Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (1:52) and Tokyo Pig (1:03). Pokemon 4Ever is letterboxed to 1.75:1 (non-anamorphic), and the remaining three trailers are full-frame. All four trailers feature Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks (384Kbps).

Air Bud Spikes Back includes a set of 16x9-enhanced static menus, and the movie has been divided into fifteen chapters.

Conclusion: At 24, I'd imagine I'm somewhat outside the target audience for Air Bud Spikes Back, and it's not the sort of movie I'd dig off the shelf to watch for my own personal viewing pleasure. Though not something I'd seek out for myself, I do think kids and other fans of the Air Bud series ought to get a kick out of this movie, and I'd watch it without complaints if I were on a road trip or trapped in a den with a group of rugrats. Recommended, but, y'know...for kids.

Related Links: The Internet Movie Database has a trailer for Air Bud Spikes Back in Windows Media and RealMedia formats.

Boring Image Disclaimer: The screen captures in this review are compressed, slightly digitally sweetened, and don't necessarily reflect the appearance of the movie on DVD.
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