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Air Bud: Golden Receiver Special Edition
Being dedicated vidiots and screen-time junkies, my wife and I have recently instituted Saturday nights as Movie Nights for our little family. It seems a nice conceit, and I dare say one of the few that had me looking at fatherhood with longing, but I've learned that it's a tricky game. 5-dog, (as I often call my daughter) if you eventually grow as corpulent as I, I'll consider the whole endeavor a failure. Be that as it may, choosing kids' movies is tough. What insane mind decided that every story needs fear and danger to make it palatable? For each mostly benign Snow Buddies there are three The Little Mermaids, with terrifying octopus witches and such-like.
Seeing the salubrious effects of the little Buddies on my daughter's existence, I ingeniously pull Air Bud: Golden Receiver from the screener pool. Why not? I save a rental fee, give the kid a Saturday thrill, and all I have to do is crank out my usual clever 500 words. What could go wrong? It's the type of question the producers of Air Bud should have asked, too. No, there's no real terror, nothing too frightful for my moppet's eyes (though Sneaky Russians are once again vilified for our American pleasure). No, merely confusion and boredom are present this Saturday night, as the entire family is forced to wonder just for whom this movie was made. Is it for the little girls who love cutesy puppies acting like they're people? Is it for young teen boys with complex feelings towards their parents, such as this film's protagonist? Or is it for anyone who loves football so much they'll consent to watching a golden retriever intercept passes, in a desperate attempt to stave off post-Superbowl© blues a little longer? Based on our differing yet collective responses, it's for no-one.
The upshot is this; when young Josh (Kevin Zegers) is forced to recognize that his widowed mom Jackie (Cynthia Stevenson) is about to start dating again, his only recourse is to retreat into a world where his dog Buddy can play football better than anyone. Luckily Buddy - a barking Bo Jackson if ever there was one - has already proved his sports prowess as a spectacular hoopster in his first feature, simply titled Air Bud. It's no problem, and really no surprise, when Buddy shows he can easily forgo dropping the rock in favor of pouncing on the pigskin. The only complications come in the form of Buddy's gridiron-loving veterinarian Dr. Sullivan (Gregory Harrison), a confident gent who happens to want to put Josh's mom's backfield in motion, (I'm straining here, I know) and also in the form of two Evil Russian Buffoons (including Nora Dunn) who want Buddy for their Evil Animal Circus.
For what it's worth, it's all business-as-usual the whole way through. You can feel the beats before they hit, and the only thing to really hold your interest (unless you fit into the .0001th percentile that is actually looking for a picture just like this) is the football, and for that, my friends, I am grateful. Buddy's efforts on the football field, and guest-luminary Tim Conway's amusing turn as an announcer, will hold sports nuts' attention briefly. But through it all, you may struggle a bit figuring out just which member of your family is supposed to be enthralled, and which merely placated: And that is often the problem with family entertainment - sometimes total inclusivity leaves everyone wanting.
1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen has gone from being a true crowd pleaser to a standard expectation, so one hopes it shines on the screen. Though Buddy is a special sportsdog, this picture is fairly average. Adequate levels of detail and a reasonably crisp image aren't spectacular, but certainly acceptable. Colors are bright and pleasing, and fairly naturalistic, while black levels in the moody/ Evil-Russian sequences are relatively deep. There is some film grain, but no glaring compression artifacts or film damage. Overall, the look is average
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound does a lovely job blending and balancing elements, with nice placement of dialog, sound effects like crowd scenes at the games, and a decent dynamic range that shows of the typical schmaltzy Disney score.
This special edition loses extra features from previous editions in favor of one goofy new extra and a physical treat. SDH Captions and French and Spanish Subtitles, plus a Disney Movie Rewards Magic Code that will set you up with some points to get cool swag are available. But why collect those points, when you can get the metallic, gold-colored Air Bud Sports Whistle included in the package? You'll have hours of fun listening to this thing screech loudly before you hide it from your kids. Yes, there's also a 6-minute Sports Channel Play-By-Play narrated by Buddy's little Buddies, the Buddies. It's cute, convincing, and should save you football fans a lot of time by condensing all of Bud's best plays.
It can be hard to find a movie that entertains parents and kids alike. Air Bud: Golden Receiver tries mightily, but might leave everyone a little dissatisfied with its all-inclusive plot. You get the cute dog, you get the football angle, you get the Evil Russians doused in fish-guts by a monkey, you get the angst-y pre-teen, and you get the occasional nod to adult humor. Plus, you get the whistle. But if you're serious about family entertainment, find something your kids will really love but you can barely stomach, or look to Pixar (but watch out for the evil toys in Toy Story). As for the Golden Receiver, Skip It.