Starring: Kevin Zegers, Buddy, Wendy Makkena
Director: Charles Martin Smith
Running Time: 98 mins
Air Bud is an American film about a young boy who finds a stray golden retriever, and decides to take it into his home. However, when he discovers the dog has a gift for basketball, the pair grow closer and closer, helping the boy through a difficult time at his new school.
I loved this film. Sure, it’s probably the most generic Disney movie you could ever think up, but it makes for an absolutely wonderful watch, filled with innocent heart, crazy comedy and a dog that can play basketball. It’s no all-time classic, but Air Bud will undoubtedly make you smile from beginning to end, and sometimes, that’s all that you really want.
But we’ll start off with the most memorable part of the whole movie: Buddy the dog. In what has to be up there as one of the greatest canine performances of all time, Buddy shines at every moment in this movie, showing some epic basketball skills as well as working really well in the film’s quieter moments between the young boy and the dog.
The fact that he can score baskets again and again is hugely impressive (especially considering there’s no CGI), but what genuinely impressed me was that Buddy really worked well as an actor. Director Charles Martin Smith and the dog’s trainers of course deserve a lot of praise for making it work so well, but in comparison to so many other movies, where you see the dog looking off camera to his owner or something, it’s really good to see a dog that actually performs well in every scene.
Now, as I said, this film is undoubtedly Disney at its most generic. However, Charles Martin Smith does a brilliant job to make the film feel genuinely heartfelt throughout, rather than a schmaltzy cashgrab like some of Disney’s poorer outings in the late 90s. Of course, anyone who’s had a pet will probably have a stronger connection to the emotion in this movie, but it’s still strong enough to make for an engrossing watch throughout, and one that you do actually care a lot about.
Yes, the premise of a basketballing dog may seem ridiculous, but when you see that Buddy can actually play the sport well (albeit in his own special way), that side of the story feels perfectly acceptable, allowing you to focus even more attention onto the relationship between the boy and the dog, which is absolutely delightful throughout, and thanks to the strong on-screen chemistry between Kevin Zegers and Buddy, it’s fully emotionally convincing.
Overall, I had a wonderful time with Air Bud. Simple, innocent and fun, it’s the perfect kids’ movie, but still with enough strong emotion and a mesmerising basketballing dog to make for a properly engrossing watch regardless, which is why I’m giving it a 7.7.