Sunday, September 16, 2012

Take Me Out To the Bark Game

One learns quite a lot when devoting an entire month to Animals Doing Human Stuff movies. Among those tidbits of knowledge:

-farting is mandatory
-slide whistles still exist
-most Animals Doing Human Stuff movies need more animals doing human stuff
-there are A LOT of Air Bud movies

Air Bud began his domination in the late '90s when a film about a soccer playing golden retriever captured the wallets of family film loving audiences in America. Ever the smart studio, Disney proceeded to juice every ounce of sportsmanship out of the beautiful purebred, sending him to the football field, basketball court, space (yes, just like the Leprechaun) and here, baseball. Having never seen an Air Bud movie, it seemed logical to start with a sport I actually care about although let it not go unsaid:

Until I see Air Bud playing badminton, I will never be satisfied.

Although I'll concede that seeing him in a football helmet is, well,

Just TRY not to say aw. I dare you.

Quick Plot: As Air Bud's owner Josh Framm (Kevin Zeggers of Dawn of the Dead and Wrong Turn fame) heads off to college, his little sister Andrea experiences growing pains on her first day of junior high. Being the ignored middle child doesn't help matters, nor does her inability to fit into any extracurricular activity. 

Don't worry: there's a montage to explain everything.

Thankfully, Andrea's best pal Tammy is a secret all-star baseball player. Though Andrea doesn't know a strike from a ball, she makes the team due to Tammy's ultimatum to the coach. Now THAT'S a friend you want to have!

Andrea gets off to an awful start, first as an annoying bench warmer and later, an overly enthusiastic right fielder. Being the new owner of Buddy, however, Andrea soon learns that the perfect practice partner is right at her heels. After she improves her skills via montage (the third of the film and counting!), Andrea becomes an all-star pitcher and Buddy, the power-hitting first baseman.

Unlike Big & Hairy, which made a point of enrolling its basketball-playing sasquatch in middle school for team eligibility, Buddy has no affiliation with the education system. Nah, he's just an awesome dog that the entire town rightfully loves, so why SHOULDN'T he be allowed to bat cleanup? Since the movie makes no arguments about this point, neither shall I. Although you have to wonder how the poor schlubs that got cut from the team feel after being deprived their spot on the roster first so the awful Andrea could play with her friend, and now so a DOG could pant around the bases.

Eh. Children need canine role models way more than the chance to exert themselves on a ballfield. I am okay with this completely unfair system.

If Buddy's rise to the majors and Andrea's discovery of self-confidence was all there was to Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, we probably wouldn't be at a feature length film. Instead, we get an erratic subplot about a pair of bumbling scientists who want to kidnap Buddy and his children to isolate the "supersports gene" and sell it to athletes. The villains are far too cartoonish to ever really be scary, which is kind of perfect for an audience that really just wants to watch well-choreographed stunts with a cute dog wearing a baseball uniform.

Director Robert Vince clearly knew what movie he was making, and there's a slick professionalism about Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch that shows up a good deal of the other ADHS films I've watched this month. The human cast (including Richard Karn and Cynthia Stevenson) is perfectly serviceable, the filmmaking fully professional, and the dog actors, well, pretty damn great. Sure, we've got our inevitable animal puns (Umpire: "This game has gone to the dogs!") and five minutes in, dogs-knocking-down-dad-to-eat-bbq-and-lick-his-face antics, but in a way, Air Bud is almost too good. I think weirdly affectionate horrors like Cats: The Movie are starting to confuse my expectations.

Ah well. At least we have a random WTF coda that has Air Bud playing first base for the Anaheim Angels as they win the World Series. 

It's the little things that make a difference.

High Notes
More than any other of America's popular sports, baseball is not easily played by amateurs. Air Bud does a surprisingly effective job at capturing the inexperienced Andrea's nerves when thrust upon the field for the first time

Low Notes
They really couldn’t teach the young actress playing Andrea how to not throw like a girl?

Lessons Learned
Golden retrievers look positively adorable when wearing baseball helmets

When your child and super genius dog are mysteriously missing, the best course of action to take is to watch the baseball game they're not at with sad looks on your face

A little girl on a bicycle can generally ride at the same speed as an automobile

Montage Mania
Of the 93 minute running time, I'm going to estimate 71 were devoted to montages, be they new activities, baseball tryouts, sad baseball playing, happy baseball training, good baseball playing, or the big game

Standard Animals Doing Human Stuff Trope Tally
New Kid In Town: X
Recent Dead or Divorced Parent: X
Montage: Check (check check check check...)
New Friendship: X
Potentially Inappropriate ‘Friendship’ Between Child & Unrelated Adult (Human): X
Evil Corporate Enemy: Check
Original Song: X
Bully Comeuppance: X (although the former all-star does get schooled by the female team members)
Small Town Values: Check (the town might as well be called Buddyville)
Back To Nature Moral: X
Overall Score: 2/10. A surprisingly low score for a film that's so clearly churned out with a franchise formula

A-Paws Meter
Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch is one of the ADHS genre's better offerings, which makes it, let's face it, a little less fun. If you have kids and need to keep them busy for 90 minutes while you finish that wine, then this is the perfect distraction because you won't have to worry about them wanting a pet chimpanzee to have burping contests with. If you're looking for something to watch with irony, look elsewhere. But hey, if you really just need to stare at cute golden retrievers wearing baseball hats and carrying Louisville Sluggers in their adorable jaws, then here you go. 

I look out for all types.

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