“Air Bud” made $30 million during it’s initial release. (Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures)
There is an episode of “The Simpsons” where Krusty the Klown decides to run a new cartoon in place of Itchy and Scratchy. The cartoon ends up being so stupid and baffling that he just blankly stares at the cartoon before asking, “What the h-ll was that?” in complete confusion. That was my reaction to “Air Bud” verbatim.
After moving to a new town, a young boy named Josh (Kevin Zegers) finds an abandoned golden retriever that he quickly befriends. While playing basketball, Josh discovers that the dog is able to also play basketball. Whacky children’s movie hijinks soon ensue.
The movie is filled with horror movie-esque visuals and depressing drama, which does not work well when it is juxtaposed with the whacky scenes with the dog and the silly premise of the movie. There is the late Michael Jeter in a clown costume that is more frightening than Tim Curry’s clown in “It,” blatantly showcasing that Michael Jeter’s character is abusive towards the dog, and even the first basketball coach tormenting and acting abusive towards one of his players. All of these things are mixed into a movie where a golden retriever is dressed in a basketball jersey and sneakers, and shoots hoops. This strange juxtaposition of tones ends up making this a movie for no one.
One would think with this premise that the movie would have a lot of comedy in it, but it does not. There are the general comedy moments that a movie like this needs, but it is mostly played straight with the horror-esque and drama elements.
Even with that strange juxtaposition of horrifying visuals and ideas with the playfully eccentric premise, the oddest thing is how disjointed the movie feels. For example, the second coach in the movie, Arthur Chaney (Bill Cobbs), is a former player for the New York Knicks who was working as a janitor at the school. That is fine, but the discovery of this feels out of order. It starts with Josh randomly venturing into his office to find Chaney’s Knicks stuff, to Josh asking him to sign his Chaney card, to him discovering Chaney playing basketball after school one day. The entire string of events is out of order.
“Air Bud” also features all of the cliches of sports movies and children’s animal movies, usually poorly executed, making it uninspired and predictable. There is the dramatic scene where the bad child actor has to say goodbye to the animal, resulting in an uncomfortable situation for the viewer. There is the former star athlete that ends up coaching the team, but as stated in the paragraph above the chain of events for that makes no sense. It all comes down to one of the final teams about to win by a single point, but there is no established rivalry between the two teams, meaning there really is not much weight to the final game.
“Air Bud” is a movie that ends up not being made for anyone. Kids will probably be turned off by the amount of drama and the lack of comedy, and it is not the kind of children’s movie that a parent can watch and either like or tolerate: they’ll notice all of the glaring structural and tonal problems.
Final Grade: D-