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Air Bud: World Pup Special Edition DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: Bill Bannerman / Writers: Mick Whiting, Robert Vince, Anne Vince (screenplay) /
Characters Created By: Kevin DiCicco (Air Bud); Paul Tamasy, Aaron Mendelsohn (others)

Cast: Kevin Zegers (Josh Framm), Caitlin Wachs (Andrea Framm), Brittany Paige Bouck (Emma Putter), Martin Ferrero (Snerbert), Miguel Sandoval (Coach Montoya), Duncan Regehr (Geoffrey Putter), Don McMillan (Will Webster III), Dale Midkiff (Patrick Sullivan), Brandi Chastain (Herself), Briana Scurry (Herself), Tisha Venturini (Herself), Chilton Crane (Jackie Framm), Shayne Solberg (Tom), Chantal Strand (Tammy), Fred Keating (Coach Jack Sterns), Patricia Idlette (Mrs. Brimstone), Scott Watson (Announcer Brad), Kelly Herron (Announcer Ted), Shane Vajda (Moose), Levi James (Sam Drake), Jeremy Guilbaut (Steve Stearns), Chris Wilding (Mike), Jay Brazeau (Referee #1), Frank C. Turner (Referee #2), Tom Shorthouse (Old Man), Julie Patzwald (Kate), Dakota/Walker/Shooter/Tango/Poacher (Buddy), Emma (Molly)

Running Time: 83 Minutes / Rating: G / Video Debut: December 12, 2000

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Special Edition DVD Release Date: June 15, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Clear slim case with sports cinch bag in Cardboard Box

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The whole talking dogs thing is really working out for Disney. They know better than anyone that there are mountains of profit to be made in chatty canine comedy, especially when the movies cost next to nothing, forgo theatrical release, and become immediate best-sellers with a modest promotional push. (Take note, Marmaduke.) That has been the story of Disney's Buddies franchise, the direct-to-video series that began with 2006's Air Buddies and will soon sprout a fifth installment. The films are as reviled by critics as anything the company puts out today, and the chasm between the reviewers who loathe them and the families who eat them up is wider than those around any other modern entertainment I can think of.

After churning out two films last year, golden retriever pups Buddha, B-Dawg, Mudbud, Rosebud, and Budderball are apparently taking 2010 off. But fear not, the gang's North Pole ally will keep the chatter alive in November's holiday prequel The Search for Santa Paws.
The facts and figures cited by Disney for retailer encouragement are bizarre. For instance, supposedly, a third of Santa Buddies purchases were for adults. And over 20 million copies of Air Bud and Buddies movies have been purchased to date.

The Air Bud movies, of course, are a different beast. They dealt not with the talking puppies but their unenhanced father Buddy, gifted in various athletic ways. To me, the most curious and interesting thing about the popular Buddies phenomena is that it's inspired Disney to revisit the movie line from which it spun. Granting Special Edition treatment to the original Air Bud in March of 2009 made some sense, even coming at a time when Disney reduced catalog output to guaranteed sellers, i.e. movies that are partly or entirely animated. Reissuing its sequel, Air Bud: Golden Receiver, this past February made less sense, but still, it was a theatrical film whose initial DVD left room for improvement. With a third entry in the series getting a new edition, it seems clear that there must be some contractual term between Disney and Canada's Keystone Entertainment (who produce all things Bud and Buddies) that is requiring these movies get new releases when precious little else in the vast live-action Disney library does.

Now teenaged Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers) likes what he sees... ... which is Emma Putter (Brittany Paige Bouck), a boys' team soccer player, youth girls' league coach, and new in town (unconvincingly) English hottie.

Air Bud: World Pup, the second sequel to the 1997 sleeper hit, moved the family franchise to the world of video premieres when it went straight to VHS and DVD back in December of 2000. Fearless of repeating himself, Kevin Zegers, the child actor who starred in the first two films (as well as Keystone's 2000 hockey chimp film MVP: Most Valuable Primate), is back as Buddy's owner Josh Framm. The only other returning lead actor is Shayn Solberg as Josh's goofy friend Tom.
Film Clip - "Buddy Scores a Goal":
The few other significant parts have been recast, including, for the second time, Josh's mother and younger sister Andrea. The more prominent latter is now played by tan actress Caitlin Wachs, who would be upgraded to star for the next outing.

World Pup opens with the wedding of Josh's widowed mom (Chilton Crane, filling in for Cynthia Stevenson) and her beau (Dale Midkiff), the family veterinarian introduced and developed in Golden Receiver. Needless to say, Buddy saves the day by delivering the ring Josh forgot.

The basic story remains similar to the one told twice before. This time, a high school soccer field takes over from a grade school gridiron, which itself replaced a basketball court. In forming a soccer team, Fernfield High is two members short. Enter Josh and Buddy, as the team's tenth and eleventh players. Whether it's because Buddy, played by five dogs (none the original, who died in 1998), could only do so much or, the more likely reason, that Americans aren't all that crazy about watching soccer, the sport seems to play a lesser role here.

Buddy looks quite proud to have been responsible for the six newborn puppies suckling at Molly's teat. With Josh getting up there in age, we also get to spend time with his younger sister Andrea (Caitlin Wachs, right) and her friend Tammy (Chantal Strand), as they investigate where Buddy's been sneaking off to.

What seizes the focus away from it? Why, it's love. Buddy gets a romantic interest in a golden retriever named Molly, whose pink collar he retrieves. So does Josh in Molly's owner (of course), Andrea's coach, and his teammate, rich new in town English girl Emma Putter (Brittany Paige Bouck), who like Josh has also lost a parent (her mom). The film is just as schmaltzy as you'd expect in depicting teenaged attraction. The human coupling is forgotten after Josh blows his ninja movie date with Emma by trying too hard to act cool. Buddy does a bit better, impregnating Molly with six puppies. (If these are the Buddies, they thankfully haven't yet acquired the gift of speech or one-note personalities, even though they're fully grown by the movie's end. Wonder who and where the mystery sixth is...)

On the field, these Timberwolves aren't as hopeless as past ones were. (Probably because Buddy is here from day one.) They just need to improve their teamwork, which they do. Still, they face an obstacle in a rival coach (Fred Keating), whose team loses against his politically incorrect expectations of girl and dog players. Using his administrative pull, Coach Sour Grapes tries to have Fernfield disqualified. While he's backing the wrong horse, this coach at least makes an impression. Fernfield's Coach Montoya ("Medium" D.A. Miguel Sandoval) lacks the mystique and personality of his basketball (Bill Cobbs) and football (Robert Costanzo) predecessors.

Because it wouldn't be an Air Bud movie without Buddy being in jeopardy, we get a villain in a fired dog catcher determined to steal Buddy and Molly's puppies. It is played by Martin Ferrero (the lawyer in Jurassic Park), who shortly after this left film for theatre. It plays out like a pretty insignificant subplot, seemingly only to up the number of dogs onscreen and delay the three best players from getting to the proverbial big game.

Evidently no relation to Inigo, Coach Montoya (Miguel Sandoval) could use a good vendetta to make him memorable in the slightest. The color scheme gets darker than the emotional palette as villains Webster (Don McMillan) and Snerbert (Martin Ferrero) hit a big snag in their dognapping plan.

Following the previous film's lead, World Pup welcomes some prominently billed appearances by "celebrity" athletes, namely US women's soccer players Briana Scurry, Brandi Chastain, and Tisha Venturini, fresh off their 1999 World Cup victory. Scurry is singled out, allowing for a nice awkward exchange with the teen athletes, and the other two are called back for an epilogue that undermines these ladies' achievements and World Cup soccer at large.

Besides going easy on the sports, World Pup also seems to scale back its comedy ambitions.
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We're spared any slapstick on par with the previous film's Boris and Natasha-type circus performers. The broadest thing here is a scene of Buddy messily raiding (mostly with a puppet paw) an ice cream shop to make an elaborate dessert for Molly. Elsewhere, the film shoots for laughs from strangely inept out-of-shape refs (who you might recognize from their similar roles in the previous movies) and gassy butler applicants. You're as likely to be amused by the bad British accent work.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the music prominently featured throughout World Pup. When the active instrumental score takes a rare break, songs are often asked to help the proceedings. They all sound like they were recorded in a garage and for that we can thank Brian "Hoot" Gibson and Howie Vickers, who split up music and lyrics duties on almost everything heard.

Finally, I must ask, how dull is the fictional town of Fernfield, Washington if kids' soccer is front page news on a regular basis?

Downplaying the milestone World Pup celebrates this year (the tenth anniversary is traditionally celebrated stateside with gifts of tin, aluminum, or daffodils), Disney designates this re-release simply a Special Edition. It arrives in the same mold as the two that preceded it, boasting a new widescreen transfer, a Buddies-centric bonus feature, and an in-pack goodie.

Brandi Chastain leaves her shirt on, as does teammate Tisha Venturini, to celebrate Buddy's World Cup-winning stop. Yes, the dog is apparently allowed to goaltend for the U.S. Women's Soccer Team. Somehow, this inept, out-of-shape man (Jay Brazeau) keeps finding referee work in Fernfield. This is the third consecutive Air Bud movie in which he is seen officiating youth sports.

VIDEO and AUDIO

In contrast to its original fullscreen DVD, Air Bud: World Pup is presented here in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Should it be? You didn't need to have the greatest of foresight to be shooting in widescreen in 2000, but that doesn't quite jive with Disney's operational methods back then. However, Keystone may have made the call and they could have been making this with theaters in mind.
Of course, most will say "Filmmaker intentions? Who cares? It's Air Bud: World Pup!" While I can't really argue against that, I do hope that inaccurately matted widescreen doesn't become the new pan & scan.

The presentation here looks matted but acceptable. There are no glaring instances where focal elements disappear at the top and bottom of the frame. Occasionally, Buddy's face dips out of sight, but not when he alone is on camera. Though it is possible that the film was composed or safeguarded for both aspect ratios as many things then were and still are, I kind of doubt it.

Beyond the grainy opening, picture quality is clean and clear. It's not quite as stunning or detailed as today's new productions, but there aren't any specific problems to notice.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix sounds like a basic surround presentation (which the film offered on its first DVD). The abundant music spreads to the rear channels, but nothing is more dynamic or noticeable than that. Dialogue remains crisp and intelligible throughout, plus English subtitles for the hearing impaired help you catch anything you may have missed. Spanish translations are provided in subtitles and a Dolby Surround dub.

Despite being an anchor for BSC (Buddies Sports Channel), Rosebud tries to make the report about more than just soccer. Buddy, or rather one of the five dogs that play him, gets the honor of shaking director Bill Bannerman's hand in the production featurette.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The primary bonus feature, which per tradition earns prominent, permanent mention on the front cover is a new report from the Buddies Sports Channel (5:12). Mudbud, Rosebud, Budderball, B-Dawg, and Buddha comment over clips from the film, basically recapping the plot (primarily the sports side of it) while reinforcing their personalities at every opportunity. The puppies and their computer-animated mouths are briefly seen, but mostly just heard while the film clips are shown stylishly pillarboxed 1.33:1.

The other on-disc extra is carried over from the movie's original DVD. It's an ordinary 5-minute EPK-style making-of featurette, which supplies some enthusiastic cast and crew comments alongside behind-the-scenes footage. One of Brandi Chastain's remarks suggests (accurately or not) that the film was destined for the big screen, while clappers reveal the film's working title was Air Bud III. I'm both surprised and impressed that this didn't get lost like Air Bud 2's puff piece did.

This blonde boy heartily approves the inclusion of an in-pack Air Bud: World Pup sports cinch bag. Ice cream, anyone? Buddy's messy sundae may be the most enticing thing on the DVD's Bonus Features' menu.

The third inclusion here is a physical one. It's a "cinch bag", a phrase I've never uttered or heard used before this. Equipped with drawstrings for tightening and shoulder slinging, this 100% polyester blue bag displays the film's title "Disney Presents Air Bud: World Pup" in yellow (even though Keystone and Miramax genre banner Dimension Films, not Disney, are attached to the actual film).

One side is predominantly mesh and the other is solid. The bag measures 8" wide by 11" high, about the size of a standard paper sheet. I don't think you'll be fitting any sporting goods in there, but it could hold a water bottle or up to 5 DVDs.

The boy in the rear cover's photograph (shown above) seems utterly pleased to display it. To see if his enthusiasm was real, I turned to the youngest resident I could easily find: my 15-year-old cat. You may remember how much she appreciated the whistle on Golden Receiver. Well, she also appeared to enjoy having this cinch bag placed on her head, with the drawstrings hanging down for her to bat at. She ordinarily prefers sci-fi, but I think she appreciates the goodies that have become a staple of Disney's Air Bud re-releases.

As on the two antecedent Special Editions, the tangible bonus requires atypical packaging to accommodate it. All is held in a fully-enclosed cardboard box that's slightly thicker than a standard DVD slipcover. The DVD itself is housed in a clear plastic slim case that repeats the outside artwork (and does nothing with the visible reverse side). There are inserts promoting Disney Blu-ray and Disney Movie Rewards (the latter containing a unique points code), but of course no chapter lists. The bag, which peeks through a plastic corner window, contains a piece of stiff cardboard for support.

The DVD's sporty, jazzily-scored main menu provides three dimensions of imagery from the film and a nasty audio pop before looping (at least it plays only twice before assuming you'll want to start watching the movie).

The FastPlay-enhanced disc loads with the family Disney Blu-ray promo, a Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue trailer, a Tangled teaser, and a Disney Movie Rewards spot. Post-feature and extras, it plays the menu-listed Sprouse Brothers' 15-month-old Blu-ray pitch (4:45) and nearly as dated DisneyFile digital copy explanation (1:00).

The second string sneak peeks talk up Genuine Disney Treasure (with Princess and the Frog's trumpet-playing alligator Louis), Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition, James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition, The Black Cauldron: Special Edition (now known to be dubbed a 25th Anniversary Edition), Fantasia and Fantasia 2000: Diamond Editions, and "Phineas and Ferb" on Disney XD. As on another recent Disney release, there is no designated Sneak Peeks menu; the selection instead lamely just plays the whole batch for you.

Josh (Kevin Zegers) makes good headway with Emma (Brittany Paige Bouck), but he acts too cool on their ninja movie date. Ya blew it, Josh. The Buddies look thrilled to be cheering on their father in the arms of Patrick (Dale Midkiff), Jackie  (Chilton Crane), and Geoffrey Putter (Duncan Regehr).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Air Bud: World Pup is basically more of the same, now with puppy love romance (both kinds) taking some of the attention away from sports and slapstick peril. The movie is not significantly worse than its theatrical immediate predecessor. It is bad, but in interesting ways, although not good in any way. And the only nostalgia that could sweeten it is personal nostalgia from having seen it in youth, as the film seems to have been made in a cultureless Canadian bubble.

I appreciate this Special Edition release because it allowed me to see the movie and the chance to re-evaluate this curious series. I derive more fun from reviewing these Air Bud films than anyone should, but, quite different from the sparse other catalog releases one finds these days, they are a delight to critique. (Also, this is Disney's last DVD of any kind for almost two months.)

In what must be an upgrade over the film's first disc, this DVD supplies another 16:9 widescreen transfer which is nice (if that is what the makers intended). The scant offerings are also much easier to take with the more reasonable price tag they carry, an under $20 SRP being appropriate for a not terribly popular catalog movie.

Will it sell well? I doubt it. This may be timed to the World Cup, but soccer families have little reason to enjoy this and I think the crossover between FIFA enthusiasts and potential American Air Bud: World Cup customers is up there with Stanley Cup interest in the Sahara. The sales ranks on leading e-tailer Amazon.com are the best way for us to gauge the success of a release like this. They confirm our doubts; Air Bud's 2009 Special Edition is in the 42,000 range, the recent Golden Receiver now ranks under 60,000th, and, standing in the mid-3,000s, World Pup is unimpressive for an imminent Disney release. Granted, these DVDs may do better as impulse buys sparked by retail strolls (Disney themselves claim the sports cinch bag will "excite kids and drive nag factor"). If not, it feels like poetic justice for the studio that ignores the larger audience for more meaningful live-action upgrades (on everything from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids to Cool Runnings to Hocus Pocus) and gives up on effortless TV show DVDs that are clearly profitable ("Boy Meets World" and everything animated).

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Reviewed June 13, 2010.