clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Lookit

8 things I learned watching all 5 'Air Bud' movies

New, comments

Happy 20th anniversary, Buddy.

Disney

Twenty years ago, in the summer of 1997, Disney released Air Bud, a movie about a golden retriever named Buddy who can play basketball. It did well in the box office because there were enough people who wanted to see how the hell Disney was going to execute this idea. Then four more Air Bud movies were made over the next six years.

I have no nostalgia for Air Bud. The idea to watch it never crossed my mind when I was 7 years old. It was a cultural blind spot that I shared with my colleague Charlotte Wilder, who also watched it for the first time this year. But with the 20th anniversary coming up, I decided to rectify my Air Bud-less life and watch all five movies, stopping short of watching the Buddies spinoff series.

With that out of the way, I would like to share the following things I learned while watching the Air Bud series:

1. This is the loophole Air Bud uses to let Buddy play basketball:

Disney

Sure, that works. Never mind the fact that you’d normally have to be a student with good academic standing to participate in your school’s athletics. But who has time for nuance? Let’s see Air Bud do his thing.

2. This is what it looks like when a dog’s on your basketball team:

Disney

It turns out it’s not that far-fetched to play with or against a dog. Buddy is capable of making baskets, steals, assists, and sometimes he can get rough — shout out to the first movie’s bully, Larry Willingham, for getting wiped out by a dog.

Disney

3. Each movie has villains who want to steal dogs for their own personal gain.

The villain in the first movie, Norm Snively, actually had a direct relationship to Buddy. He was Buddy’s abusive owner — Buddy’s origin story exists because of him. Snively worked as a terrible party clown, and Buddy was his sidekick. During a children’s birthday party, Buddy gets rough during a ball trick (I’m assuming he was fed up with Snively’s bulls*** at this point), and the both of them cause a mess at their client’s house. Snively gets angry and threatens to send Buddy to the pound, but Buddy escapes after falling out of an open truck bed.

Disney

After that, Buddy makes a connection with Josh Framm and his family and becomes famous in town for his dog tricks. Snively learns about this and tries to steal him back for his traveling act. Snively is the only villain in the franchise who gives the story any stakes.

In the sequels, we get introduced to the following:

  • A brother-sister duo from Russia who wants to steal Buddy for their circus
  • Two criminals who are trying to steal Buddy’s girlfriend from a rich British family
  • Two scientists who want to steal Buddy and his puppies to make more dogs who play sports
  • Two criminals who want to steal Buddy so they can use him to steal a precious diamond in a room filled with lasers

The climaxes of these story arcs always occur conveniently when Buddy’s team is about to play the championship game. Every time he goes missing, everyone is worried that their team is going to lose. But it never feels like things will truly go wrong, because everything always works out in the end and Buddy’s team wins.

Aside from Snively, the villains are the weakest parts of the series. Their only purpose is slapstick comedy. I wish they created suspense out of the sports scenes instead, but maybe I’m asking for too much. These are kids’ movies, and you can’t deny kids the chance to see two guys drive off a ramp and into a mud pool.

4. The Air Bud movies are forward-thinking in terms of portraying mixed-gender sports.

In World Pup, the best player on Josh’s high school soccer team happens to be a girl. In Seventh Inning Fetch, Josh’s baby sister, Andrea, and her best friend, Tammy, join the middle school baseball team with male teammates and a female coach. In Spikes Back, Andrea joins a summer league volleyball team that’s filled with girls and boys. All of this is treated as normal, and the fans who watch these teams don’t question (and why would they?) why girls and boys are on the same sports team. They just love watching these athletes play, and it’s a really cool thing to see.

5. We have to discuss the ending of World Pup.

This movie came out in December 2000, a year and a half after the U.S. won the Women’s World Cup. The date is important*, because four months after Buddy’s team wins the state championship, there’s another Women’s World Cup. In the Air Bud Cinematic Universe, the “every four years” World Cup time frame doesn’t exist. You could argue that the filmmakers took artistic license, but this seems a bit much.

*The movie is indeed set in 2000, because I double-checked the small print on a spinning newspaper transition.

Anyway, at the 2001 Women’s World Cup final, the United States and Norway have gone on to a penalty shootout to decide the champion. Briana Scurry — who, in real life, made a crucial save for the U.S. in the 1999 final’s shootout — gets injured, leaving everyone worried until the camera pans over to Air Bud, who substitutes for Scurry and clinches the match for the U.S. with his own save.

Disney

So to recap, the U.S. becomes champion in a way-too-early Women’s World Cup by having Air Bud save the day, which feels a bit like cheating. But I came to see a dog play soccer, and I think I got what I paid for, which is whatever Netflix pays Disney each time I stream Air Bud: World Pup.

I’m surprised it took the movies this long to get Air Bud integrated into a major sports event, but here we are. Also, it turns out this wouldn’t be the first time Air Bud participated in a championship game. Let’s talk about Seventh Inning Fetch.

6. Y’all wanna see Air Bud in batting practice? Yeah, you do.

Disney

I’m pretty sure dogs aren’t supposed to hit balls that well with their mouths, but just like it says on the town sign that pops up at the start of every Air Bud movie, everything is possible.

7. They took Air Bud to the World Series.

It would have been enough for Seventh Inning Fetch to end with Air Bud and Andrea winning the state championship game. But no, they had to go further and take him to the World Series.

Please enjoy the following scene:

I have a few questions:

  • How the hell did Air Bud end up in the majors?
  • Why is there still sunlight during a World Series game?
  • If Air Bud is set in Washington, why isn’t Buddy helping out the Mariners win their first World Series?
  • Did the filmmakers have Air Bud play for the Angels because it was the closest MLB team they could get access to from the studio in Hollywood?

Our old pal Rodger Sherman wrote about the ending a few years ago and brought up some more good points, which I’ll resurface:

  • If you look closely at the scoreboard, the Padres are up 5-1 against the Angels with no outs in the inning, and yet the Angels win the World Series with a double play.
  • The home plate umpire signals a home run after Buddy gets a runner out at first.
  • The stadium was too bright for actual fireworks, so they had to make do with LED sign fireworks.

And at the end of all this, Air Bud wins World Series MVP! This is an actual frame from the movie, in case you want to swap out your desktop wallpaper:

Disney

All we saw was Air Bud catch a ball in his mouth and get the final out, and apparently that was enough to earn MVP. We didn’t see him at bat, although thanks to the scoreboard, we can assume he didn’t help much there. All we’re left with is imagining what else he did at first base to earn that honor, and maybe that’s for the best. Part of me believes this ending was all a dream sequence in Air Bud’s head.

8. I ultimately came away liking the Air Bud movies more than I had expected.

The franchise has a lot of corny, ridiculous things that deserve to be made fun of: villains who contribute to excruciatingly formulaic plots; the soundtrack, which can range from romantically cheesy to “wait, this is totally a knockoff of John Fogerty’s ‘Centerfield’”; the ridiculous sports scenes involving Air Bud, like his aforementioned batting practice, and this block from Spikes Back.

Disney

But there’s something about the Air Bud series that’s worth admiring: These movies have heart.

You see a gifted dog get abused and abandoned, then end up in a loving home. You see the Framm family move to a new town and try to cope with the death of their pilot father. You see Josh Framm struggle to make friends at school and stumble through a couple of extracurricular activities before trying out for the basketball team.

You see Josh eventually make friends, thanks to his basketball-playing dog, and go through the awkwardness of being a teenager. You see a widowed mother fall in love and get married to someone new and then try to make things work for her family (which she does). You see the Framm siblings embrace each other when Josh has to leave for college, and Andrea isn’t ready to say goodbye. You see Andrea try her hardest to earn travel money so she can see her best friend who moved to a different state.

You see Noah, the youngest Framm sibling, grow up into a toddler and steal the spotlight, because he’s genuinely the funniest human character Air Bud had to offer.

Disney

Most of these scenarios are minor, and they step to the side to make way for Air Bud, but they’re some of my favorite parts of the franchise because they’re sincere. They make you feel for the characters and root for them, even when you know that everything will turn out OK.

These movies are not great, but I believe, after every silly thing I learned, that they’re worth checking out, even just to see how ludicrous they can be and imagine what it took to make them. If you ever find yourself on Netflix or Amazon, a mere click away from watching one Air Bud movie, now you know what to expect. Maybe you’ll end up liking it too.