Disney // 2009 // 84 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // February 18th, 2009
One small leap for dog. One giant leap for dogkind.
Here's how I imagine the pitch meeting went:
Executive #1: Alright, we need to make a new direct-to-DVD movie with those talking dogs the kids like so much, but we need to think of someplace new for them to go.
Executive #2: You mean like space?
Executive #1: You feel like Thai for lunch?
Disney's lovable talking pups are back for their third adventure. First they played sports, and then they were sled dogs. This time, they're Space Buddies.
Not content to sit home while their masters go on a field trip to see the launch of the Vision One unmanned space shuttle, their dogs follow them to the high-security facility. But when their exploration strands them on board the ship during take-off, the five canine "buddies" -- zen leader Buddha (Field Cate, Pushing Daisies), sister Rosebud (Liliana Mumy, Higglytown Heroes), food-crazy Budderball (Josh Flitter, Horton Hears a Who), hip-hop howler B-Dawg (Skyler Gisondo, The Bill Engvall Show), and dirt-loving Mudbud (Henry Hodges, Snow Buddies) -- find themselves at the mercy of a clueless mission control and a scheming scientist (Kevin Weisman, Alias) determined to sabotage the shuttle's maiden voyage.
In need of fuel, the buddies' ship docks with an abandoned Russian space station where they meet a "Dogmonaut" named Spudnick (Jason Earles, Hannah Montana) who joins their crew. When the humans back home realize their ship has stowaways, it's up to the head scientist's pet ferret, Gravity (Amy Sedaris, Strangers With Candy), to talk them back home.
Okay, parents. Let's get down to business. I know what you're wondering: How bad is Space Buddies? If I buy this for my kid will I be able to sit in the same room while they watch it, or will I be tempted to send it to live on some nice family's farm?
I wish I could tell you this movie will surprise you, but it's probably exactly what you expect. It's contrived, unfunny, and the animated dog mouths are an affront to all that is decent. Of course, the bright side is that it's no worse than you'd expect, either. The story's pretty forgettable, but it's a pleasant enough diversion that you probably won't mind your kids watching it again (and again and again).
The Buddies movies are a spin-off of the long-running Air Bud series, about an amazing dog who plays all kinds of sports. I remember liking the first movie. The dog was a regular dog. He didn't talk, and he could really play basketball. I mean, he actually made baskets. No CGI, no trick photography, no clever editing. That dog is more of a basketball player than I'll ever be. Too bad they couldn't leave well enough alone. Granted, I never saw any of the sequels, but the series must have gone downhill in a hurry if Space Buddies is its most recent evolutionary step.
By all rights, the story should be OK. Whatever you think of talking animals, space exploration is exciting. I mean, who didn't want to be an astronaut when they grew up? Somehow, though, Space Buddies makes the infinite possibilities of space seem dull. Once the dogs get shot into space nothing happens. It's an automated ship on a set course to the moon. What could go wrong? I guess the writers realized their problem, which is why they decided to manufacture random moments of dramatic tension -- like putting the ship in the path of a meteor shower, blowing up a Russian space station, or contemplating the PR implications of stranding a bunch of cute puppies on the moon. Just as quickly as those tense moments come, though, the problems are resolved and the buddies are back to safely trading one-liners and space puns. After all, we wouldn't want to scare the kids.
Putting animated mouths on animals and babies may once have been novel, but you don't see it much these days outside of Super Bowl ads. That didn't stop Disney from doing it to these poor dogs, though. The real problem with animating just a mouth is that whatever funny or dramatic thing it says tends to be out of sync with the rest of the face. The dogs in this movie are well trained, but they look bored. By which I mean they look like dogs. Besides Spudnick, whose Russian accent comes and goes, the only way to tell the dogs apart are the things they wear: Buddha's got a charm necklace, Rosebud's got a pink bow, Budderball has eye black, Mudbud is dirty, and B-Dawg has what I believe used to be called "bling." He's by far the most annoying character. Not only does he belong to some fake hip-hop white kid, he calls everyone "dawg" -- as in "I think we're in space, dawg" or "I think this counts as animal abuse, dawg."
The humans in this movie are slightly more animated than the dogs. They exist to move the story forward, and to give the buddies people back home to be worried about them. There aren't any bad performances, save a couple of the kids, but this isn't their movie. They're just props for the canine protagonists. The only two-legged actor who really stands out is The Drew Carey Show's Diedrich Bader as a crazy Russian cosmonaut, and he's just "comic" relief.
Assuming your kids know how to use the DVD remote, here are the special features you get to endure: a couple minutes of fake "bloopers" (like the ones at the end of Toy Story, just not as funny), a music video for Alyson Stoner's cover of "Dancing in the Moonlight," and a 12-minute "Disneypedia" featurette narrated by the buddies that shuffles behind-the-scene footage with real facts about space travel. In lieu of an audio commentary, you have the option of watching the movie with "buddy facts" turned on -- a sparse kind of Pop-Up Video for the Disney set.
As dumb as this movie is, it looks pretty slick. Leave it to Disney to give a direct-to-DVD release the big budget treatment. There are plenty of special effects, and except for some obvious CGI, they're convincing. The picture quality is great, as is the 5.1 surround soundtrack, which gets a good workout during the action scenes.
Sure, it takes place in a world where the international news cycle stops everything to follow the fate of a bunch of space dogs, and its most pivotal scene revolves around a flatulent dog fixing a shuttle malfunction with a "pull my paw" gag, but Space Buddies is, to quote another intergalactic traveler, mostly harmless. I'm not saying I'd recommend it. I'm just helping you feel better when you finally give in to your begging kids.
Who's a guilty boy? Who's a guilty boy?
Review content copyright © 2009 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Music Video