|Directed by||Charles Martin Smith|
|Written by||Paul Tamasy|
|Produced by||Robert Vince|
|Edited by||Alison Grace|
|Music by||Brahm Wenger|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures Distribution (United States)|
|Box office||$27.8 million|
Air Bud is a 1997 sports comedy film directed by Charles Martin Smith. It sparked the franchise centered on the real-life dog Air Buddy, a cross-bred Golden Retriever, who shoots basketball hoops and appears as Buddy. The film was financially successful, grossing $4 million in its opening weekend and totaling $27.8 million in its run against an estimated $3 million budget.
Norm Snively, an alcoholic clown, and his Golden Retriever, Old Blue, are doing a show at a child's birthday party by demonstrating the dog's ability to catch balls thrown at him. After Old Blue causes trouble at the party, Snively is fired. Angry, he plans to take Old Blue to a dog pound, but the kennel falls out of his truck. A car crashes into the kennel, freeing Old Blue, who follows it. The car is carrying 12-year-old Josh Framm, who briefly makes eye contact with the dog.
After the death of his father, a pilot who died in a plane crash during a test flight, Josh has relocated with his mom Jackie and 2-year-old sister Andrea from Virginia to Fernfield, Washington. Due to his grief, he is too shy to try out for his middle school's basketball team, the Timberwolves, or make any friends. He instead becomes the basketball team's equipment manager. After school, Josh practices basketball by himself in a makeshift court that he sets up in an abandoned allotment, where he meets Old Blue. Josh gradually gains the dog's trust and renames him Buddy. He soon discovers Buddy's uncanny ability to play basketball, and decides to take him home.
Jackie is initially reluctant to keep Buddy but agrees to let him stay with them until Christmas, planning to send him to the pound if his rightful owner is not located. At school, Josh earns the disdain of star basketball player and team bully Larry Willingham, but befriends the kind-hearted engineer, Arthur Chaney, and discovers he was a retired pro player. After seeing that Buddy is helping Josh overcome his heartbreak over his father's death, Jackie allows Josh to keep Buddy as a Christmas present.
After returning to school, Josh finds a tryout invitation in his locker from Arthur and further realizes Buddy's talent when he discovers that he can actually shoot a hoop. Josh tries out and gets a place on the Timberwolves team. At his first game, he befriends teammate Tom Stewart. Meanwhile, Buddy leaves the backyard, goes to the school and shows up while the game is underway. He runs into the court, disrupts the game, and causes mayhem, but the audience loves him after he scores a basket.
After the game, Buddy finds Coach Barker abusing Tom by violently pelting him with basketballs in an attempt to make him catch better. He leads Josh, Jackie, and the school principal Ms. Pepper to the scene. As a result, Barker is fired and replaced by Arthur, at Josh's suggestion. As coach, Arthur uses unconventional practices which emphasize the need for players to work as a team instead of focusing on themselves, much to Larry's chagrin. When Larry is subbed out at the team's next game due to his unsportsmanlike conduct, his father orders him to leave the team and he joins their rival. Buddy becomes the mascot of the school's basketball team and appears in their halftime shows. After the Timberwolves lose one game, the team has subsequent success and qualifies for the State Finals.
Just before the championship game, Snively appears after seeing Buddy on television. Hoping to profit off Buddy's newfound fame, he forces Jackie to hand over Buddy as he has papers proving that he is the dog's legal owner. Knowing they do not have a choice, Jackie makes Josh do the right thing and give Buddy back to Snively. After a period of feeling withdrawn and depressed, Josh decides to rescue Buddy. He sneaks into Snively's backyard and frees Buddy from his chain. Snively catches them escaping, and pursues them in his dilapidated pickup truck before crashing into a lake. Josh then decides to protect Buddy by setting him free in the forest to find a new life.
Later at school, Josh's team is losing at the championship when an injury leaves them with four players. Buddy shows up, and when it is discovered that there is no rule preventing a dog from playing basketball, Buddy joins the roster to lead the team to a victory, with Josh scoring the winning goal, earning Larry's respect.
Despite losing his paperwork, Snively attempts to sue the Framm family for custody of Buddy. After numerous protests, Chaney arrives and suggests that Buddy chooses his owner. As a fan of Chaney himself, Judge Cranfield accepts his proposal and moves the court outside to the lawn. Buddy attacks Snively when he pulls out a rolled-up newspaper, which he previously threatened Buddy with, and chooses Josh. Cranfield grants custody of Buddy to Josh as a ranting and raving Snively is carried away by the police, while Josh and the rest of the citizens rejoice and gather around Buddy to welcome him home.
- Kevin Zegers as Josh Framm
- Air Buddy as Himself
- Michael Jeter as Norm Snively
- Wendy Makkena as Jackie Framm
- Bill Cobbs as Coach Arthur Chaney
- Eric Christmas as Judge Cranfield
- Nicola Cavendish as Principal Pepper
- Brendan Fletcher as Larry Willingham
- Norman Browning as Buck Willingham
- Stephen E. Miller as Coach Joe Barker
- Shayn Solberg as Tom Stewart
- Jessibelle Mather and Kati Mather as Andrea Framm
The film was produced by the newly formed banner of Keystone Entertainment, Keystone Family.  Miramax/Disney acquired distribution rights for an estimated $6 million for domestic rights and rights to sequels.
Air Bud was released to VHS on December 23, 1997, and to DVD on February 3, 1998 (with an open matte aspect ratio). It was released again on March 3, 2009, in a special edition DVD set that presents the film in its original theatrical aspect ratio. The special edition DVD also includes commentary from Buddy and his puppies, as the series had introduced speaking animals by that time. It was released direct-to-video in October 1999 in the UK by Warner Home Video under the Warner Bros. Family Entertainment label.
The film received mixed reviews. It holds a Rotten Tomatoes score of 45% based on 22 reviews, with an average rating of 5.2/10. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Sequels and spin-offs
The film was followed by one theatrical sequel, three direct-to-video sequels and a spin-off film series. In each film, Buddy learns to play a different sport while the spin-offs focus on Buddy's children, the Buddies.
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- "KEYSTONE COPS PIC". Variety. Retrieved September 16, 2021.
- "Air Bud (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- "Air Bud Collection".
- "Home - Cinemascore". Cinemascore. Retrieved 28 December 2019.