Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Charles Martin Smith|
|Produced by||Robert Vince|
|Written by||Paul Tamasy|
|Based on||Air Buddy by|
|Music by||Brahm Wenger|
|Edited by||Alison Grace|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures Distribution (United States)|
|August 1, 1997|
Air Bud is a 1997 American comedy film that sparked the franchise centered on the real-life dog Air Buddy, a cross-bred Golden Retriever, who shoots basketball hoops and appears as Old Blue/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. After Blue causes havoc at the party, Snively angrily takes him in a kennel to a dog pound, until the kennel falls out of his truck, rendering Blue homeless. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Josh Framm has relocated with his mother Jackie and two-year-old sister Andrea from Virginia to Fernfield, Washington. Due to heartbreak over the death of his father, a pilot who died in a plane crash during a test flight due to fuel shortage, he is too shy to try out for his middle school's basketball team or to make any friends. He instead becomes the basketball team's manager, an awkward offer by Coach Joe Barker which he accepts. He practices basketball by himself in a makeshift court that he sets up in an abandoned allotment, where he meets Blue and renames him Buddy. Josh soon discovers that Buddy has the uncanny ability to play basketball, and decides to let Buddy come home with him.
Jackie agrees to let him keep Buddy until Christmas and she plans to send him to the pound if his rightful owner is not located; however, she sees how loyal Buddy is and how much Josh loves him. On Christmas, Jackie lets Josh keep Buddy as a present.
Following Christmas, Josh finds a tryout invitation in his locker and further realizes Buddy's talent when he discovers that he can actually shoot a hoop. These facts together prompt Josh to try out, and he gets a place on the team. At his first game, he befriends teammate Tom Stewart, but earns the disdain of star player and team bully Larry Willingham. 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.
Buddy is later caught by Josh after the game. Soon after, the dog witnesses 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 the school's kind-hearted engineer, former NBA player Arthur Chaney, at Josh's suggestion. As the new basketball coach, Chaney starts implementing changes in the team, including benching Larry during a game for constant ball-hogging. Angry by Chaney's decision, Buck Willingham, Larry's overbearing father, forces Larry to leave the team. Buddy becomes the mascot of the school's basketball team and begins appearing in their halftime shows. After the Timberwolves lose one game, the team has subsequent success and qualifies for the State Final.
Just before the championship game, Snively appears after seeing Buddy on television. Hoping to profit out of Buddy's newfound fame, he forces Jackie to hand over Buddy, using papers proving that he is Buddy's legal owner. Knowing they do not have a choice, Jackie forces Josh to give Buddy back to Snively. After noticing that he's feeling withdrawn and depressed, Jackie regrets making Josh give up Buddy. Josh decides to rescue Buddy, suspecting he's being abused by Snively. He sneaks into Snively's backyard and finds Buddy chained up and abused again. Snively catches Josh escaping with Buddy, and pursues them in his dilapidated clown truck before crashing into a lake. Josh then decides to set Buddy free in the forest to find a new home. Initially, his team is losing at the next championship to the opposing team, which Larry turns out to have joined. Then Buddy returns for a joyful reunion for Josh and the team. When it is discovered that there is no rule that a dog can't play basketball, Buddy joins the roster and leads the team to a come from behind championship victory, with Josh scoring the game-winning buzzer beater.
Snively arrives and attempts to sue the Framm family for custody of Buddy, despite that his ownership papers were ruined when he crashed into the lake. Upon seeing Buddy, Judge Cranfield is disgusted and initially reluctant to judge a case over a dog, but agrees only under a strict condition that the case be executed seriously. During the trial, Josh protests against letting Snively have Buddy, mentioning the abuse that Buddy has suffered under him, including chaining Buddy to his fence. Jackie also protests, mentioning that Buddy was much happier with their family, and that she too has seen how abusive Snively is. After hearing a number of people protest against Snively, Cranfield doesn't believe that neither one has any real evidence in claiming ownership to Buddy. Soon, Chaney arrives and suggests that Buddy chooses his owner. As a fan of Chaney, Cranfield accepts his proposal and moves the court outside to the front lawn for Buddy to choose. After Buddy rips up the rolled-up newspaper that Snively had always abused him with, Buddy chooses Josh. When Snively angrily attempts to get Buddy back by force, police officers quickly take him away and arrest him, while Josh and the rest of the citizens rejoice and gather around Buddy to welcome him to his new home.
- Air Buddy as Buddy
- Kevin Zegers as Joshua "Josh" Framm
- Wendy Makkena as Jacqueline "Jackie" Framm
- Bill Cobbs as Coach Arthur Chaney
- Michael Jeter as Norman F. "Norm" Snively
- Eric Christmas as Judge Cranfield
- Nicola Cavendish as Ms. Pepper
- Brendan Fletcher as Lawrence "Larry" Willingham
- Norman Browning as Buck Willingham
- Stephen E. Miller as Coach Joseph "Joe" Barker
- Shayn Solberg as Thomas "Tom" Stewart
- Jessibelle Mather and Kati Mather as Andrea Framm
Much of the on-set dog motivation (not training) were performed by Justin Sherbert (formally Justin Sherman) of Free Willy fame. The animals were pet and treated with respect by Sherbert who noted, "motivating these dogs is significantly easier than teaching a whale to flip." Sherbert remains the canine motivator at large for the Air Bud franchise.
Home video release
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.
Sequels and spin-offs
The film generated 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.
- Deming, Mark. "Air Bud". Allmovie. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
- "Air Bud (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 6, 2018.