Is it fair, as an adult, to criticize a kid oriented film for its faults?
It's a tough situation, being an adult, viewing a children's film, and trying to judge it for its merits, despite the fact that some films in the genre have no intention on entertaining you in the slightest. It makes you wonder if you're that much out of touch with your own childhood, and if the cartoons and programs you loved as you grew up were any good (a word to the wise: it's often best to leave them to memory, and be able to remember them fondly). With all that in mind, sitting down to 'Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws,' I noticed that I'm about 26 years above the target audience...and I'm not even 30.
When Puppy Paws, the energetic child of Santa Paws, begins to doubt the Christmas spirit, all goes awry at the North Pole. He stows away on a magical teleporting postal truck used to pick up letters to Santa, and stops off at Fernfield, Washington, in search of Budderball (one of the Buddies, the one with the football jersey), for insight on being a normal pup. After a series of misadventures with each of the buddies (including the bling wearing B-Dawg, Buddha the philospher pup, Rosebud the female pup named after a sleigh, and Mudbud, the puppy with a dirt fetish), Puppy finds himself at the mercy of local dog catcher Stan Cruge (Christopher Lloyd), who hasn't an inkling of the Christmas spirit in his bones. It's up to the Buddies to save their new friend, and at the same time, save Christmas for the entire world.
To be honest, since the first 'Air Bud' film, this is my first foray back into the series, and my how the "mighty" have fallen. 'Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws' is unbearable in nearly every aspect, from the title (Santa Paws has little to do in this film other than be a fatherly figure. There's no legend here), all the way to the credits. Call it the grinch in me, but I can hardly even see children enjoying this affair.
Where to start? Santa's workshop, where all the toys are made and sorted for Christmas delivery, is beyond generic and unimaginative, with a song to work by (you guessed it: holiday music), and a wild assortment of midgets and young children in random (read: hideous) attire. From there, we are introduced to the source of the power of Christmas: an icicle, melting as more people lose their faith in Christmas.
On to the puppies, the point of this film. I get that they cannot all be the same, and have to have distinct personalities, but damn, just damn. Every philosophical line from Buddha made me crack up, as it was so severely out of place, coming from a dog with a child's voice. Mudbud was cute, I'll admit, but B-Dawg takes the cake, with his constant references to his "bling," poor slang dialect, and his breakdancing competition with Puppy Paws. No, not joking.
Lloyd shows poor taste in his starring role, with a generic performance that anyone's grandfather could have brought to the table, for the most predictable character in the show, a Scrooge so obvious (for more reasons than his rhyming name) that he may as well have been visited by the ghosts of the puppies he probably put down over the years. George Wendt (yes, Norm from 'Cheers') is uninspired in his fourth time behind the beard and Santa hat, while the human owners for each Buddy are annoying at best. I wondered, as the pups take to the cause, how their owners would feel, and despite the fact they were happy to be reunited, I can say, due to the fact there were no missing posters up, they must not have been all that thrilled.
The low points of the film (amazingly, none of the above can even be considered the lows) are deathblows, for sure. First there's the Christmas delivery sequence/montage with Puppy Paws and the Buddies delivering in the stead of Santa and the reindeer, visiting one house per country, with horrific stereotyping, such as a dreadlocked dog (the only thing missing was a blunt) in Jamaica, or the fact that the lone house in Mexico to get presents left out chips, salsa, and burritos for Santa. Really? Even worse is Tiny, the pup in Cruge's charge, who Cruge refuses to give away for free to the family of a sick child that feel they need a dog to help raise the kid's spirits, but not enough so that they'd pay for it. While Tiny's dialogue isn't bad, by any means, and is the most honest in the film, Tiny's singing was a complete disconnect, drawing me out of the film (as if I needed any help) with uproarious laughter, that was certainly not the point of the songs about Christmas.
Let me save you an hour and a half of your life watching this, and any more time reading this review: they save Christmas, and none of the Buddies get spayed or neutered (despite Bob Barker's wishes). The end.
While 'Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws' itself is questionable, the video certainly is not. Presented with an AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1080p in the 1.78:1 ratio, with plenty of room to breathe on a BD50 disc, 'Santa Buddies' is an example of a solid transfer that is only brought down due to technical deficiencies in the film itself.
Colors are as strong as you'd expect a Christmasy romp to be, while whites are clean and blacks are solid and not too bright. Minute detail, like leaves on ground, receives a nice bump, but fur on the dogs never really jumps in the live action moments (more on the non-live action shots to come). The picture is free from aliasing or artifacting, sports clean edges, and doesn't have any unsightly or distracting grain scrubbing issues, presenting a natural, though not sparkling image. The shots of Aurora Borealis may seem a bit stupid in their context, but they are quite beautiful.
The downfall of this transfer comes from the chintzy special effects that are the grinch to this Christmas story. Sure, the talking dog effects were silly, but that's part of the affair, so they're forgivable. What was not forgivable was the dog ugly CGI doubles for the dogs, like flying dogs or breakdancing dogs, that were terribly dull and undefined. The teleporting mail truck (I wish I were joking) was also hideous, going from natural to something you'd expect a third grader to make on paintbrush and back again. There are also a few composite shots that are also quite hideous and eye catching in the wrong way. 'Santa Buddies' gets a nice bump in clarity, but the double edged sword strikes again, making undefined moments all the more hideous.
The menu for 'Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws' doesn't state what format the audio choices are, but a quick menu bar run through verified that the English track is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, while the French and Spanish dubs are treated to matching Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes.
If ever there were a film that should have been in stereo, this would be it, as rear effects are few and far between, providing some (keyword: some) ambiance to a few scenes, giving some depth, but not that much. Music hits the rears, as well, but that's about it. There's no localization, and no motion to be found. The entire story is told through the front channels, with no bass presence to speak of. Dialogue is always clear, and technically sound, never drowned out from other effects, but that's mostly due to the fact there isn't much to possibly get in the way of this dialogue driven tale. This mix doesn't immerse the viewer in the paper thin film it's for, and honestly distanced me from the tale, pulling me out of the story. Whoops.
Oh boy, there's extras!
Go on, call me the grinch, if you must, but I refuse to call this film anything but what it is: an uninspired direct-to-video cash-in from the masters of the direct-to-video market. If you're looking for a new holiday classic...this isn't it. However, that doesn't mean that the young ones won't find some enjoyment in this release...if they have bad taste.