Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on December 3rd, 2009
Just in time for the holidays, the Buddies are back for more cute puppy action. All of the retriever Buddies are back for this one. You are introduced to the “Buddies” right at the start, so it doesn’t really matter if you saw any of their other films. There’s Bud-Ha (Cate), a wise meditational pup. Next up is Mud-Bud (Panitz), an always dirty pup with a fondness for rolling in the dirt. The female Buddy is Rose-Bud (Mumy), who is the girly part of the team all decked out in a bow. Bud-Derball (Flitter) is the normal one of the bunch, followed by the rappin’ pup, B-Dawg (Gisondo).
The North Pole is having a crisis. It’s getting close to Christmas and Santa’s workshop is having a shortage of magic power. Deep in a cave at the North Pole hangs the Christmas Icicle. It is the source of all Christmas magic that allows Santa and his gang to do their thing. It is powered by people having the Christmas Spirit. Lately, not enough people are believing in Christmas, so the icicle is shrinking. Finally, global warming that really is caused by humans. Another problem in the North Pole deals with Puppy Paws (Gordon) son of Santa’s right hand, eh … dog Santa Paws (Bosley). Puppy Paws wants to be like a normal dog and doesn’t want the responsibility that Christmas means to his family. He finds Bud-Derball in Santa’s naughty files and decides that’s the kind of pup he wants to hang with. So he stows away on one of Santa’s express trucks and heads to Washington to meet the Buddies. At first they find Puppy Paws to be a bit of a pain to hang with. But when Puppy Paws is captured by the mean old dogcatcher Stan Cruge (Lloyd) the Buddies go into action to save him. What they didn’t know was that Christmas depends on them freeing Puppy Paws. There’s a side story that has Stan Cruge turning from a mean old Scrooge character to finding his own Christmas Spirit, and helping to bring back the Christmas Icicle.
I still like Snow Buddies the best of these films, but this one is a huge step up from Space Buddies. It has the best guest cast of any of them to date. Christopher Lloyd is wonderful as the dogcatcher. The name is a riff on Scrooge, of course, but it’s also pronounced the same as the Klingon Commander he played in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Everyone’s favorite bar buddy George Wendt is perfectly cast as Santa but is severely underused here. He mostly sits around sulking about the lack of Christmas Spirit. It almost appears that Wendt might have been ill during the shoot. Danny Woodburn is also quite wonderful as Eli, the master of the Elves. He’s the one who accidentally brings Puppy Paws to Washington and is stranded by the magic shortage. He ends up working as a storefront elf while waiting for the Buddies to complete their rescue. Add to the guest cast Tom Bosley as Santa Paws.
My only real complaint here is the overuse of obvious greenscreen and CG animated dogs for most of the stunts. The Buddies get to pull a sleigh, making reference to their Snow Buddies adventure, but the flying sequences are so obviously CG. Unfortunately, they all look identical there. There was no detail care to make them look at least a little different, or more like their real puppy versions. Certainly, the North Pole magic stuff is fine in CG, but much of the rest would have been more heartfelt if it had been done practically instead. The only other flaw is that the Buddies’ dialog is getting way too contrived. I miss the heart and real life interaction with a human child that made Snow Buddies the best of this series.
Santa Buddies is presented in its intended 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p image comes courtesy of an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at a strong average of 35-40 mbps. The film is certainly colorful enough in the North Pole scenes. Much of the rest of the film is pretty white, what with all of the snow. The detail allows us to experience the nice dictation of mood by location. Cruge’s kennel is appropriately dark and nearly colorless. Santa and his elves bring the real green and red colors that stand out against these other more dreary locations. The CG is not the best, and unfortunately, high definition allows us to see behind these flaws more easily. Black levels are solid, and there isn’t any compression to speak of.
The DTS-HD Master Audio sound is pretty good for what this is. It’s mostly dialog, and that translates just fine. There is the occasional sleigh bell jingle that adds just the right amount of surround to make us able to get into the environment somewhat. The musical numbers are quite dynamic. Everything is as crisp as the snow and clear as ice crystal.
The release skimps a little on the extras this time around. The only extras are a couple of Sing Alongs and a music video of Steve Rushton singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.
There is a DVD and Digital Copy disc included here.
I will not try and sell you that there is any freshness to the Buddies offered here. As characters they’re about what they’ve always been. The mouth movements have been better. I love the Christmas theme and find it a wonderful place and time to find the Buddies once again. After the last film I was shaking my head and asking myself what had happened to our Buddies. “Christmas, that’s what happened.”