While the original "Air Bud" managed to bark up a reasonably good box office score of $22M in 1997, the family film seemed an unlikely choice to turn into a franchise. Yet, more than ten years later, audiences have now seen five "Air Bud" films and a series of "Air Buddies" films focusing on puppies. The latest effort is "Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws", which is (as with the prior "Space Buddies") somewhat more appealing, given the change from the usual sports theme that the series has had over the years.
This entry in the series explains that Santa (George Wendt) had a talking dog named Santa Paws (Tom Bosley) that has assisted him all these years. At the North Pole, there's a magical icicle that's melting due to the lack of belief in the Christmas season. Unless people start believing in Christmas, then the magical ice will melt and that will apparently be the end of Christmas.
Santa Paws also has a son named Puppy Paws (Zachary Gordon) who doesn't take Christmas seriously and wishes that it would go away when he gets in trouble for disrupting the Christmas work by the elves. Puppy Paws then tries to venture out into the world to meet the buddies: Buddha (Field Cate), Budderball (Josh Flitter), B-Dawg (Skyler Gisondo), Mudbud (Ty Panitz) and Rosebud (Liliana Mumy). However, when he gets in trouble with them (for getting all the buddies in trouble with their owners),he then wanders into range of the local dog catcher (Christopher Lloyd, in an enjoyably dark effort).
Meanwhile, the lack of spirit and the problems with Puppy Paws causes the effects going on at the North Pole to progress faster, to the point where not only is the icicle melting, but power runs out at the North Pole, and leaks start to drip drop into the dark factory where the elves work. Eventually the elves and reindeer start get sick.
While flawed in some regards, as with "Space Buddies", I found "Santa Buddies" to be better than expected overall. The franchise's decision to move away from being sports-only continues to work well, and the pooches offer rather good performances for animal actors (and Lloyd turns in a fine effort.) Still, some issues are seen - the picture is a little overly sappy for its own good (although it means well, and delivers a few messages) and the running time of 88 minutes is about 10-12 minutes more than the story requires. The picture is also a little iffy technically at times (a few moments of effects that looked clunky - possibly a budget issue), but this probably won't be of much concern to the target audience.
Overall, "Santa Buddies" isn't without some issues, but in terms of finding a movie for younger children on Winter break, it will likely entertain that target audience.
VIDEO: "Santa Buddies" is presented in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC) on this Blu-Ray edition. This is an excellent presentation of the movie, with only a few minor concerns spotted. Sharpness and detail are above-average, as while some slight softness is occasionally seen, the majority of the film looks smooth and detailed, with good small object detail. No edge enhancement was seen, nor were any instances of pixelation or print flaws. Colors looked bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The DTS-HD 5.1 presentation was satisfactory. The surrounds were put into play on a few occasions for minor effects and ambience, but the majority of the audio was spread across the front speakers. Audio quality was fine, with warm, clear music and crisp, well-recorded dialogue.
EXTRAS: A music video from Steve Rushford ("Santa Claus is Comin' to Town"), "Sing-Along" feature (sing along to Christmas carols), Blu-Ray promo with the Sprouse twins and Disney digital copy promo.
A DVD copy of the film is also included in the Blu-Ray/DVD combo set.
Final Thoughts: Overall, "Santa Buddies" isn't without some issues, but in terms of finding a movie for younger children on Winter break, it will likely entertain that target audience. The Blu-Ray offers very nice audio/video quality, but minimal extras.
The Film B-