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. Last Christmas, “Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws ” was released, providing a new take on the series. We were introduced to Santa Paws (Tom Bosley) and his son, Puppy Paws (Zachary Gordon) who meets up with the famous buddies. This year, the “Air Bud” franchise returns but without the buddies that have helped make it a success.
“The Search For Santa Paws” takes us back to when Santa first received Santa Paws (Zachary Gordon returns here to play the younger Santa Paws). Santa Claus receives news that his toymaker friend from New York City, Mr. Hucklebuckle passed away, leaving Santa Claus a toy dog he made. To help cheer up Santa Claus, the elves bring the toy dog to the magical icicle and turn it into a real dog.
Meanwhile, several other storylines are beginning to take shape. In New York, Mr. Hucklebuckle’s grandson James (John Ducey) learns he’s inherited his grandfather’s toy store. However, inheriting the store comes with one rule: James must operate the store through one Christmas season with the help of his wife, Kate (Bonnie Somerville). They begin with reservations, especially considering that the store has barely turned a profit.
Elsewhere, a little girl named Quinn (Kaitlyn Maher) arrives at a foster home for young girls. The home is run by Ms. Stout (Wendi McLendon-Covey) who doesn’t tolerate anything cheerful, especially singing and toys. In fact, if she catches any of the girls with a toy, she immediately sends it to the incinerator. Quinn is shown around by one of the older girls, Willamina (Madison Pettis) and the two become instant friends.
While it feels like there’s a fair amount of story threads taking place, it helps keep the film moving at a decent pace, as the storylines come together nicely as the film progresses. Santa Claus makes his way to New York City with Paws and gets bumped by a taxi, causing amnesia. Paws goes to get help and ultimately loses track of Santa’s whereabouts - to make matters worse, Santa Claus gets mugged, losing his crystal that keeps him safe. Unsure of who he is, Santa eventually makes his way to the Hucklebuckle toy shop where Kate and James hire him as their in-store Santa. Having the real Santa Claus in their store draws a great deal of cheer and success.
Meanwhile, Quinn and Willamina make their way to the toy store to admire the toys. Kate is immediately taken with the girls, especially considering she and James can’t have children of their own. As for Paws, when he’s out looking for Santa Claus he wanders to the ally behind the foster home where he meets Quinn. Paws has his own magical crystal and spruces up the foster home with Christmas decorations, lifts the girls’ spirits and helps Willaminia believe in Christmas. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go over too well with Ms. Stout.
From here the story continues along a formulaic path, but it’s an enjoyable and endearing one that families may enjoy. Fans of the Air Bud/Buddies films may miss the group of buddies, but they would have seemed out of place here. There are some moments that might upset younger children, but the overall feel and happy ending for the film wrap it up nicely.
VIDEO: "Santa Paws" 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: “The Hucklebuckle Hero” - The Buddies tell a story with the help of an animated pop-up book featuring some of the new dogs from the film.
Music Video for “Deck The Halls” performed by Debby Ryan is included. “Off The Cutting Room Floor” is a pretty decent amount of deleted scenes. A “Sing-Along” option is available here as well.
Also included is “Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray Is Suite!”, “Learn How To Take Your Favorite Movies On The Go” and Sneak Peeks.
A DVD copy of the film is also included in the Blu-Ray/DVD combo set.
Final Thoughts: “The Search for Santa Paws” is somewhat formulaic at times, but it’s an enjoyable and endearing one that families may enjoy. Fans of the Air Bud/Buddies films may miss the group of buddies, but they would have seemed out of place here. Recommended for families.
The Film B-