TREASURE BUDDIES – Blu-ray review

The “Buddies” live-action talking dog movies are Disney’s biggest direct-to-video moneymaker. “Air Buddies”—a puppy version of the popular “Air Bud” series—was launched in 2006. “Snow Buddies” followed in 2008, “Space Buddies” and “Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws” in 2009, “Spooky Buddies” in 2011, and now “Treasure Buddies,” with the golden retrievers acting out an Indiana Jones plot.

I personally think they took the wrong direction when they insisted on making the puppies’ mouths move. You can’t synch dialogue to CGI mouth movement when the jaw is rigid and there are no lips to work with, and the attempt makes it look as if these little guys are all wearing dentures. You really notice that in “Treasure Buddies” because a couple of talking Capuchin monkeys also appear, and their mouth movements are far more natural looking.

But to the audience for the Buddies films, it probably doesn’t matter. You would think this series is aimed primarily at children, but you’d be wrong. It’s aimed at anyone who watched Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl” on Super Bowl Sunday, which was sponsored by “Treasure Buddies.” That is, the audience is anyone who is so enthralled with puppies that a bunch of them in a fake football stadium chasing and play-fighting with each other over chew toys are so darned cute they’re more entertaining than the real game.

If “Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws” was paws-down the worst of the bunch, “Treasure Buddies” is somewhere in the middle. There plot may be more diverting, but it’s predictable because it’s pretty much lifted from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”—without the Nazis or violence, of course. “Treasure Buddies” is also helped by more interesting animal characters this outing, including a villainous snake, an evil hairless cat, a baby camel, talking monkeys, and a hound dog voiced by the legendary Tim Conway. But the humans? They’re so bland that they even make adventure seem boring.

“Treasure Buddies” is a frame tale narrated by a mischievous thief of a Capuchin monkey named Babi (Maulik Pancholy), who regales fellow monkey Babu (Aidan Gemme) with tale tales of his exploits—none of which can match the story of how he saved the Buddies.

In a prologue we see the great grand-daddy of the current Buddies—Budderball (Tucker Albrizzi), B-Dawg (Skyler Gisondo), Roebud (G. Hannelius),  Mudbud (Ty Panitz), and Buddha (Charles Henry Wyson)—with his Indiana Jones’ knock-off owner, exploring a tomb and recovering half of an artifact that would reveal the location of the long lost tomb of Cleocatra. No, that’s not a typo. They’re talking about Cleopatra’s cat. But here’s where it gets a little fuzzy. While we’re told that Cleopatra’s cat did something insidious enough to cause her to lose her place to a dog in Cleopatra’s palace—a reversal of fortune that we’re told determined the future power hierarchy of cats and dogs—the cat still gets a gigantic tomb?

Given that little ones love these films, it’s a little surprising that the body count rises, so to speak, despite this one also being rated G. A man drops into a pit of snakes and is never seen again, a snake offers a moment of peril, and a man is scratched on the face by a cat (no, it’s not the same unfortunate man). But with such mild characters, it kind of blunts any potential trauma.

The lead human is character actor Richard Riehle (“Poor Paul”), a Wilfred Brimley sort whose character has no recognizable traces of the younger adventurer we saw in the prologue—nothing in his demeanor, his attitude, his lines, or his comportment. Nothing.

Then again, the villain (Edward Herrmann as Philip Wellington) is just as mild. Thank goodness for his evil hairless cat, Ubasti (Elaine Hendrix), who hisses like a cat, and for several Indiana Jones pitfalls, or there wouldn’t be any sense of menace.  Parents of small children will think that’s good, but there are still those incongruous moments of violence that pop up.

The plot gets rolling when Wellington appears with cloak and cane and cat at the little museum that the professor runs, produces the other half of the Cleocatra artifact, and in no time at all Grandpa and his grandson Henry (Lochlyn Munro) are boarding a plane for Egypt with this stranger.

In Egypt they meet a Bedouin merchant and his daughter, Farah (Ranya Jaber), who seems there just to add a little balance and appeal to young girls in the target audience.

From that point on, think Indiana Jones meets “The Waltons” and you’ve got the full picture.

Video:
“Treasure Buddies” looks superb in 1080p, with an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer delivering sharp edges, plentiful detail, and bright, saturated colors. Some of the scenes look a little soft, but other than that it’s a solid video presentation (1.78:1 widescreen, “enhanced” for 16×9 televisions).

Audio:
The audio is also very good, an industry-standard English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that features liberal use of the rear effects speakers while curiously never approaching an immersive or fully dynamic experience. For whatever reason, the sounds tend to stay in the corners from which they originate, rather than traveling across the sound field.  Additional audio options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.

Extras:
This combo pack comes with a DVD copy of the film and precious few other bonus features. The most annoying pup, B-Dawg, offers a “Tour of His Blinged-out Crib” in one featurette, and then there’s an all-new music video featuring the pups.

Bottom line:
“Treasure Buddies” isn’t exactly moviemaking at its best, but, then again, it’s also not the stinker that “Santa Buddies” was. Kids and animal lovers who like this series should find this entry warm and fuzzy enough. I’d give this no better than a 5 out of 10, were it not for the fact that it hits the target audience again. That nudges it up to a 6. But that’s my final offer.

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