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Replay Review: Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 23: Air Bud attends SoulPancake's Puppypalooza Party at SoulPancakes Headquarters on March 23, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tasia Wells/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 23: Air Bud attends SoulPancake's Puppypalooza Party at SoulPancakes Headquarters on March 23, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tasia Wells/Getty Images) /
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This movie review looks back at the direct-to-DVD baseball “classic,” Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch. How does the kid-friendly film stack up?

Welcome to Replay Review, where I will be reviewing some memorable—and some rather forgettable—pieces of baseball media. We won’t be limiting ourselves to just movies either; some might deal with books, video games, board games, even food (remember Justin Verlander’s Fastball Flakes and Miguel Cabrera’s Miggy Salsa, anyone?!). For this particular review, we’ll be taking a look at the popular Air Bud film franchise and one installment in particular.

Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, the fourth in a long-running movie franchise centered around a sports-playing golden retriever named Buddy, isn’t what you’d call a movie masterpiece. The low-budget, direct-to-DVD effort focuses on a preteen girl named Andrea, the younger sister of Josh, the star of the previous films. It’s been a tumultuous summer for young Andrea, who struggles with the absence of her brother, who’s gone off to college, and the addition of a step-father and newborn half-brother. Andrea is left adrift in the wake of all these changes in her life, and tries to find something she can channel her restless energy into.

After a series of mishaps, Andrea and her friend, Tammy, try out for the middle school’s co-ed baseball team. Tammy is a natural talent, as she quickly wins a spot on the team. Andrea, meanwhile, is clumsy and not really gifted—in anything, apparently, but especially baseball. Both Tammy and Andrea win spots on the team, though.

The film unfolds fairly predictably, as a coming of age tale…with a distracting, over-the-top dognapping subplot involving mad scientists and an evil raccoon. Yes, you read that right. The mad scientists have decided to abduct Buddy’s puppies to unlock the secrets to their sports prowess (with the help of the raccoon, naturally).

Meanwhile, while all this is going on in the background, Andrea continues to be terrible at baseball. She and Tammy even have a falling out when Andrea, who’s been riding the bench as a backup player, finds out she was only added to the team so that the more talented Tammy would agree to join.

The girls must put aside their differences, however, when they realize Buddy and his puppies have been dognapped. They soon track down the dognappers and, with Buddy’s help, save the day. Just in time for the championship game, too! The team, which has been playing three players short, happily welcome them back and take the title.

Oh, yeah. Did I mention Buddy is the team’s first baseman… Er, first basedog? That’s right. When one of the team’s best players gets hurt, Andrea suggests Buddy join the team. Everyone is totally fine with it, of course. Who can resist a golden retriever, after all?

The main problem hampering Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch is, shockingly, not the unbelievable plot. When you pick up an Air Bud movie, you’re required to suspend your disbelief. If you can’t accept the premise of of a magical dog that can play every single sport known to humankind and play it well, that’s a you problem.

No, Air Bud‘s main issue is the fact the dognapping plot is resolved with at least thirty minutes left to go in the film’s runtime. The rest of the movie concerns itself with the championship game. The quick wrap-up of the dognapping plot leaves the movie feeling a bit unevenly paced, and makes that plot strand feel unnecessary. If one were to completely excise the subplot with the mad scientists, dognappers, and evil raccoons, we’d still have a fairly cohesive—and halfway decent—kid’s movie focused on coming of age, female friendship, teamwork, and a magical sports-playing dog.

The things this movie really nails, besides driving home the fact everyone loves golden retrievers, centers around its protagonist and those in her immediate orbit. Andrea is a likable lead character. The pains of adolescence are realistic, and her preteen angst is sympathetic and never gets too over the top. For instance, when Andrea realizes she’s not as talented at baseball as her friend Tammy, her anguish is palpable. However, she doesn’t mope or let jealousy ruin their friendship; she enlists Buddy’s help in improving her skills, through hard work and determination.

This leads me to another thing I thought the film handled particularly well: the friendship between Andrea and Tammy. It would have been easy for Tammy to become a rival and nemesis to Andrea when it becomes clear Andrea isn’t as skilled as Tammy is at baseball. While Andrea does deal with feelings of disappointment and jealousy, she’s able to move past them and work on improving her game without bringing her friend down first.

Another thing I felt was notable was the fact the girls play baseball and it’s just…a normal thing. No one asks them if they’d rather be playing softball. No one thinks it’s odd that these two girls just want to try out for the baseball team. Tammy is acknowledged by just about everyone as the best player on the team and no one once comments on her gender. There’s also no relationship angst or jealousy between Andrea and Tammy over boys, as one might come to expect from these kinds of movies. Centering the friendship of Andrea and Tammy was refreshing, and the smart choice.

Wait, wait. I can’t believe I just spent over 700 words talking about Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch and neglected to mention the biggest plot twist of them all. At the very end of the movie, in an extraneous epilogue scene, Andrea receives a mysterious phone call. The Anaheim Angels are calling Buddy up to the Major Leagues! The movie ends with Buddy the dog helming first base for the Angels in what can only be described as as an utterly unnecessary postscript. There’s no rhyme or reason to this scene and if you cut it from the movie, you’d lose absolutely nothing. In fact, cutting this scene might serve to improve the overall experience. It’s weird and unnecessary, and even a little off-putting.

While I can’t say I really enjoyed this movie, and recommend it only if you have a young child or you yourself are a young child, I did like the main character, the strong female friendship, and the coming of age themes. And the evil raccoon.

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