“Buddy” is no “Babe.” But it still wants to be your friend, your pal and, yes, even your buddy.
Much of the time, it succeeds. But there is still one gnawing problem. In telling the story of eccentric ‘30s socialite Trudy Lintz, who turned her mansion into a menagerie of adorable animals and formed a special bond with a baby gorilla named Buddy, the film concentrates on its titular simian while ignoring his human patroness.
As Trudy, Rene Russo has plentiful footage but little character development. All we learn is that she’s rich, happily married, opinionated - and that she treats her animals as if they were her children. It’s understandable that screenwriter-director Caroline Thompson, whose credits include the darkest “Black Beauty” ever filmed, would be infatuated with the animals, some created animatronically by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
But Trudy is simply dismissed as a lovable oddball when we sense her obsessive love for animals deserves a closer study.
Instead, Russo’s Trudy grins a series of maternal smiles as Buddy grows from baby to big, hairy gorilla. Watch Buddy get sick. Watch Buddy get well. Watch Buddy serve appetizers to a snobbish New York couple in Trudy’s well-upholstered den. Watch Buddy visit the World’s Fair with Trudy and respond to flashing cameras much the way King Kong did.
Still, there is much to enjoy. The film takes a darker turn in its second half, as cuddly Buddy grows big, awkward and more and more animalistic. But Thompson manages the mood change gracefully.
As a youngster, Buddy is for the most part created animatronically. As he matures, he’s played by Peter Elliott in a convincing hairy costume. Besides Buddy, there are cheerful chimpanzees, prolix parrots and daunting dogs, among many others.
Sets and costumes are colorful although you’ll frequently hold your breath wondering when they’ll get unceremoniously dumped on.
“Buddy” is a nice movie. Had Trudy’s interesting character been scrutinized, it could have been more than nice.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Buddy” Locations: East Sprague, North Division, Post Falls Six, Showboat Credits: Directed by Caroline Thompson, starring Rene Russo, Robbie Coltraine, Alan Cumming Running time: 1:24 Rating: PG