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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Buddy

Starring: Renne Russo, Robbie Coltrane
Director: Caroline Thompson
Rated: PG
RunTime: 84 Minutes
Release Date: June 1997
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Paul Reubens, Alan Cumming, Peter Elliott

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

So what does a six hundred pound gorilla do? Anything he wants. But when he is smaller, he is adorable and quite manageable. Well, in the right hands.

BUDDY is a coming of age picture about a gorilla. Based on a true story of an eccentric but loving woman who kept a menagerie in her mansion, the film takes some surprising twists. Most surprising of all is that a picture filled with chimpanzees and a baby gorilla manages to avoid most of the slapstick cliches one would expect. If you have a natural aversion to saccharine chimps, you might find these amazingly delightful and expressive. And anyone would love the gorilla.

BUDDY opens in the late 1920s with rich Gertrude "Trudy" Lintz, played completely seriously by Rene Russo, entering a movie theater with her two children dressed in their finest frocks. Pandemonium sets in when the audience realizes that her kids are chimps.

Trudy goes back to her estate where she and her husband Dr. Bill Lintz (Robbie Coltrane from the impressive TV series "Cracker") share the house and grounds with a virtual Noah's ark. From porcupines to kittens, they all live there, and the apes even eat with the humans. "It's enough to drive you to the nut house," complains their maid Emma (Irma P. Hall, who played the aunt in A FAMILY THING). "Of course this place probably already is the nut house."

The four chimps are treated completely like children. They are given their own bedrooms full of kids' furniture and their backyard is complete with the latest children's playground equipment. For this they are expected to brush their teeth, wash their faces and say their prayers. Most of all, they are expected to have impeccable table manners in the formal dinning room where they eat with Dr. and Mrs. Lintz. Well, as impeccable as apes can have.

Into this cozy world comes a baby gorilla whom Trudy names Buddy. She nurses him back to health and the chemistry between them is genuine even if Buddy is the only non-animal in the picture. He is a combination of animatronics and a man in a gorilla suit. Buddy possesses tremendous charm, most of all when he is a baby even if that is the least convincing of the special effects.

One day, the Bowmans come by to see Trudy's animals and ask her to exhibit them in the Chicago World's Fair. Mrs. Bowman is scared to death when she sees the almost fully grown Buddy. But, "he's as gentle as a lamb," Trudy tries to reassure her. "Then why is there a chain on his door?" asks Mrs. Bowman. Good question and a precursor to the rest of the story.

Throughout most of BUDDY, the story is a wonderful and magical adventure into the animal kingdom, but parents with impressionable children must be forewarned that the movie turns tragically sad and quite frightening before it ultimately ends on an upbeat note.

It is precisely because the film was able to morph into a more serious film that hooked me. Before that it was little more than light hearted pabulum. Once things turned bad, I realized how much I had come to love Buddy.

BUDDY runs a fast 1:23. It is rated PG for some frightening scenes of an angry gorilla. My son Jeffrey, age 8, liked the movie, but was very scared in a few of the scenes. The rest of the kids in the audience seemed to handle it pretty well, but again, I'd be careful. Jeffrey's favorite parts of the movie were the adorable "baby Buddy and the kittens." Because of the effectiveness of the ending, I am able to recommend the picture and give it ** 1/2.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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