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