1997, PG, 84 min. Directed by Caroline Thompson. Starring Rene Russo, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Cumming, Irma P. Hall, Paul Reubens, John Aylward.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 6, 1997
Just because an 800-pound gorilla can sit anywhere he wants to doesn't mean it's going to be an interesting affair. This directorial debut from screenwriter Thompson (Edward Scissorhands, The Addams Family, The Nightmare Before Christmas) drops the macabre good cheer (and witty expertise) of her previous work in favor of a family-aimed tale of animal love, and the result is a brief 84 minutes of painfully unsurprising primates-in-tuxedoes period comedy. Everyone may be crazy about a sharp-dressed gorilla, but Buddy is a sorry, tedious jaunt through the eccentric 1920s upper-crust world of menagerie-owning Trudy Lintz (Russo) and her efforts to raise a Congolese gorilla in her household -- with predictably disastrous results. Based on the novel/memoir Animals Are My Hobby by the real-life Mrs. Lintz, Buddy's growth from sickly, waifish infant to gargantuan wild thang is as notable as a squirrel crossing the road, minus the breathless excitement derived from the eternal question of whether a midday repast of roadkill stew is forthcoming. It's not that this first feature released under the newly minted Jim Henson Pictures banner is terribly shoddy -- there are plenty of humorous scenes of Buddy and his chimpanzee housemates clowning about in their exquisitely tailored Bergdorf Goodman suits and spats -- it's just that nothing out of the ordinary ever seems to take place, no surprises, no explosive climaxes, and no heartbreaking resolution, or at least not one we hadn't seen coming from a good distance ahead. Russo, for her part, acquits herself admirably as the oddball Mrs. Lintz, as does Robbie Coltrane as her physician husband. And only on rare occasions does Buddy -- the work of Jim Henson's Creature Shop -- look like a man in a monkey suit. Children will doubtless enjoy the chimps' animated monkeyshines, and the scenes of an upright Buddy serving hors d'oeuvres to the Lintzes' startled guests is surreal in its setup and pleasantly bizarre. Brief homages and references to King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Bringing Up Baby, and even Planet of the Apes pop up at odd moments, but this is, above all, a family affair, and quite a humdrum one at that, even for kids. Such being the case, it's now my fervent hope that director Thompson reunites with Tim Burton to create something of at least passable interest to those of us with a taste for the sublime, if not the simian.