Distributed By: Columbia Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Bored to tears one day, I was looking for an interesting movie to pass the time with. When I first came across Buddy, a movie featuring an eccentric woman raising a gorilla as her own child, I moved on. It was only when I realized it was based on a true story that I returned to the film. Now, this was interesting.
Based on events in the life of Gertrude "Trudy" Lintz (Rene Russo), a rich socialite with a love for animals, Buddy tells the story of a period in Trudy's life in which she invited a sick baby gorilla into her home. Suffering from pneumonia, Buddy is deemed the perfect addition to Trudy's mansion of a home which includes, award-winning show dogs, geese, kittens, chimpanzees and more.
As we get a closer look at the Lintz home, we discover that Trudy isn't just an animal lover, but a tad eccentric. The simians in her home are kept in cages at night, but are allowed to roam freely in the day time, dressed in regular clothing and walking upright like humans. Trudy treats each and every one of these apes as if they were her children and Buddy is no exception.
As the years move forward, Buddy is taught how to walk on two legs, how to wear clothing, how to serve guests and even helps the maid (Irma P. Hall) in the kitchen by fastidiously scrubbing the floor (which also helps to get some of his gorilla aggression out). The chimps are mischievous, especially the one female in the group who has a bit of an evil streak about her, sneaking keys from Trudy's assistant (Alan Cummings) whenever she can get a chance in an effort to let her buddies out of their cages to create havoc on the grounds. But Buddy is something more of a problem, especially as he continues to grow.
As a full grown gorilla, Buddy has quite a bit of that gorilla wildness inside. He still has a sensitive side and loves Trudy as if she is his own mother, but when he becomes afraid, that extra bulk of his makes him way more destructive than the chimpanzees in the film. A trip to the Chicago World's Fair is proof that Buddy has outgrown his owner, his frightened rampage scaring the patrons and destroying many a display. Things come to a head when Buddy goes on a rampage within the home. With Buddy becoming too big and strong for the Lintz's and their staff to handle, what is to become of him?
Buddy is actually the tale of two separate gorillas that Gertrude Lintz had occasion to raise. Surprisingly, she didn't learn her lesson from the first gorilla - that these animals are simply not pets. Of course, this is a Hollywood version of the true events surrounding Gertrude and her menagerie. Research has shown me two very different aspects of Lintz. Glad I didn't research the film before watching it. Just keep in mind that Buddy is based on certain facts in the life of Gertrude Lintz, but certainly is a more Hollywood-ized version of events, containing very little in the factual category.
Okay, now that we have gotten past the reality of the film, let's get to the actual review. There were no actual gorillas used in this film. Instead, Jim Henson's group used animatronics and people dressed in gorilla costume (as Buddy got older) to convey the story to us. Considering that this film was released in 1997, I have to say that the Henson group did an excellent job making viewers believe Buddy is real and in conveying his emotions throughout the film. Rene Russo is incredibly believable as an eccentric animal lover who realizes her mistake in taking Buddy in too late. After all, now that she has kept this gorilla out of the wild and attempted to domesticate him, how will he be able to survive out in the wild. It is a poignant scene when Trudy realizes she can no longer tend to Buddy's needs, but can also no longer return him to the wild. Rene Russo pulls it off exceedingly well.
While I hesitate to call this film a great family movie, I can see its appeal. Sure, there is not a whole lot of truth in what was shown and the movie makers' propensity to only show the funny side of chimpanzees seems to me to be a bit misguided. But we must remember that this IS ONLY A MOVIE. It's meant to be entertaining, if not all that truthful, and in that, Buddy is successful. I found myself glued to the film, wondering whether there would be a happy outcome for the incredibly adorable baby gorilla who grew to be a sensitive simian who didn't know his own strength at times...or perhaps new it too well.
Though many have panned the film, I actually enjoyed Buddy...probably more than I should have...simply for the entertainment value. Buddy is not a true story, but an entertaining tale with a very important message for all animal lovers out there: certain animals are not meant to be kept as pets! Too many animal lovers don't understand this message and perhaps might get an inkling of what this means by watching this film and, for that reason, I wholeheartedly recommend it.