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'Buddy': Gorilla Tactic

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 6, 1997

"Buddy," the story of a gorilla that’s raised like a human child until it growls out of house and home, is pleasant, well-intentioned and almost quaint. It’s a period story based on the true-life experiences of Gertrude "Trudy" Lintz (Rene Russo), a socialite-cum-Dr.-Doolittle of the 1920s who kept scores of animals on her New York estate. For kids, the movie will be appealing for many fuzzy, feathery reasons. It crawls, hops and flutters with chimpanzees, geese, pigeons, horses, dogs and rabbits, just to mention a few of Trudy’s animals.

But the story’s best quality -- its straightforward, unrushed manner -- is also its most egregious shortcoming. Writer/director Caroline Thompson, who adapted Lintz’s autobiography, "Animals Are My Hobby," tends to drag her knuckles. The movie never really flickers into life. It’s hard to imagine that Thompson is the same person who wrote "Edward Scissorhands" and "Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’‚" When Trudy Lintz encounters an ailing baby gorilla at the Philadelphia Zoo, she takes the hairy little fella home to her merry menagerie. She nurses the baby (whom she calls Buddy) back to health and watches him grow, which he does at an extraordinary rate.

Buddy joins the household, which means bonding with, and learning from, Trudy’s four indoor chimps, who are clothed in the finest fashions, play croquet, ride horses and serve tea. Buddy, Trudy’s clear favorite, gets bigger and bigger. As he grows, his volatile nature becomes more apparent.

Although he’s tender with his human mother, and is pretty good about serving deviled eggs, he tends to get upset over various issues, ranging from jealousy to big crowds. At the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, where Trudy is showing off her apes, Buddy stampedes and causes widespread panic. Obviously, it’s going to take love, understanding and imagination to find a perfect habitat for Buddy.

Will children sit through this movie? That’s a hard call. Put it this way: If they do, it’ll probably be because Buddy (played by a real ape, actor Peter Elliott in an ape suit and the animatronics of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) holds them in thrall, or because most of our human chimps have been trained since birth to dutifully watch every film, video and excruciating Barney rerun. They think everything’s good -- unless the volume’s down.

BUDDY (PG) — The gorilla’s fits of rage may be alarming to some children.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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