The 2000 movie used the franchise’s furry hero along with members of the actual U.S. women’s team to reimagine the penalty shootout that led to the win.
By Claire Fahy
In 1999, the United States women’s national team won its second World Cup title and ushered in a new era of women’s soccer, currently on display in the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
What made the 1999 final a cultural hit came down to a confluence of factors: The tournament was played on home soil in the United States, the team was talented and the games were staged at major arenas and widely broadcast. When the United States beat China in a penalty shootout at the Rose Bowl, 40 million people tuned in to watch.
The images of that triumphant World Cup run are now synonymous with women’s soccer: Brandi Chastain celebrating in a sports bra, Briana Scurry in her all-navy goalkeeper’s uniform, a baby-faced Mia Hamm and … a golden retriever?
In 2000, the year after the women’s historic win, the Air Bud film franchise — in which an athletically gifted dog saves various sports teams — turned its focus to soccer. Air Bud did as Air Bud does, saving a children’s soccer team and scoring the winning goal.
But the final six minutes or so of “Air Bud: World Pup,” a straight-to-video effort now available on most major platforms, feature something different: a re-creation, or reimagining, of that 1999 World Cup win, complete with its famous players. Except this time, they face Norway. And this time, they have Air Bud, who comes to Scurry’s rescue and takes over in goal after Scurry injures her shoulder saving a penalty. Naturally, heroism ensues.
“When the women won the World Cup, they were such a force,” said Robert Vince, an executive producer of the Air Bud franchise. “They didn’t just win it, they dominated it. They became an obvious choice for us. We also felt that there was a real opportunity to elevate the game for girls as well. It was just such a moment.”
That moment thrust the stars of the 1999 team onto the national and even international stage. Chastain earned the nickname “Hollywood” because of her comfort in front of the camera and her willingness to promote the sport. She said in a recent interview that she and her teammates were flooded with requests for commercials and other collaborations. But then she, Scurry and fellow “99er” Tisha Venturini were invited to Vancouver to film a movie about a dog saving soccer.
“I’m a sucker for dogs anyway,” Chastain said, noting that she was a fan of Air Bud before the offer came in. “But I thought that women’s soccer being a part of something like that is reaching out to more of the population that maybe wouldn’t have access or wouldn’t particularly come to women’s soccer.”
Chastain said that recreating a World Cup-like environment was no small feat. She and her teammates weren’t actors, but had to tap into their feelings at the Rose Bowl in 1999 and “re-enact something that was so genuine and so in the moment.”
They filmed their six-minute sequence over three eight-hour days, Scurry said, and most of the crowd was C.G.I. Buddy, the star, of course wasn’t, but, Scurry revealed, “there are like six dogs.”
Scurry explained that each Buddy had different skills: some were calmer; some were better at jumping in the air and heading the ball; and some just wouldn’t be in the mood. But Scurry emphasized that she had long treated Air Bud like Santa Claus: “I never tell kids about the six Buddies,” she said solemnly.
As a male, how did Buddy compete for the women’s national team? “Good question,” Chastain said. “Gosh, I don’t know.”
For years, befuddled fans have raised this question on social media. After being told about it, Scurry burst out laughing. “I was not aware of this conspiracy. That never crossed my mind.”
Vince, however, has a diplomatic answer: “I don’t think it was a gender-specific thing, I think it was just that he was a dog,” Vince said. “Little kids don’t really think of their pet or their dog as a gender.”
There have been five Air Bud movies followed by nine Air Buddies films. (Air Bud is a proud father.) But Vince said that his company’s research showed that women remember “Air Bud: World Pup” more than any other installment.
“Millennials, who are themselves having children, are the generation of Air Bud,” Vince said. “What movies do is they reflect the time that they were made, but also what is old becomes new again, because it gets rediscovered by new generations.”
For Scurry, “Air Bud: World Pup” is a way for her to introduce herself to an entire generation of fans who didn’t see the 1999 World Cup. She said children still ask for her autograph — as the goalkeeper from “Air Bud.”
“These kids would know the players that have now taken the reins from us, that were in the crowd watching us play in 1999, but they wouldn’t have known the history of the 99ers or where that came from,” Scurry said. “That movie did a lot for the legacy of the 99ers for the younger generation.”
Claire Fahy is an editorial assistant based in New York who covers breaking news and general assignment stories. More about Claire Fahy
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