Buddy by Caroline Thompson is the (more or less) true story of Gertrude Lintz (Rene Russo), a Brooklyn socialite of the 1920s and 30s and author of Animals Are My Hobby, who raised chimpanzees as if they were children with some interesting results and later tried the same trick with a gorilla (the eponymous Buddy, short for Buddha)—with almost disastrous results. Buddy (as an adult) is played by Peter Elliott, an actor who has made rather a profession of playing pathetic and/or sympathetic apes in Greystoke and Gorillas in the Mist. Alan Cumming plays Dick, Mrs Lintz’s assistant as animal keeper and trainer, Robbie Coltrane is her long-suffering but wise and patient husband, Bill, a doctor, and Paul ( “Pee Wee” ) Reubens, plays a stuffy professor who tells Mrs Lintz that gorillas are mysterious and dangerous. Well, duh! Yet he’s the unsympathetic one.
The movie misses a chance to think more deeply and on the subject of love and power, strength and dependency. Its depiction of the animals cared for by Mrs Lintz as something between servants and naughty children, slaves and entertainment, suggest serious thoughts on the relations between people and their pets, and Mrs Lintz’s difficulties in accepting the untamability of Buddy shows a characteristic human arrogance which is at bottom a conviction of our own ultimate lovability. Empires have fallen as a result of this delusion, but Ms Thompson has nothing to tell us about it. Instead, she seems to be in agreement with Mrs Lintz’s guiding philosophy that “All of us, all animals on earth, need to be understood.”
True enough. But what happens when we understand that they hate us?