Snow Dogs
review by Elias Savada, 25 January 2002

Veteran director Brian Levant borrows all the predictability he previously cast upon us (Jungle All the Way, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, and Beethoven) in guiding Disney's Snow Dogs down the post-holiday family movie chute. There's not much to like or dislike in this ride; it's the kind of all-season, live-action amusement that the Disney studio has been churning out for decades, involving all manner of animals (lions, and tiger, and bears…oh, my!) pitted against a likable nebbish-out-of-water role model. Cuba Gooding, Jr., fresh from last year's madcap Rat Race, is Snow Dogs' leading victim -- a yuppified Miami dentist who inherits a team of Siberian huskies and a cuddly sheep dog -- as he soon finds himself on the receiving end of the animals' short leash. As a thickheaded tenderfoot cast adrift in the snows of Alaska, Gooding is the amiably flustered Ted Brooks, a plucky, ever-smiling owner of a Florida dental franchise caught unaware when he learns Amelia (the original Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols), his charmingly sweet-as-sugar-cookies mother, has hidden the dark secret of adoption from him. As his real mom has died and left him her frozen assets, he's curious to discover his roots and abandons the sunbelt for the icebound hamlet of Tolketna to deal with his rascally inheritance, attend to the wacky (demeanor) and decayed (teeth) denizens on that edge of civilization, and uncover the identity of his father.

Wherein he find himself caught in the mongrels' bit, the acceptor of numerous windswept pratfalls, puppy love, and a just a smidgeon of danger. Just the right amount of PG-rated fun to bring the kids into the theater for 99 minutes of film fun and wholesome self discovery, wherein a poodle-hater becomes a dog-lover and all the tykes go home happy. It's tamed down, borderline Jack London for the masses, set against a breathtaking, snow-capped backdrop. White Fang-less.

What director Levant does have going for him is a wonderful supporting cast. Irascible James Coburn comically snarls his way through most of the film as the grizzled Thunder Jack, but his torment of the city slicker Ted turns to mush when the foreigner discovers his true blood lines. M. Emmet Walsh is his usual smarmy self as George Murphy, Ted's rugged pilot to the outback. Back home mom and her semi-dunderheaded nephew Rupert (Sisqo) are minding the store while Ted is caught in his dogs' crosshairs and the playful eye of Barb (Joanna Bacalso), the local barmaid in a town seemingly adrift of any other young and lovely mademoiselles. As for Gooding, he's ok in a role that would have been filled years ago by Dean Jones or Fred MacMurray. He can do single- and double-takes just fine and maintains a cheerful disposition despite the prankish abuse heaped upon him by man and beast. The role's no career-maker or vocation-breaker, but an easygoing example of Gooding's exaggerated comedic focus these days.

With a handful of writers, the story isn't the selling point. Jim Kouf might have the proven track record (Stakeout), but Michael Goldberg and Tommy Swerdlow provide that same comedic championing of the human spirit found in their Cool Runnings, wherein men from a tropical climate find themselves contesting in a snowbound, world-renown sports classic. Hmmm. Yeah, well it's not the winter Olympics this time, but the Arctic Challenge, a 400-mile dogsled race, that garners ESPN's attention. The first hour is a lead-up for that contest, wherein the aging Thunder Jack makes his final quest for fame and glory, with a determined Ted throwing in the expected last-minute heroics.

In Snow Dogs, the dogs do have their day, playing a few CGI practical jokes on their mother's son before showing their noble brow. There's plenty of heartwarming mush to swirl around here, and those parents with a handful of pre-teens will find their youngsters enjoying the wisecracking huskies (occasionally voiced by Jim Belushi) as Ted finds himself asleep in a comically nightmarish landscape. It's as harmless as yellow snow. Just don't fall into it too far.

Directed by:
Brian Levant

Cuba Gooding, Jr.
James Coburn
Nichelle Nichols
Graham Greene
Joanna Bacalso
M. Emmet Walsh
Brian Doyle-Murray

Written by:
Jim Kouf
Tommy Swerdlow
Michael Goldberg
Mark Gibson
Philip Halprin

PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested
Some material may
not be suitable for





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