|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 14 May 2002|
Billed as a family film and released by Disney, “Snow Dogs” is a decent offering in the milieu. Ted Brooks (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) is a successful Miami dentist, following in his father’s footsteps and watched over with frantic fondness by his doting mother. However, Ted gets served a summons that originated in Tolketna, Alaska, a place he’s never heard of. Opening the summons, he finds that he’s the sole heir of his real mother, Lucy Watkins, a woman he never even knew about.
Chapter 1 opens with a brief set-up showing young Ted working with his father in the dentist office, then quickly segues to grown Ted diving into a beachside swimming pool. The splash crashes through the surround system and makes us feel as though we’re sitting poolside. Salsa music hammers through the mains and wakes the subwoofer for a basso accompaniment. People on roller skates and bicycles whiz by Ted on the street, streaming from left main to right main as well as from right to left, pulling the audience into the flow of passing motion. The lush Miami scenery fills the screen, providing a sharp contrast in setting when the story moves to Alaska.
Hit with the summons in Chapter 2, Ted’s life goes into an abrupt tailspin when he discovers he’s actually adopted. When he faints and hits the floor, the thud of his body lights up the subwoofer. While trying to gather his wits, stumbling through a crowd, disjointed voices flow all around him on the main speakers. Burdened by a need to know why his parents gave him up and if his life actually should have taken another turn, Ted decides to go to Tolketna.
The scream of the jet at the airport in Chapter 3 throbs through the subwoofer and the surround sound system. Mayor/lawyer/bush pilot George (Graham Greene) meets Ted at the airport. As George flies Ted to Tolketna, the surround system reverberates with Ted’s screaming as the small plane lands on skis on a frozen lake. The howling wind that greets Ted when he gets off the plane blows him down and across the lake, and rips through the sound system.
Chapter 4 takes place in the bar, introducing the rest of the people who knew and loved Lucy Watkins, Ted’s mom. Barb, who becomes Ted’s love interest, runs the bar and was one of Lucy’s best friends. Right before the reading of the will, the local legend Thunder Jack (James Coburn) strides into the bar. The sound of thunder fires through the subwoofer to announce his arrival. Ted is immediately afraid of Thunder Jack, who cows the whole bar.
Ted arrives at his mother’s home in Chapter 5. He’s struck by the Spartan surroundings, and can find no immediate connection to Lucy at home. Nana, Lucy’s border collie, puts in an appearance with a performance that will win over any animal lover in the audience. While Ted shares a tender moment with Nana, the team of sled dogs arrives from upstairs and terrorizes him, tearing his coat and chasing him from the home. The sound system bursts with the growls and barks of all the dogs, pulling us into the scene.
The next morning in Chapter 6, Thunder Jack arrives and offers to buy the sled dogs. Ted has no need for the dogs but Thunder Jack’s whole demeanor is so obnoxious and intimidating that Ted can’t help but be disagreeable about the offer. Thunder Jack leaves in a huff. Barb also tells Ted about the Arctic Challenge, which Lucy previously won. Ted feels defeated in his quest to find any ties to the unfamiliar world of his late mother.
In Chapter 8, the lead dog of the sled team trees Ted. In the commentary, we learn that the tree that Ted climbs was transported to the site in pieces, then put back together for the shooting. The limbs crack off, splintering loudly through the sound system as Ted plummets down. Chapter 9 shows Thunder Jack sledding into town, and the sound echoes through the main speakers from right to left.
In Chapter 10, Ted packs his overalls seat with straw and offers a big target to lead dog Demon. Following the lure, which is offered to the throbbing basso beat of the subwoofer pumping out pure funk, Demon races after Ted.
Chapter 11 offers some of the CG work that was emphasized in the pre-release trailers as Ted hooks up the team to a sled. Demon appears and waggles his eyebrows to the rest of the team, as if saying, well, let’s show this guy what’s what. The other dogs respond in kind. And Ted’s bruising introduction to the sport of sledding begins as the dogs bolt and he crashes to the ground with a resounding thud.
By Chapter 12, Ted has become the laughingstock of the town. Responding to the challenge, Ted finds a beat-up Volkswagen bug and momentarily conquers the sledding ordeal. However, with every success comes a quick, hard-hitting slap that reminds Ted he’s out of his element.
The wolf howls in Chapter 13 while Ted and Barb enjoy a campfire together effectively race all around the speakers. In Chapter 14, Ted decides to continue to try to learn sledding. His efforts produce some of the movie’s strongest physical comedy when a fox draws the dogs astray and he tumbles from the sled, while an encounter with the Kodiak bear slams through the subwoofer. Fleeing the bear in Chapter 15, Ted tumbles madly down the mountainside. The rush of pine tree limbs, shushing snow, and thuds as Ted breaks through snowdrifts explodes through the subwoofer and the main and center speakers. The bad luck continues when Ted ends up on a frozen lake that shatters beneath his weight. The cracking ice sounds like pistol shots.
Chapter 16 is a dream sequence highlighting more of the CG work. The sled dogs are all seated in beach chairs in the sand, wearing sunglasses and having drinks. They also talk and make sarcastic comments.
The bonus materials on the disc include three featurettes on the shooting, the animals, and the stars of the movie that are well worth a look, making it immediately clear that “Snow Dogs” was a fun and entertaining film for the actors and film crew. Likewise, director Brian Levant and producer Jordan Kerner’s commentary during the film detail the love of the show, the animals, and the area where they built the town of Tolketna.
“Snow Dogs” succeeds as a family film, providing entertainment for the adults and younger viewers. The story is easily understood and familiar, and the dogs will win over audiences of all ages as well. Gooding provides an excellent performance in both acting and physical comedy. Coburn is the perfect choice for the crusty Thunder Jack. This is a film that will be viewed again and again by younger viewers and animal lovers, and will be a welcome addition to any Disney collection. For those not interested in adding to their collection, “Snow Dogs” is a good evening’s entertainment with the family.