Here's a fun family film with a great deal of
warmth despite the snow. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays a
happy go lucky, face on the broadside of a bus,
drivin' a convertible sports car in sunny Miami kind
of successful dentist. His dancing, punchy,
introductory day is interrupted by a triple-whammy:
1) he's adopted, 2) his real mother has passed, and
3) his presence is requested in Alaska for the
reading of her will.
You can see where this is going: slick
green-bellied city guy slippin' and slidin' in the
icy cold higher latitudes amidst leather-faced
natives who snicker at his foolishness. Yes, that's
exactly the case -- though it would have been easy to
hit this note to rote, Disney manages to make the
site gags as fresh and invigorating as a snowball in
the face. (I mean that in a good way.)
Adding color to the snow (no, not yellow), Cuba's
machismo kicks in when he uncovers a father who's
more of a parent to dogs than his own blood. Cuba's
frustration fuels his folly.
With a tendency toward overacting, Cuba is perfect
for the role, James Coburn also nails his part as
dogsledding legend "Thunder Jack" who was "hit by
thunder - twice!" (I love that line.)
Briskly-edited, fun and endearing, "Snow Dogs"
shows off some very nice transitions early on.
Behind the snow games and lovable Siberian huskies
(plus one sheep dog), the picture hosts a
parka-wrapped dose of heart. In one of the film's
well-placed hard-hitting lines, Cuba defends his
decision to sell off his birth-mother's belongings
and head back to Miami, "Why not pawn off her stuff
... she pawned off her kid?"
Of note, only a few days prior to this screening,
I'd finished reading a book by Gary Paulsen in which
he mentions running the Itidarod, hauling a team of
dogs up from the lower 48. During the film, I was
reminded of that book, then I was surprised to learn
that the picture was actually inspired/based on
another Paulsen piece, "Winterdance"
Tidbits: Director Levant, who has six dogs
of his own at home, said there were as many as 80
dogs on the set at one time. The production notes say
all of the dogs were mushers though they were also
people's pets and may have never teamed together.
Additionally, a few "puppet" dogs were thrown in the
mix to display some tricky expressions.