..

SNOW DOGS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Cuba Gooding Jr., James Coburn, Joanna Bacalso, Nichelle Nichols, M. Emmet Walsh, Sisqo
Director:  Brian Levant
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  99 Minutes
Release Date:  May 14, 2002

“Welcome to Alaska.  It’s gonna be a scorcher today…expecting a high of 3 degrees…”

Film **

News flash:  Disney stabs DVD fans in the back yet again!  More on that further down…

I actually wanted to see Snow Dogs during its theatrical run, but never got the chance.  It seemed like an appealing concept for a movie:  one of my favorite actors, Cuba Gooding Jr., doing a purely comic stint against the beautiful backdrop of Alaska with a troupe of charming dogs as his supporting cast.  I figured those parts had to add up to something pretty good.

But Snow Dogs shoots for a very low target and hits it…how much praise does that merit?  Nothing was what I had hoped for.  Gooding, an Oscar winning talent who’s proven his penchant for comedy in films like Rat Race, is wasted here, reduced to mugging for the camera and Chevy Chase-styled pratfalls.  The dogs were wonderful but grossly underused, despite being the title stars.  Even the beautiful Alaska was actually the beautiful Canada instead.

Gooding plays Ted, a successful Miami dentist with a practice that has to be seen to be believed.  But his world changes drastically with the arrival of a legal notice about a will reading.  It turns out, Ted was adopted.  The mother who raised him (the elegant Nichols) never told him that he was in fact the son of an Alaskan frontier woman named Lucy.  Now Ted must set off in search of his identity.

The fact that he’s a Miami man going to Alaska is only the first of a long string of fish-out-of-water gags.  Cold weather, strong winds and rustic living don’t appeal to Ted.  Even less appealing is the knowledge that he’s inherited his real mother’s team of sled dogs…it’s instant dislike on both ends.  But Ted begins to stick it out…partly because he wants to connect to the man he learns was his real father, a crusty coot named Thunder Jack (Coburn), and partly because he begin to fall for the pretty local bar maid, Barb (Bacalso).

This is pure Disney formula from start to finish…no surprises.  Ted hates the dogs, intermingles with them in series of comic mishaps, learns to respect them, learns to control them, and finally becomes a good sled man himself.  There are even the expected melodramatic slushballs near the end.  What was surprising to me was the lack of real laughs.  Most of the attempts at comedy were crude slapstick, which I like as much as the next guy, but it only works in small doses.  There’s a reason most Three Stooges films were two-reelers.

One sequence stands out above the rest:  it involves a hallucination Ted has while passed out, and it involves a clever use of the dogs and an amusing cameo.  I will say no more.

This is a good cast across the board, but it’s one of those sad cases where talent is sadly underused.  I can only hope that the likes of Gooding, Coburn, Nichols, and Walsh had a good time making the movie, because it certainly isn’t going to further their careers any.

Plus, if they had fun making it, at least somebody got something out of it.

Video **

Why, Disney, why?  No sooner do I heap praises on you for your remarkable work on the DVD for The Parent Trap than you turn around and offer another movie without widescreen presentation.  I guess I should be thankful that their usual scheme to make you buy a disc a second time when widescreen TVs become the norm failed here…nobody would want to buy this disc twice.

Apart from the misframing, the video suffers from other problems, too.  Colors are generally very bright and show good tone, but there are many noticeable instances of bleeding.  Look at Cuba’s orange coat and how the orange never seems to stay within the lines, for example.  Images range from sharp to soft…background images like trees and such have very little detail.  A bit of grain is apparent here and there, especially during more monochromatic sequences…a killer for a movie with a lot of snow.  All in all, this is a poor effort, and the lack of widescreen seems to be the best indicator that quality was not job 1 here.

Audio ***

The audio fares quite a bit better, with Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks at your disposal.  Some of the best scenes involve the weather…wind and noise come at you from all directions, making good use of the multi-channel format.  Dynamic range is fairly strong, and the .1 channel gets a fair amount of work from the lower end of the music to action oriented scenes.

Features ***1/2

The extras are good, starting with a commentary track by director Brian Levant and producer Jordan Kerner…if you remember Levant’s commentary on The Flintstones, you’ll know what to expect here.  He’s enthusiastic, talkative and vibrant, and about the best PR guy a studio could have!

The other extras include an interactive game that involves both trivia and action (guiding a snowmobile), which I think is narrated by M. Emmet Walsh; I’m not sure.  There are three featurettes, one on the dogs, one on the actors, and one on the fictional town created for the movie, four deleted scenes, five extended scenes, and of course, sneak peeks at other Disney titles. 

By the way, in some of the featurettes, notice how the monitors on the sets are framed for widescreen?  Tell you anything, Disney?

Summary:

 

For any studio to continue to release titles without widescreen presentation this late in the DVD game is inexcusable.  Disney only served to make a mediocre movie like Snow Dogs that much less enjoyable.  It’s time for DVD fans to draw the line…no widescreen, no sale.  Period.