Two Oscar-winners are no match for some irresistible dogs (with a little assistance from puppeteers and computer animators) in this so-so slapstick comedy about a Miami dentist who ends up in a dogsled race. The actors do their best, but there is no way they can hold the attention of the audience when those beautiful Siberian huskies and one magnificent border collie are on screen.
This is an a attempt to return to one of the Disney staples of the 1960’s, a light-hearted story pairing cute but clumsy actors with cute but clever animals. Think of “That Darn Cat,” “The Shaggy Dog,” “The Monkey’s Uncle,” and “The Ugly Dachshund.” The set-up this time is fine: a successful Miami dentist named Ted Brooks (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) inherits a team of champion Alaskan snow dogs. And some of the highly predictable jokes work reasonably well, as the city slicker used to sunshine has to adjust to live in a remote area that is all snow and ice.
Gooding is, as always, an attractive presence, with welcome support from Nichelle (“Lt. Uhura”) Nichols as his adoptive mother, James Coburn as his biological father, and Joanna Bacalso as his romantic interest. There is a cute dream sequence and the scenery is gorgeous. But overall, the movie is no better than fair.
Parents should know, though, that despite the PG rating, there is some material they might not consider appropriate for children. Characters drink hard liquor. Brooks’ late mother leaves a drink of Wild Turkey to all her friends. Brooks learns early in the movie that he is adopted, which some children (both adopted and not) might find disturbing. Later, he is told that his natural parents were two loners who had a one-night stand, and his biological father is a cranky (and white) mountain man played by James Coburn. Brooks tries to gain the respect of the mountain man and find out how his biological parents felt about each other and about him.
When Brooks finds out that he is half white, his adoptive mother makes a stereotype joke, responding, “That explains why you’re so crazy about Michael Bolton.” Parents should also make it clear to younger children that despite what it says in the movie, humans do not bite dogs on the ear to tame them.
Families who see this movie should talk about when we allow ourselves to be measured by the standards of others and when we trust our own ability to know what is important.