This crop of films is for slightly older kids, maybe 7 and up, and includes eight dogs, one pink panther, and extreme cattiness at play auditions. All feature talented actors and plots that even mom and dad might enjoy.
I felt as though my life would be complete without another Disney dog movie. Still, this one did not seem to be another fish-out-of-water story--or to feature any animated or talking animals, or even Cuba Gooding Jr. From the beginning it was clear this was more in the mold of "serious" dog movies, like "Old Yeller," where the emphasis was on story and relationships. "Eight Below" includes relationships between the small group of scientists at an Arctic base, the relationships between the people and the dogs, and the relationships that the dogs have with each other. Each set of interactions are explored and deepened throughout the film.
The basic plot is this: Eight sled dogs routinely save the lives of otherwise-brilliant scientists who are too stupid to know you shouldn't go jaunting around a brittle iceberg while on a radio call. When "the largest storm in 25 years" moves in, the dogs get the humans back to base to be evacuated for medical care. The dogs' owner is promised that the winter crew will return immediately to fly his dogs out. However, since this is, after all, the biggest storm in a generation, the writing is on the wall: No winter team, and the heroic canines are stranded.
The rest of the movie follows the dogs, as they bond to stay alive, and the humans, who realize that they need to defy convention and return to save, or at least "honor," the dogs.
While the film may be too intense for small children, the biggest question is how you handle the cinematic demise of beloved pets. My daughter, who can handle humans going down with the ship at a pretty good clip, cannot tolerate animal deaths. (And I know a few adults in this category!) Instead of coming back from the film glowing, as I expected, she said it was "the worst movie ever," because she lost two of "her" dogs.
On the other hand, my son, who at 11 is on the older cusp of Disney viewership, enjoyed the movie in a way he hadn't expected to. Both he and his friend agreed that, forget the bazillion dollars' worth of special effects spent to create prehistoric flesh-rippers in "King Kong," they had never been frightened the way they were by the leopard seal in "Eight Below." "I've screamed before, but this time, my heart lurched so far, my chest hurt!" claimed said friend, enthusiastically.
In short, "Eight Below" really is a family movie that all ages will enjoy, not just simply a kids' film that adults can tolerate. And, no matter what my daughter says, I suspect our next pet will be a husky (she's wanted one for quite a while) and it will be named Maya, after the lead dog of "Eight Below."
As a fan of the original "Pink Panther" series, I looked forward to the new Steve Martin version with both anticipation and trepidation. It didn't inspire confidence that the studio had announced a summer 2005 release, moved it to Christmas, then shuttled it to the winter wasteland of January/February. But Steve Martin is both a funny and a smart man, so I was willing to give it a go.
The bottom line is: This is a very silly movie. Not brilliant, not Oscar-worthy, but in this day and age, there are worse things than a movie that can keep you giggling for an hour and a half, with several true belly laughs thrown in. Wisely, Martin does not attempt to do Peter Sellers doing Clouseau. His bumbling inspector is still as clueless as Alicia Silverstone, still tries vainly to attack his second banana, and still blithely butchers the English language. As with the Sellers version, what makes Clouseau work is that he has a big heart and an innate moral compass that guides him to do the right thing, even when he's taken off the case. Martin's Clouseau is more self-aware, a little sadder about his lack of luck with the ladies, more cognizant of his outsider status.