Rated PG - Running Time: 1:37 - Released 1/18/02

Snow Dogs is the latest low-budget, medium-quality, live-action Disney children's release to come out of the mouse pipe; it features a strangely mixed cast, with old veterans like James Coburn and Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols (who has played either herself or communications officer Nyota Uhura in nearly everything she's appeared in since 1966), newer faces like Cuba Gooding Jr., continuing his steady descent from talented Oscar-winning actor to Class-1A buffoon, and relative unknowns like the sexily innocent olive-skinned beauty Joanna Bacalso. A silly dogsledding comedy featuring Gooding's mugging, screaming, slapsticky antics stitched together with the requisite childlike attitudes about such things as life, love, and sex in the frozen North, the film features cute characterizations, cute doggies, and a cute ending manufactured to produce the kind of warm fuzzy feeling the folks at Disney do with such annoying regularity. Written by Jim Kouf (Operation Dumbo Drop), Tommy Swerdlow (Cool Runnings), and several others, "suggested" by Gary Paulsen's book Winterdance: The Fine Madness Of Running The Iditarod, and directed by Brian Levant of Beethoven and Flintstones fame, it is as fleeting and insubstantial as a snowflake, and about as much fun.

Operating on the classic fish-out-of-water theme, Snow Dogs introduces us to Miami dentist Ted Brooks (Gooding), who, upon learning he is the sole heir of a recently departed woman from the tiny town of Tolketna, Alaska, also learns from his mother (Nichols) that he's adopted. Stunned, he travels north to assess his inheritance, which consists of a small mountain cabin, some furniture, and a team of Alaskan husky sled dogs. While trying to decide what to do, he meets some of the town's regulars, like "Thunder Jack" (Coburn), a gruff and grizzled old musher, resident hottie Barb (Bacalso), who seems to be the only young woman in the town (wonder what her job is), and several quirky and questionable types with awful teeth played by the likes of Brian Doyle-Murray, M. Emmet Walsh, and Northern Exposure veteran Graham Greene. Feeling that he should give mushing the old college try, Ted spends some time being dragged through the snow by the overachieving dogs and laughed at by virtually all the townsfolk, although Barb does little to hide her attraction for the only man of color in her snow-white town. Finally, Ted decides to call it quits and head home, but some intriguing information about his parentage forces him to return and hit the dogsled trail again, with life-and-death implications.

This is one of those movies that makes you wish you were out playing in the snow rather than watching a movie. It's cute and funny in its way, simplistic, affable, and conveniently resolved, but ultimately better suited for Saturday TV—something to watch on a rainy winter afternoon when you really have nothing better to do. In other words, a typical live-action Disney release. ***

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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