Snow Dogs Movie Review

When I first saw the trailer for Snow Dogs in front of Monsters, Inc., I couldn't believe what I was seeing or hearing. Cuba Gooding Jr. as a dentist in Miami who inherits a house and a team of sled dogs in Alaska, and chooses to move there and make the best of things. It's all kind of a blur, but then there were a lot of shots of him being cold; him being a city "slicker" in the wilderness; and him screaming because he's either slipping, falling, being dragged, or being chased by some kind of animal. All the while, "Who Let the Dogs Out" plays over his screams.

I thought, "Man, how surreally bad." Comedian David Cross has a joke about how he keeps a list of great money making ideas he came up with while stoned. A kid's sled dog movie about a black dentist from Miami has to be one of them.

But that's the thing about Snow Dogs -- it actually gets worse, and in so many ways. Turns out, Cuba Gooding's character Ted inherits his dogs from his birth mother, the lone black woman in a tiny Alaskan town (think Northern Exposure). His business partner is dentist Rupert, played by Sisqo (yes, the "Thong Song" guy is doing more movies). And, the capper is that Ted is a (cringe) Michael Bolton fan. The screenwriter must be Dadaist or something -- or on crack, in the least.

Now I'm not a parent, and I don't have any close nieces or nephews. But I do think I vaguely understand what entertains kids. There are a few good kids' movies, and there are about ten to that one that are bad to awful. This clunker is definitely in the majority, and it's a classic example of why parents hate going to kiddie flicks. Even though some children will find Snow Dogs mildly amusing (especially if they're very young and simply love dogs), but I'm betting most will just get bored.

There's a difference between juvenile humor and comedy that's just plain insulting. This film was made to get laughs from the slowest person in the audience -- just pure slapstick with lots of inane, inoffensive screaming and exaggerated facial expressions. And, if the kids at my screening are any indication, most others will start getting restless, especially when the sappier parts of the story kick in.

Snow Dogs starts going for the heartstrings in a huge way by the last part of the film. After all, if it's going to be one of those made-for-TV-looking movies that ends up in endless Disney Channel reruns, it's got to extol some valuable lessons (presumably found in Winterdance: the Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, the book which inspired the film). But I won't give away what the wise sages at Disney have in store for you, because it'll also give away some plot twists.

So, I'll just move on to what's salvageable in this wreck. Number one has to be the dogs, teams of gorgeous Siberian Huskies, looking especially graceful and powerful as they pull their sled across spectacularly grand panoramas of snow-draped Alaska (actually Alberta, Canada). The only problem is the filmmakers used Henson System animatronic puppets to give the dogs facial expressions and to make them talk, which comes off more annoying than adorable.

But, number two is definitely James Coburn. Looking, sounding, and acting like he's competing for top prize on "Who's More Grizzled?," Coburn is always fun to watch, especially when he's being mean and ornery. Which brings me to the biggest mystery of this film: What are Cuba Gooding Jr. and James Coburn doing in this movie? Is the acting job market so bad that Oscar winners are turning to kids' movies for work [Ed. Seen Thomas and the Magic Railroad?]? Perhaps the bigger tragedy is that the marketers get to boast "starring two Academy Award winners" in every ad.

My, how the mighty have fallen. Worse for them, I can't imagine Snow Dogs pulling down very strong box office numbers, considering all the other fantastic kiddie fare out in theaters now. But if you're one of the unfortunate ones who ends up dragged to this nonsense after giving in to your plaintive children, just soak in the absurdity of it all, and remember that there's far more zaniness than I even got to mention. One hint: a giant, talking Michael Bolton album cover. Enough said.

Quite a few extras on the Snow Dogs DVD, but alas, none of them explain the presence -- nay, the existance -- of Michael Bolton. But the film's worst moment can be found right there in the (thankfully) deleted scenes, when Gooding utters his tragic catchphrase... (wait for it)... Show me the mushing. Ouch.

Cookies for Cuba.


Snow Dogs Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: PG, 2002


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