Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., James Coburn, Sisqo, Graham Greene, Brian Doyle Murray | Directed by: Brian Levant | Produced by: Jordan Kerner, Christine Whitaker, John Avnet | Written by: Jim Kouf, Tommy Swerdlow, Michael Goldberg, Mark Gibson, Philip Halperin, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, Philip Halprin | Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Don’t faint—Disney has begun the 2002-year in films with a Pro-Life and Pro-Family film in “Snow Dogs” starring Cuba Gooding Jr.!
Our story begins in the year 1977. Ted Brooks (Gooding) is with his dentist dad on career day. It’s a light and humorous moment between father and son. Fast forward to the future where Ted is now Doctor Ted Brooks. He has a successful dental practice in Miami called “Hot Smile.” While his father has passed on, Ted’s mother, Amelia (Nichelle Nichols) tries to help out the business by passing out homemade sugar cookies in the dentist’s lobby. (That’s got to help her son’s job security). But Ted’s life changes abruptly when he is served a legal summons to go to Alaska for the reading of a will. What our unsuspecting dentist does not know is that he has been adopted. Amelia never had the courage to tell her son the truth. His birth mother, Lucy Watkins has passed away and his adoptive mother must now tell him the truth.
Ted goes off to Alaska to find out about the mother he never knew. Once in Toketna, Dr. Brooks learns that—in addition to some property—he has inherited a team of sled dogs! They go by the names of Diesel, Scooper, Nana, Yodel, Sniff, Mack, Duchess, and Demon. Demon, the lead dog, is out to make misery for his new owner (as his name would suggest).
Not only is Demon out to get Ted, but a local named Thunder Jack (James Colburn) is attempting to obtain the dogs from our city slicker underdog. His intentions are to use the dogs in an upcoming local race. The story continues with some lighthearted physical humor and plenty of slapstick to go around. We watch our reluctant hero have his dreams turn to mush. But finding himself up to the challenge, Brooks decides he will try to learn the skill of driving a team of sled dogs. You can guess the rest.
This story is tender and uplifting. Dr. Brooks learns that his birth is the result of a one-night stand, but Lucy respected life and put him up for adoption (which is always a positive option to an unwanted pregnancy). This story is based on Gary Paulsen’s book Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod. Gary wrote the book in 1994 as the result of his own participation.
Cuba Gooding Jr. did a good job pulling off a role that was originally crafted for Tim Allen. M. Emmett Walsh in the role of George was enjoyable as well. He was the pilot, Justice of the Peace, and the main town official. Michael Bolton even has a cameo.
While many critics will not like “Snow Dog” due to the plot flaws and somewhat targeted audience (family), I support this as a good family film. There is no language, no sex, and no violence. There is some crude humor, but even this is very mild. One scene of suspense may be seen as too intense for the very young, but all in all a very satisfying matinee. It is also worth a note of thanks to Disney. I did notice two characters that are never developed… it could be implied that they are gay, but I only mention that as caution of courtesy.