‘Snow Dogs’ too cute for its own good

Snow Dogs _

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
January 18, 2002

2.5 stars

“Snow Dogs” is a cute Disney movie that youngsters most likely will enjoy. There are enough adorable dogs and cartoonish antics to keep the Saturday morning cartoon set giggling.

Is it as good as the old “Benji” films? No. It’s not even as entertaining as a really good “Scooby Doo” rerun. But we tolerate the silly plot because the film’s got a lot of heart, the scenery is gorgeous and the dogs are pretty darned likable, as is lead human actor Cuba Gooding Jr.

Filmgoers will develop a serious case of puppy love with the canine stars. They are beautiful, expressive and alert, and they bond well with Gooding, who plays Ted–a successful Miami dentist summoned to Tolketna, Alaska–to hear the last will and testament of his dead birth mother.

The thing is, he never knew he was adopted. He’s naturally curious about his birth mom and also wants to find out what she left for him. So he buys a parka and heads for Alaska, where he learns she was a woman of simple means who left her prized sled dogs to him.

Gorgeous Barb (Joanna Bacalso), who runs the town cafe, notices Ted “looks just like her.”

But Ted’s not sure who his father is yet. He deduces it must be the only other black man in Tolketna. Anxious to receive dental work in a town that doesn’t have a dentist, the old man asks Ted, “If I say yes, do I get a discount?”

Then again, his father may be the cantankerous (and white) Thunder Jack (James Coburn), who took shelter in a cave once during a fierce dog sled race with his mother.

“Cold weather brings people together in a strange way,” Thunder Jack says.

Anything’s possible. Even luring an Oscar winner like Gooding to star in this movie. Perhaps Disney showed him the money. Or maybe it looked like a promising film compared with his last major flick, “Pearl Harbor.” But then again, who can explain the careers of fellow Academy Award-winners such as Mira Sorvino, Marisa Tomei, Angelina Jolie and the cast of “Pay It Forward”?

After learning of his past, Ted questions his career choice. Did he become a dentist because his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps? Does he have other passions? And will learning more about his real parents help define who he is and what he wants to become?

The movie doesn’t tackle these kinds of questions because, frankly, they’d slow the movie down.

This is the kind of comedy where more thought was given to the animals than the storyline. The bear had a human stunt double and all the dangerous doggie scenes came courtesy of animatronic dogs created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

The film includes a cliffhanger in the literal sense, but we never fear for the humans’ lives. We know that paw power ultimately will prevail.

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