While Cuba Gooding, Jr. will likely be always tied to "Jerry Maguire"'s famed "show me the money", that definitely doesn't mean that he isn't a supremely talented actor. Few actors could have saved Jon Turteltaub's hokey "Instinct", but Gooding, Jr.'s strong sincerity and emotion pulled the movie through without it falling apart completely. Certainly, he's been in some legitimately good movies, as well, as he was memorable in "What Dreams May Come" and "Men Of Honor", among other films. So, what possessed the Oscar winner to play second-string to a team of dogs in a Disney picture?
Director Brian Levant, whose work in television (writer of "Happy Days", director of "Married...With Children") is more impressive than his cinematic efforts (director of "Beethoven", "Problem Child 2" and "Jingle All The Way", among others) helms this picture where Gooding, Jr. stars as Ted, a popular Miami dentist whose face plastered on local buses.
The film starts off with a pretty unnecessary sequence where we see the young Ted learning from his father about being a dentist. It's backstory that's not really backstory, mind you - the scene is simply leading up to a throw-up joke. It's not a pleasant way to open a picture. Soon enough, present day Ted finds out that he's actually adopted and that his mother has just passed away. He flies up to Tolketna, Alaska to find out what he has been left.
It turns out that, aside from his mother's cabin, he's also now the owner of a team of eight snow dogs, a few of which are in need of an anger management course. Predictable comedy ensues as he tries to prove to the dogs that he can actually lead them rather than the other way around. I suppose I can overlook that this film boasts the usual Disney formula that so many other of the studio's live-action films have offered over the years. What I can't accept and can't believe is that, with five writers, the film still manages to be neither funny or exciting. Either predictable or sappy or both, the film alternates between slapstick (watch for one sequence that's sort of a Wintery rip from "Ace Ventura 2") and weak drama. It never really succeeds at either.
I've got to give Gooding, Jr. credit. As he attempted with "Instinct", he gives it his all again here, running and yelling and trying to pull some sort of laughs out of material where there isn't any to find. Joanna Bacalso also is enjoyable as a local who becomes Ted's love interest. James Coburn acts his most gruff as the mean-spirited local who could be Ted's father. The dogs are almost more interesting; they look as if they were taken from the pages of a Jack London wilderness novel and are good little actors. The film's ads made it as if the dogs talk - they don't. They're animated via CGI in one particular sequence (and have a few instances where some of their eye movements are animated) and that's it.
The youngest members of the audience will find parts and pieces of the film entertaining as the slapstick quotient at least early in the picture is fairly heavy. Older children and adults that happen to have to watch this, however, will likely be equally uninterested.
VIDEO: At the end of last year, I considered Disney to be one of the most improved studios in terms of DVD. Special editions, DTS support, big titles like "Snow White" and other aspects really showed that the studio seemed to be making a turn-around. Now, with "Snow Dogs" and a few other recent small titles, they've taken a big step backwards. Instead of a fresh, sparkling anamorphic widescreen presentation of this picture, we instead are offered a pan & scan presentation that doesn't allow the film's beautiful scenery and generally attractive cinematography by Thomas Ackerman ("Rat Race") to be seen in its original aspect ratio.
As for the picture quality, a few elements of it seem slightly off. Sharpness and detail are fine, but the picture lacks the sort of polish and shine that an anamorphic widescreen presentation would have offered. A few other flaws were present; a couple of instances of slight pixelation were seen, while some brief, minor edge enhancement was also spotted.
Colors were decently presented; they appeared fairly bright and vivid, although they seemed a step or two more subdued than they should be. Flesh tones looked accurate and natural throughout. It's extremely dissapointing that Disney only went with pan & scan on this release and this is certainly not something I hope Disney ever does on another title.
SOUND: "Snow Dogs" is presented by Disney in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The film's soundtrack alternates noticably between being a moderately active and eveloping presentation and a front-heavy one. Surrounds became involved during a handful of sequences for sound effects, distinct ambience or John Debney's score, but there were also stretches where the rear speakers weren't employed. I suppose I should be pleased that the film's sound crew tried to provide an at least moderately involving audio experience; I can see where this kind of comedy could have been played out with no rear speaker use at all. Audio quality was fine, as the music had nice depth and presence, while sound effects and dialogue remained clear. Browsing through the DTS presentation, the DTS track did seem to offer some improvements in the audio, with slightly stronger bass, a crisper and richer sounding score and a bit more clarity.
MENUS: Some minor animation livens otherwise rather ordinary backgrounds.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Brian Levant and Producer Jordan Kerner. Levant is absurdly, wildly enthusiastic about the film and hyperactively throws out information left and right. Several stretches of the film have Levant really just narrating the film or heaping praise at the actors and crew, but there are some moments of decent information about the production. The thing that surprised me a bit is that Levant occasionally is quite funny, so what happened here? Kerner also provides some intelligent comments about the production and there are interesting facts offered, such as that the film crew actually built the Alaskan town. A pretty decent commentary.
Deleted/Extended Scenes: 4 deleted scenes (including one that's a cringe-inducing joke on "Jerry Maguire" called "Show Me The Mushing") and 5 extended sequences.
Featurettes: Going To The Dogs is a fairly interesting 12-minute featurette that discusses working with the teams of dogs in the movie, all of whom were not previously trained in sledding. Also talked about in this featurette is the animatronic work. There are also two short featurettes about how the town was created for the film as well as a general look at the performances.
Also: An interactive sledding game (not just a quiz, but an interactive game - although I couldn't get it to work that well, the graphics were pretty nice.) and 3 "sneak peek" trailers for other Disney titles.
Final Thoughts: As much as Cuba Gooding, Jr tries, he can't save a film that chases its own tail for just short of two hours. The DVD provides respectable audio and decent supplements, but doesn't offer the film in its original aspect ratio.
The Film *