Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. Snow Dogs

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Snow Dogs

Year: 2002

Budget:  $33 million

Box office: $115 million

Plot: Dr. Theodore “Ted” Brooks is a celebrity dentist in Miami, Florida. Every city bus carries an advertisement for his dental practice “Hot Smile” with his picture. One day, Ted receives a letter from Alaska, naming him as the only heir of Lucy Watkins, a resident of the backwoods village of Tolketna. Ted’s mother Amelia reveals that he is adopted; Lucy was his biological mother.

Ted travels to Tolketna to claim his inheritance from Lucy: seven Siberian Huskies named Diesel, Mack, Sniff, Yodel, Scooper, Duchess and Demon, and a Border Collie named Nana. Completely out of his element, Ted is confounded by blizzards, thin ice, foxes, skunks, grizzly bears, an intimidating, crusty old mountain man named James “Thunder Jack” Johnson, and the aggressive, defiant lead dog, Demon. All of this happens with the buzzing excitement of the Arctic Challenge Sled Dog Race, which is only two weeks away.

Ted tries to find out why he was given up for adoption, and who was his biological father. He meets bar owner Barb, a close friend of Lucy. Barb helps Ted to deal with the dogs and teaches him how to drive a sled, and the two fall in love. Ted has several encounters with Thunder Jack, who tries to buy the dogs, especially Demon. Barb reveals to Ted that Thunder Jack is his biological father. Ted confronts Jack, who initially denies the claims.

When Ted loses consciousness while practicing sledding, Jack rescues him and takes him to a cave. Jack offers to reveal the truth in exchange for the dogs; Ted agrees. Jack claims that he and Lucy hid from a storm in the same cave during an Arctic Challenge, and it was then that Ted was conceived. When Jack woke up, Lucy was gone. He looked for her but never found her.

Ted lets Jack have the dogs and returns to Miami. Jack adds Demon as lead dog of his team for the Arctic Challenge. When the race begins, Jack decides to press on in the middle of a fierce storm.

In Miami, Ted recounts his experiences to his mother, who accidentally breaks a frame holding a picture of Lucy and Demon. Inside of the frame is a snapshot of Lucy and Jack with a baby. Ted is infuriated that Jack lied to him, and rushes back to Alaska. He learns that Jack has gone missing and the weather is too bad for searching. Ted decides to search for Jack himself, taking Lucy’s dogs with Nana as lead. A few hours later, Amelia arrives and meets Barb. She learns that Ted is out on the trail, searching for Jack. The “Arctic Flame” is burning over the finish line, until the last musher arrives.

Ted eventually locates Jack in the old cave. Jack admits he and Lucy had been together at the hospital when Ted was born, and that he loved her very much; but that he and Lucy had agreed then that neither one of them were ready to be parents. Ted also discovers that Demon’s bad temper is due to a rotten tooth.

He pulls the tooth, and Demon becomes a much friendlier dog. During the journey back to Tolketna, the sled nearly goes over a cliff into a river, but the dogs pull themselves back up. Ted finally brings Thunder Jack across the finish line. Ted introduces Jack to Amelia, and he and Jack decide to share the “Arctic Flame” trophy, which is given to whoever comes in last.

Some time later, Ted has moved his dental practice to Tolketna. He and Barb have married, and Barb is now his receptionist and pregnant, while Nana and Demon have four puppies. Back in Miami, Ted’s cousin Rupert, also a dentist, becomes the new celebrity dentist, now with his face on every city bu

Background: Canmore, Alberta, Canada was used to film the fictional city of Tolketna, Alaska. The dogs D.J., Koda, Floyd and Buck also starred in the later Disney adventure film, Eight Below. Many of the dogs and mushers used in the film were locals. Two of the hero team doubles and all of Olivier’s team were supplied by Nakitsilik Siberians of Bridge Lake, British Columbia. Mountain Mushers’ from Golden BC supplied the Thunder Jack team. Old Ernie’s team was supplied by Russ Gregory from Calgary, Alberta. Arcticsun Siberian Husky Kennel from Edmonton, Alberta was one of many kennels — including Czyz, Snowy Owl, Gatt racing — from the area that supplied background for the film. Two of the dogs came from Kortar Kennels, in Ontario.

The animatronic version of Demon was created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and performed by David Barclay.

Cuba Gooding Jr. returns as Dr. Theodore “Ted” Brooks. 1James Coburn returns as as James “Thunder Jack” Johnson.

Joanna Bacalso as Barb. Her television credits include guest starring appearances on the series The Jamie Foxx Show, La Femme Nikita, Veronica’s Closet, The District, Ally McBeal and Wish You Were Here. Films include Car 54, Where Are You?, Bedazzled, Dude, Where’s My Car?, and Half Baked. Sisqó  2 as Dr. Rupert Brooks. He is most prominently known for “The Thong Song,” his membership in Dru Hill, and has appeared in Get Over It, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and played himself on Legends of Tomorrow.

Nichelle Nichols as Amelia Brooks. Is best known for playing Lt. Nyota Uhura in Star Trek and the movie series. On stage, she appeared in Carmen Jones, Porgy and Bess, The Roar of the Greasepaint, For My People, and Mister Charlie. She voiced characters on Gargoyles and Batman: The Animated Series. Christopher Judge as Dr. Brooks. He best known for playing Teal’c in Stargate SG-1. Judge played Kratos in the video game God of War. He has appeared in 21 Jump Street, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, House Party 2, Sirens, Andromeda, Stargate Atlantis, The Mentalist,  Personal Effects,  NCIS: Los Angeles, and The Dark Knight Rises.

M. Emmet Walsh as George Murphy. He has appeared in over 200 films and television series, including Blood Simple, The Jerk,  Ordinary People, Blade Runner, Wild Wild West, The Iron Giant, Slap Shot, and Back to School. Brian Doyle-Murray as Ernie. Notable roles include Caddyshack, Scrooged, Ghostbusters II, Groundhog Day, The Razor’s Edge, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Wayne’s World, JFK, Sixteen Candles, Club Paradise, Legal Eagles, How I Got Into College, Jury Duty, Multiplicity, The Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story, As Good as It Gets, Dr. Dolittle, Stuart Little, Kill the Man, Bedazzled, Nearing Grace, Daddy Day Camp, and 17 Again.

Graham Greene as Peter Yellowbear. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Dances with Wolves. Other notable films include Thunderheart, Maverick, Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Green Mile, Skins, Transamerica, Casino Jack, Winter’s Tale, The Shack, and Wind River.

Jim Belushi, Jane Sibbett, Frank Welker, and Richard Steven Horvitz voiced the dogs. Singer Michael Bolton appears as himself.

Critical Reception:

  • A. O. Scott of the New York Times. “Snowdogs” is, even by the standards of a tradition that includes ”Son of Flubber” and ”The Shaggy D.A.,” remarkably inept. (And surely Mr. Gooding is too young to step into Fred McMurray’s worn-out slippers.) The pratfalls are so uninventive that they inspire more pity than hilarity, and one sequence plays three instances of mortal peril — a grizzly bear attack, an avalanche and a fall through the thin ice of a frozen river — for easy laughs. The writing is uniformly terrible.”
  • Nevada Cronin of the San Francisco Chronicle “There’s little to recommend “Snow Dogs,” unless one considers cliched dialogue and perverse escapism a source of high hilarity. Levant and Disney have created an alternative universe in which people still use antiquated terms like “city slicker” and mouth lines like, “Why don’t we step outside and settle this Eskimo style?” Ironically, Disney’s live-action films wander further from reality than its animated fare. At least the characters in “The Lion King” are believable.”
  • By Claudia Puig of USA Today. “The best actor in Snow Dogs is a glowering Siberian husky named Demon. In fact, all the dogs in the movie do a better job than their human counterparts. That’s not because they’re particularly expressive. Though they’re adorable animals, they talk only in a dream sequence. Nor are they given much screen time. But the two-legged actors are either so underwhelming or so histrionic that the lead husky looks like Orson Welles by comparison.”

Legacy: A fictional sequel to Snow Dogs, “5NOW DOG5”, was referenced in the episode of 30 Rock in Season 6, “The Shower Principle”. Snow Dogs was referenced in the Gilmore Girls Season 2 episode, “Teach Me Tonight”. The film was also the inspiration for the reworking of a Mafia comedy film that was in development at Warner Bros. This eventually became the comedy film Kangaroo Jack.

My take: Well the scenery is beautiful. And they threw in a few jokes for the adults. Sisqo is surprisingly funny. The rest of it is simply a fish out of water story and the cast is game and having fun

Available on Disney +?: No, I had to get it from the library

Next Week: Holes