Kids like Animals, should I?
In honor of James Coburn, who died just a few days ago on November 18th, I am reviewing here one of his last films, Snow Dogs. Nobody's going to argue that this is anywhere near his best - Affliction was a tremendous performance, and the Flint movies were funnier, and perhaps even a better version of Austin Powers.
Snow Dogs is a simple tail about Cuba Gooding Jr, who finds out his mom isn't Nichelle Nichols, but someone who just died in Alaska. It turns out he was adopted, and this shakes his world view, in as much as a Disney-branded movie can do such a thing.
So he travels to Alaska to hear the will. There are a series of odd individuals he meets, from the pilot for hire played by M. Emmett Walsh (an awesome character actor) to Thunder Jack, a local with a fairly poor attitude, gruffly portrayed Coburn.
After various sentimental items are doled out, Cuba gets the "remainder" of his birth mother's property. He goes out and pokes around her cabin, and is surprised to find, get this, dogs. Quite a few of them. Cuba is not a natural dog person, and most of the story from here relates to his growing relationship with them, from fear to antagonism to a fondness. All throughout, Thunder Jack is trying to buy the dogs of him. At first, the locals convince Cuba he'd be getting a bad deal, and then it starts to get personal. Thunder Jack finds a great deal of humor in Cuba's difficulty with the dogs, and comments cuttingly to him.
Before too long, the secret comes out that Thunder Jack is Cuba's father. Then things get more interesting between them, Cuba wanting to know the real circumstances of his birth, and Jack doing anything to avoid talking about it.
But my description here makes the movie sound better than it is. Kids are definitely the target audience, and while it's actually pretty well framed for them, the movie pulls enough punches that adults will feel distracted and bored. The dogs are pretty good, though, and have some obviously animated moments, but still work decently as the focal point of the film.
James Coburn makes a fairly simple character interesting to watch, and is the only one among the main player to capture this. Cuba Gooding Jr just moves a bright-eyed face around to the standard Disney emotional score.
We have intimations of bigger things that don't quite work. There were ambitions that a sequence of writers managed to lose on the floor. The opening sequence, where Cuba's character as a child plays at dentistry with his father, works well to introduce the next scene of grown up Cuba as a dentist, but doesn't work for the movie.
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