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Brian Levant
Cuba Gooding Jr., James Coburn, Joanna Bacalso, Nichelle Nichols
Jim Kouf, based on the book by Gary Paulsen

Get ready for mush hour!
Box Office:
Budget $23 million.
Opening weekend $23.708 million on 2302 screens.
Domestic gross $80.962 million.
Rated PG for mild crude humor.

Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 5/14/2002

• Audio Commentary from Director Brian Levant and Producer Jordan Kerner
• “Chillin’ With the Actors” Featurette
• “Going to the Dogs” Featurette
• “Tolketna On Ice” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes
• Extended Scenes
• “Ted’s Arctic Challenge” Game
• Sneak Peeks


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Snow Dogs (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Here’s the question of the day: when did Cuba Gooding Jr. become the king of comedy? He first made his name in 1991’s gritty urban drama Boyz in the Hood, and he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1996’s romantic drama Jerry Maguire. Since then, however, he’s shown an increasing propensity for slapstick. Gooding showed up in 2001’s farcical Rat Race, and now we find him in the kid-oriented comedy called Snow Dogs.

In this film, we meet Ted Brooks (Gooding), a successful Miami dentist who quickly learns something shocking to him: he was adopted as a baby. He discovers this when he finds out that his birth mother died and he’s the main heir.

From there he heads north to Alaska to deal with the estate. While in tiny Tolketna, he meets the colorful locals, including sexy barkeep Barb (Joanna Bacalso) and crusty wilderness man “Thunder Jack” (James Coburn). He develops his main relationships with those two, and he also gets to know his birth mother’s pack of sled dogs.

Although Ted initially just plans to sell everything, he changes his mind and he decides he’ll train the dogs and run them in the Arctic Challenge. Of course, this becomes more comic than realistic, and Ted eventually cedes the dogs to Jack, with whom he discovers he shares a surprising bond. Ted comes to terms with his heritage and his relationships with others, as well as the cute puppies.

Snow Dogs offered a generally entertaining experience, but it seemed like a pretty generic kiddie film. On the positive side, it did present a solid cast. It’s somewhat shocking to note that in Gooding and Coburn, we find two Oscar winners; that’s some pretty high-quality talent for this kind of goofball flick. Both acquitted themselves fairly well. Gooding tended to be too broad at times, but as seen in Rat Race, he has a good talent for slapstick and physical comedy, and he came across fairly well here. Coburn also mastered the gruff exterior of Jack but also made him seem acceptably human.

Though she’s really not much of an actor, it still was good to see Nichelle Nichols as Ted’s adoptive mother. She maintained a fine presence, and I liked the opportunity to encounter her. Less positive appeared Baculsa. While a lovely woman, she came across as fairly stiff and lifeless as Ted’s obvious love interest. She didn’t actively harm the film, but amidst a very good cast, she couldn’t live up to the competition.

Of course, the dogs themselves also seemed good, but I disliked some of the ways in which they were used. To accentuate the broad comedy, the filmmakers decided to use computer enhancements to emphasize the animals’ expressions. These appeared goofy and pointless. The dogs were expressive enough without this computer silliness. It actively distracted me, as it appeared overly forced; the filmmakers simply tried too hard in this instance.

Dogs also seemed heavy-handed in other ways. The second we saw Barb, we knew she’d become Ted’s love interest. While I don’t mind some predictable moments, this was a little too obvious, and those moments didn’t develop terribly well.

I must note that I liked the way Dogs handled race. As you’ll see if you watch the film, the movie possessed multiple opportunities to mine that territory for cheap gags, but it rarely even brought up the subject. I appreciated this level of restraint and thought it offered a positive message.

Overall, Snow Dogs wasn’t a bad film, but it didn’t provide anything special. Aimed at young ones, it’ll likely seem more satisfying for them than for adults. Even as someone outside that target audience, I still found it intermittently offered entertainment; I simply didn’t think it often felt like anything out of the ordinary. Nonetheless, it provided generally solid family fare.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio A- (DTS), B+ (Dolby Digital) / Bonus B

Snow Dogs appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Unfortunately, Disney decided that the folks who want to see Snow Dogs would prefer to watch it in an altered aspect ratio, not its original 1.85:1 dimensions. This means that fans are stuck with this edition; I’ve heard no plans for a DVD release with the correct ratio.

In addition to the lack of the original theatrical dimensions, Snow Dogs showed a mix of other problems, though it generally presented a decent image. For the most part, the picture remained crisp and well defined. Some shots displayed modest softness, but those concerns appeared infrequently. Most of the film displayed distinct and accurate images. I noticed no issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects, but some light edge enhancement showed up at times. In regard to print flaws, the picture seemed a little grainy at times, and I also detected a few nicks and some grit. However, the movie generally came across as reasonably clean.

During most of the film, I found the colors to look nicely bold and vibrant. The movie exhibited a nicely broad palette even through the northern setting, and the DVD usually displayed vivid hues. However, reds could seem a little noisy at times. Black levels appeared deep and rich, while shadow detail looked appropriately dense but not excessively heavy. Ultimately, Snow Dogs presented a watchable image, but even when I disregarded the annoying absence of the original aspect ratio, I found it to contain too many concerns for such a recent film.

By the way, one scene in the film shows Ted as he watches TV. It’s a 16X9 set. Oh, the painful irony!

In a genuinely bizarre twist, although Snow Dogs doesn’t appear in its original aspect ratio, it does include a DTS soundtrack! Yes, we find both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio here. Despite my concerns about the visual presentation, I found few problems with the sound, as both mixes offered fine material. Though the two seemed fairly similar, I did prefer the DTS track. I’ll cover the DTS version first and relate the differences I perceived at the end.

Dogs offered a very solid soundfield. Music showed strong stereo presence, and effects created a nicely lively and convincing setting. Elements were appropriately located, and they blended together cleanly. In general, the film offered a fine sense of atmosphere, and it also contributed a lot of unique pieces from all five channels. Qualities such as wind and other weather effects appeared convincing, and I also noticed lots of louder elements like planes, cars, and animals, and these all came across realistically. Dogs provided an engaging soundfield.

Audio quality also appeared very good. Speech seemed natural and distinct, and I heard no concerns related to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded bright and bouncy, as both score and songs demonstrated good range and fidelity. Effects also worked very well. They appeared vivid and clear, and they showed no signs of distortion. Those elements and the music also displayed very solid bass response. The low-end always seemed deep and rich, and some of the louder elements - like a bear’s roar - were genuinely impressive.

So how did the DTS and Dolby Digital tracks differ? Mostly I found the DTS mix to seem more natural. The two versions showed similar activity levels to their soundfields, but the DTS one appeared better integrated, and it also offered better quality. Speech sounded slightly stiffer, and bass was less impressive. Overall, the Dolby Digital track remained quite good, but it simply didn’t match up to the quality of the DTS version.

Further making Snow Dogs one of the oddest DVDs I’ve ever seen, the disc includes a nice mix of supplements. First up is a fun audio commentary from director Brian Levant and producer Jordan Kerner. Both were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. Overall the track seemed fairly balanced, though the chatty Levant definitely dominated it. Both men provided a lot of good information about the film, as they covered a wide mix of topics. We heard about the cast, the effects, the development of the story, and quite a few other areas. Levant showed a lively and engaging personality; he and Kerner interacted well together and created an entertaining, engaging track that provided a lot of information in a delightful manner. Frankly, the commentary appeared more interesting than the movie.

Next up we locate Chillin’ With the Characters, a six-minute featurette that’s mistitled somewhere; the DVD’s menu and case call it “Chillin’ With the Actors”. That name’s probably correct, but I’ll go with the one on the program itself. Anyway, this piece consists of shots from the set, a few film clips, and interview snippets from director Levant, producer Kerner, and actors Gooding, Bacalso, Nichols, and Coburn. Although the interview bits seemed bland, the material from the shoot was quite interesting. The program offered some nice looks behind the scenes, and it merits a screening if just for those elements.

Going to the Dogs offers another featurette. This one runs 12 minutes and 12 seconds and concentrates on the film’s animals. We see more material from the set along with a few movie snippets and interview bits. Here we hear from Levant, Kerner, Gooding, Coburn, Bacalso, animal coordinator Stacy Basil, chief puppeteer David Barclay, director of photography Thomas Ackerman, stunt coordinator Jacob Rupp, and bear trainer Marc Dumas. The comments seemed more interesting here, as we learned a few fun bits about training animals. However, the behind the scenes material remained the prime attraction, as we saw some very fun shots that helped illuminate the work. It’s a good little program, though it still appeared too superficial.

Called Tolketna On Ice, the final featurette lasts three minutes, 55 seconds and concentrates on the film’s outdoors setting. It included the same mix of factors seen in the other two pieces. For the interviews, we heard from Levant, Kerner, Gooding, Ackerman and production designer Stephen Lineweaver. This one matched with the first two well, though the sound bites seemed a little more interesting as we learned about the weather challenges. It came across as moderately interesting.

After this we get a collection of Deleted Scenes. The DVD includes four of them, and they run between 12 seconds and 134 seconds for a total of three minutes, 54 seconds of footage. Nothing substantial here, but we do see one clip I’m very happy didn’t make the final cut: entitled “Show Me the Mushing”, it was better left out of the film.

More unused material appears in the Extended Scenes domain. Here we get five elongated sequences; they go between 35 seconds and four minutes, 21 seconds for a total of nine minutes, 32 seconds of material. Again, none of this appears very significant, as the extras pad the scenes only slightly. Still, it’s nice to see both collections of unused footage.

One note about the deleted/extended scenes: to add insult to injury, those appear in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1! How bizarre - we get the movie itself modified, but some of the extras present the film correctly. This allowed me to confirm that the fullscreen version of Dogs definitely panned and scanned the original image; comparisons between some shots showed that the fullframe picture slightly cropped the sides.

Ted’s Arctic Challenge provides a quick game experience. It alternates between trivia questions about the movie and a simple action contest ala Dragon’s Lair. It’s not much fun, and it offers no real reward for successful completion.

When you start the DVD, you’ll find the usual complement of advertisements. Here we get a preview of the upcoming theatrical release Lilo and Stitch as well as commercials for Max Keeble’s Big Move, Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, The Rookie, and Oliver & Company. From the main menu, you’ll discover a Sneak Peeks area that includes trailers for the upcoming DVD releases of Monsters, Inc., Return to Neverland, and Beauty and the Beast. Oddly, unlike most “Sneak Peeks” domains, this one doesn’t provide the clips that appear at the start of the disc. By the way, I must say I hope that the DVD of Stitch includes all its excellent teasers, like the one here; it starts like a clip from Beauty and becomes something funny.

As a film, Snow Dogs offered a bland but generally enjoyable experience. While it seemed predictable and uninspired, it managed to deliver enough entertainment to merit the attention of family audiences. However, the DVD release of Dogs left a lot to be desired. Not only did Disney decide to release only a fullscreen version of the film, but also the quality of the picture seemed moderately flawed. At least the audio sounded very good, and the set also included a decent roster of extras.

Although Snow Dogs presented acceptable family fare, ultimately I can’t recommend the DVD, largely because of the absence of original aspect ratio (OAR). To see a brand-new film hit DVD with no OAR option seems unthinkable, but here’s an example. Should OAR fans regard Snow Dogs as their “line in the sand”? Perhaps, perhaps not. I just can’t urge anyone to rush out to buy a pan and scan product like this, especially since it doesn’t even present a strong picture within the fullscreen parameters. For those who don’t care about aspect ratios, is the image quality problematic enough to make them skip the disc? No, the movie actually looked decent to good; it just showed more flaws than I’d expect from a brand-new film. I’d still hope that folks who care about original ratios would avoid Snow Dogs and make sure Disney knows their displeasure with the product.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5172 Stars Number of Votes: 29
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