A guy who's a bit of a loner, a pack of dogs, and Disney. It's the perfect combination for a film that harks back to the studio's early days when its founder, Walt Disney, gloried in creating fine movies involving animals with human emotions, and humans with animal instincts.
Set on the remote continent of Antarctica, Jerry Shepherd (Paul Walker) acts as a tour guide for scientists who visit the ice desert. He inhabits a small research station with cartographer Charlie Cooper (Jason Biggs). As their "summer" season ends, the pair prepare to pack up. They just have one last visitor to take care of-- a geologist named Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood) who was delivered by bush pilot Katie (Moon Bloodgood).
We sense things are going to be difficult the moment the rock hound announces he wants to take an unexpected trip to a remote location so he can search for a suspected meteorite. Jerry is unimpressed with making such a long trek so late in the season--but his boss encourages him to do it anyway.
Pulling his dog team together--arguably the true stars of this film--Jerry introduces Davis (and us) to their eight divergent pooch personalities, which range from the leader Maya (Koda Bear -- the dog's real name), to youngster Max (D.J.) and experienced pup Old Jack (Apache).
The tough sledding starts early, after Davis finds himself dangling in a crevice and the dogs have to be summoned to pull him out. Yet Jerry's repeated orders to stay close at hand go unheeded, and Davis again tumbles down an ice cliff--this time the grave results include a fractured leg and plunging up to his shoulders in frigid water. The situation gets worse when the predicted bad weather rolls in faster than expected. A hurried trip back to the station leaves both men frostbitten and in serious condition.
Requiring emergency transportation to a hospital and civilization, Katie's plane has room for the men, but not the dogs. That leaves the huskies alone for the winter on a part of the planet that is anything but hospitable to its inhabitants. Throughout the upcoming months, Jerry's love and admiration for the faithful canines weighs heavily and drives him to seek any possible means of return to discover their fate.
Eight Below runs a full two hours, but audiences aren't likely to find the pace lagging, despite the many moments with no dialogue. Precise editing drives a script that contains no sexual content and only two very minor expletives.
Anyone still assuming this is a "kid movie" will be missing out on a captivating story. Because it is doesn't shy away from making some tough choices, parents who accompany their children should be forewarned not all of the dogs survive. The scenes of pups in peril do however help to create a believable and satisfying conclusion that won't drown viewers in mushy sentimentality, even though it is sure to cause tears from young and old alike.