I came in from a cold Canadian snowstorm to preview Disney's latest "fish-out-of-water" flic. This time it happens to be a rich young Miami dentist (who advertises by shrink-wrapping his magnified image on the outside of city buses) who is plunged into the Alaskan wilderness when he inherits a team of huskies with a lead dog appropriately named Demon.
While Snow Dogs focuses mostly on the foibles of this citified greenhorn, Dr. Ted Brooks (Cuba Gooding Jr.) also uncovers a family secret that leaves him searching for a mother he never knew and a father he's not too sure he wants to know. Set against stunning wilderness backdrops (filmed in Canmore, Alberta), the tooth doctor encounters the odds and sods assortment of rustic individuals with plenty of tooth decay, and a couple of hair-dyed, body-pierced punk teenagers who make up the small community of Tolketna, Alaska. The townsfolk's reaction to the arrival of the southern newcomer is vastly different too. Barb (Joanna Bacalso), operator of the town's bar/restaurant/courthouse takes a shine to him. But the cantankerous, weathered, old musher Thunder Jack (James Coburn), is only interested in getting the doctor's prize dogs in time for the running of the Artic Challenge.
When an unsettled cold front brings in a blizzard during the annual winter race, stranding a man who once rescued Brooks, the tenderfoot is left to decide how far he'll go for his newfound friends.
Most of this film's violence quotient is limited to battles between the novice and his dogs, some sledding accidents, and an unhappy, un-hibernating bear. It also showcases a part of the world where weather is more than a radio report, and 911 is just a bunch of numbers. For this Florida boy, that's a harsh reality to swallow.
While Brooks is initially devastated by the discovery of his adoption, he learns in time that love and families come in many forms and respect is something earned, not demanded. Meanwhile, on the drive home, I kept my frozen toes tapping to the film's zippy tunes as I waited for the car to warm up.