Making the Grades
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.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Snow Dogs.
Ted Brooks is devastated when he finds out he is adopted. What made his feelings change? How did both sets of parents show their love for Ted? Do you think his biological mother did the right thing? Should his adoptive parents have told Ted sooner about his past?
Without the safety nets of modern civilization, Ted had to learn to face his fears in the frozen north. Did Lucy’s commitment to “always finishing what she started” help Ted succeed in overcoming his worries? How did his mom, Mrs. Brooks, face her fears?
During one night scene, Ted drives his sled beneath the glow of the Northern Lights. For pictures and information on this amazing natural phenomenon, go to www.northern-lights.no
Similar to the Artic Challenge portrayed in the movie, the Iditarod is an annual sled dog race held in Alaska. It pits mushers (both men and women) and their dogs against the harsh reality of the wilderness. For more information on this challenging winter sport, visit the official race website at www.iditarod.com
To read the books that inspired this movie, check out Gary Paulsen’s books: Winterdance and Woodsong.