Making the Grades
Another Disney dog story, White Fang offers few surprises and little dramatic meat. Jack, played by Ethan Hawke (Dead Poets Society), is pursuing the last wish of his deceased father: to find gold on his claim in the Yukon. During his quest, he discovers a wolf dog which helps him discover his courage and to conquer the elements and his enemies.
Although the film has a disclaimer attesting to the proper treatment of the animals used in the production, there are many dog and animal fighting scenes, including a brutal wagered dogfight involving a pit bull. It is difficult to believe these animals were not put under any stress. Children (and adults) may find these elements disturbing.
Another note at the end of the film explains that , "This is a work of fiction... a healthy wolf has never been known to attack a man in North America." Unfortunately, the movie can leave you with the opposite feeling, as many staged attacks are dramatized, and during one of them a character is killed by a pack of hungry wolves.
You don't have to be a wolf to smell what's around the corner in each scene. The plot is predictable, and the Disney folks provide the usual happy ending. Klaus Maria Brandauer (Out Of Africa) gives a good performance as the experienced goldminer who guides Jack to his father's claim, and through the perils of the Yukon.
Unfortunately, Hawke's character is not as believable. He is a city kid who winds up surrounded by sled dogs and snow. Not once do we even see him throw a piece of meat to one of the dogs - he doesn't seem the least bit interested in them. Suddenly he sees this wolf-dog, and falls head over paws in love. It is difficult to accept this as a viable extension of his character.