The "snow dogs" are a group of Alaskan huskies and one border collie who live in Tolketna, Alaska. They belong to Ted Brooks (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), a successful Miami dentist, although Ted doesn't know it yet. When he arrives in Tolketna to claim a legacy left to him by his late mother, he is expecting a cabin in the woods. What Ted finds is more than he ever bargained for. After a big welcome from alpha dog Demon, Ted gets a few lessons in sledding--from the dogs. He also falls in love, finds his real father, and learns that he's a wilderness kind of guy. That's after a few tussles with a grizzly bear and the cantankerous local, Thunder Jack (James Coburn).

Large doses of slapstick humor and Gooding's vitality keep Snow Dogs from slipping into dull "family entertainment." Wisely, director Brian Levant (Beethoven) exploits every convention of a comedy about a city slicker in the wilds of Alaska. Ted brings the wrong boots and, despite consistent sub-zero temperatures and a blizzard, ice cracks only when he walks on it. Levant's brisk pace does not completely rescue the script, however, which fails to deliver one surprise despite the efforts of five writers. Small town characters like Peter Yellowbear (the indomitable Graham Greene), introduced in the first scene, promptly disappear from the story. There is also a conspicuous lack of children in Tolketna, odd for a film aimed at pre-adolescents. One saving grace is that the movie eventually goes to the dogs.

Coburn and Gooding took sledding lessons for Snow Dogs, shot in the Canadian Rockies. But who cares about a couple of Academy Award winners? Right from the start, you know those dogs are there to save some careless human from a terrible death--and Snow Dogs doesn't disappoint. Alas, the filmmakers just couldn't accept the dogs' natural charisma, even in their native Alaska. They hired Jim Henson's puppeteers to make animatronic models that wink! Nevertheless, one sure sign of progress in this film shouldn't be overlooked: It features two interracial relationships, one between its black hero and a native Alaskan. Even the dogs deliver a politically correct message. Nana, the border collie, and Demon, the Alaskan husky, make puppies. Who says Disney hasn't entered the 21st century?

--Maria Garcia