Eight Below, the latest offering from Disney, opened here Friday night on the coldest night we've had all winter. Coincidence?
For those who don't know, "Eight Below" is the story of eight sled dogs who work for the National Science Foundation in their Victoria research base in Antarctica. An accident at the end of the season and the worst storm in 25 years forces the human team to evacuate leaving the dogs at the base temporarily. "Temporarily" ends up being more than six months. The action alternates between scenes of the dogs' fate and scenes of their master trying, somewhat half-heartedly in my humble opinion, to raise the necessary money for a rescue mission. This is pitched as a family movie, but may not be for everyone in your particular family (see below).
The dogs' scenes are shot in the same gorgeous documentary style of The March of the Penguins, without the Morgan Freeman voice-over, since dogs are better actors than penguins. It helps to have some familiarity with sled dogs going into the movie. I'm sure audiences in warmer climes thought it cruel to see the dogs sleeping outside on a chain as a matter of course. Yes, their fur is that thick, particularly dogs who have been bred to pull sleds for generations. Pampered pet Huskies are likely not as hardy as these dogs are. I can't find a listing of who played the dogs, but we all agree that Max was played by at least one of the dogs who played Demon in Snow Dogs in 2002.
Overall, I thought the dogs did a better job acting than the people did. Paul Walker, who played musher Jerry Shepherd, did a particularly poor job. Personally, if they'd been my "kids" (as he referred to them), I would have stolen a plane and flown back to base the next day with a pistol held to the pilot's head. Instead, after whining around for grant money for about fifteen minutes, he goes home to Washington State and gives kayak lessons to nine-year-olds. Excuse me? Perhaps if he'd made his case a little more passionately instead of glaring and pouting, the dogs would have been rescued after six weeks instead of six months.
**Warning--Deliberately Vague Spoiler Ahead!!**
Not all the dogs survive. After one death, a toddler in the front of the theatre began to wail and had to be removed. After the movie ended, Xavier burst into tears in the theatre lobby, something he'd never done before, so be aware that sensitive kids, particularly animal lovers, might have a problem with this.