March 2, 2006

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Eight Below (PG)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

Dogs teach us valuable lessons about family and perseverance and the importance of not being too picky about your food in Eight Below, a Disney tale inspired by a true story.

Yeesh, have scarier words ever been written than “Disney tale inspired by a true story”? Perhaps “inspirational, live-action dog movie” would give the previous phrase a good run for its money. But, surprisingly, it’s not as bad as you’d expect (though maybe expecting something treacley and horrible, Dreamer for example, is the key to the not-so-bad-ness of Eight Below).

Jerry Shepherd (Paul Walker) loves his “kids,” the eight sled dogs that make up his team in Antarctica. Jerry’s responsibility is to guide scientists around the snowy land at the bottom of the world. One such scientist is the particularly eager Dr. McClaren (Bruce Greenwood). He pushes Jerry to go out on an unplanned route and pushes him to stay past the time that’s safe before a big storm. On the way back, naturally, it’s the scientist’s knuckleheaded unfamiliarity with the many ways that Antarctica can kill you that gets him injured and plunged into the icy waters. The sled team just barely makes it back during the violent storm and has to evacuate immediately before the weather gets worse. The people get out but the dogs remain, tied to the stake in front of the scientists’ base camp.

Jerry is heartsick about leaving his team and spends his subsequent scenes trying to get back to Antarctica — an expensive and dangerous trip, especially during the height of the southern hemisphere’s winter — to find out what’s happened to his dogs.

Meanwhile, in the far more interesting part of the film, the dogs figure out what to do with themselves alone in the coldest place on Earth. After wiggling out of their leashes, they follow a flock of birds until they are able to successfully catch a few. Then they mosey around some more, looking for somewhat sheltered places to rest during storms and other things to eat (including the remains of a beached whale carcass).

The dogs behave very dog-like through all of this, taking some time to chase light, growling when another dog gets a little too grabby with the food and doing a lot of sleeping as a way to get through the frigid days without expending a lot of energy. Because they are professional dogs, they also know how to work together, follow a leader and — via well-timed barks and close-ups of expressive doggie eyes — communicate things such as “you must lead us, now” and “quit barking or you’ll scare away the birds.”

Yes, the human actors aren’t exactly electrifying in Eight Below but the dogs keep us relatively well entertained.

B-

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