Directed By Aaron Woodley
Starring – Jeremy Renner, Anjelica Huston, James Franco
The Plot – Swifty the Arctic Fox (Renner) works in the mailroom of the Arctic Blast Delivery Service, but he has much bigger dreams. He yearns to become a Top Dog, the Arctic’s star husky couriers. To prove he can do it, he commandeers one of the sleds and delivers a mysterious package to a secret location. Once there, he stumbles on a hidden fortress overseen by the nefarious Otto Von Walrus (John Cleese). The blubbery evil genius commands an army of oddly polite puffin henchmen. Swifty discovers Otto Von Walrus’ villainous plan to drill beneath the snow-packed surface to unleash masses of ancient gas to melt the Arctic and become the world’s supreme ruler. To stop this sinister scheme, Swifty enlists the help of his friends: PB (Alec Baldwin), a neurotic polar bear, Lemmy (Franco), a scatterbrained albatross, Jade Fox (Heidi Klum), a brainy engineer, Leopold (Omar Sy) and Bertha (Heidi Klum), two conspiracy theorist otters and Magda (Huston), his curmudgeonly boss.
Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
– Diverse vocal work. The dedication of this exceptionally gifted cast helps overlap the confines of the lack of characterization, which I will get to later, and help establish some vibrant personalities to their deliveries that allow them to lose the air of familiarity from their celebrity. In particular, the few that I applaud are Franco as this groggy albatross, Klum pulling double duty with two vastly different characters, and especially Huston’s Nordic accent, which remains consistent throughout some lengthy diatribes. The work of the others aren’t exactly bad or anything like that, it’s just that this trio set a bar so high that I couldn’t figure out who was voicing them in the heat of the moment, and that’s a sign of impressively gifted vocal capacities.
– Strong positive message. While this aspect is prominent in nearly every animated film today, the theme inserted into this film not only works so wonderfully for the path the screenplay blazes, but also offers youthful audience members a lot of positive reinforcement to take home with them. The story centers around the ideal of being comfortable in your own skin, and refusing to change for what society demands of you. This is prominent in the work of Swifty, as his bland skin complexion and petite frame keep him from attaining the career that he wants, but instead of wallowing in a pool of self-grief, he works twice as hard in proving the establishment wrong, and learns a lot about self-appreciation along the way. I love when films offer a profound blanket of affirmation to make the world a better place, and “Arctic Dogs” has a lot of bark to match the bite that it establishes early on.
– Beautiful color pallet. While I have a big problem with the film’s animation, the rainbow aesthetic of the film’s visual capacities preserve the air of consistency that is established by the light-hearted atmosphere of the screenplay. In this regard, the film feels like a Christmas film that is just missing the designation of taking place on the day to cement it all. It gives us an absorbing quality of white, fluffy snow, a variety of freshly painted houses that adorn a glowing quality to reflect the town’s lighting, and so many examples of splash that play terrifically against a mostly white backdrop. Entertainment Studios still has a lot of work to do on their character movements and illustrations, but their environmental paint is one that will fool enough mainstream audiences into thinking this film can compete with the likes of Pixar or Dreamworks.
– Uninspired animation. Here’s the compromise to the chewable colors that I previously mentioned. Character renderings look to be incomplete in some cases, with character mouthing movements not matching the delivery of the dialogue in some cases. This is topped by bodily movements that feel a decade late in their imaginative qualities, and instill an overall slow and dragging quality to a movie that promotes speed in its career objective. Overall, the animation lacks a strong pulse of conscience that establishes believability in these being living, breathing properties despite the lack of dimensions in facial resonation, or personal appearances that sets them apart. It helps that this is only the studio’s first animated property, but in an age when animation is doing some truly ground-breaking work with its most intimate of details, the work in “Arctic Dogs” simply doesn’t measure up.
– Failing humor. There are no laughs in this film for adults, and questionable instances of material for kids, who should be the essential focus in its visual sight gags and energetic line deliveries. One such example is a “Doctor Who” joke that comes and goes with about as much relevance as a walrus with robotic spider legs, also a real aspect within the film. I laughed one time during the film, and it was more of a hurling reaction towards motion sickness that was perfectly articulated by Baldwin. Aside from that, there’s no shortage of body humor, like the fart joke that was followed up literally one minute later by yet another fart joke. Classy material that reaches to the deepest level of bodily flatulence to attain its audience. Truly clever material.
– Action absence. The setting of the Arctic mountainside practically begs for some riveting impact, which amazingly enough never comes throughout the film. In fact, the overall lack of action sequences and scenes with even a shred of impact, keep this film’s boredom constantly attained in a movie that re-defines the term bland. So how does it settle the film’s third act conflict? By showing as little as possible of course. There is no physicality with the antagonist, as well as no moment of satisfactory revenge that would equal the devastation that would’ve been caused by said character’s evil intentions if he was left alone for even a minute. This also brings forth the overall lack of urgency that persists within the film, keeping us from investing in the heat of the conflict or the vulnerability of the characters. The predictability keeps its expectations grounded, and gives us a lack of influence from Cleese’s Otto, that makes him practically non-existent.
– Characterization. Otto also seems like a great place to start here, because his incorporation into the story comes with around 57 minutes left in the film, and proves how unnecessary he was to this underdog story that was better left without a cliche antagonist. In addition to this, because “Despicable Me” mastered this many years ago, and every other animated film has followed with more diminishing results each time, this film also has a group of cute, funny minions that back up their master with cute gibberish in their own bird language. Then there’s the protagonists, who are no better than their opposition. With the exception of Swifty’s one scene of backstory exposition, there isn’t a single instance donated to anyone else in scenes or dialogue that would better paint them with some level of history before this film ever began. The female of the group is nothing more than a love interest for a storyline that goes literally nowhere, and the supporting characters only instances of personality is to feed into puns associated with their particular breed. It makes for a bunch of empty shells that are so thinly developed that they might as well be part of the backdrops that they stand in front of. Completely inconsequential.
– Unlikely plot. I know that questioning a kids movie is like questioning the logic in our dreams, but the film’s far-fetched plot never attempts to answer the one question that stretches its setting miles from the realism of this story. If this is a village atop this mountain with no roads or clear paths for transportation, how in the hell are these dogs even getting packages to deliver to their village in the first place? It hurts even more that we never see humans throughout the film, nor do we see anything other than a truck carrying packages in the very last scene of the movie. If you can answer me where or how this stuff is delivered to them, then maybe I can start working on how tropical birds exist in a frigidly cold surrounding.
– Missed potential. This is again attributed to the screenplay, as the importance of fracking or global warming is only hinted at, and never fully realized as an influence to the chaos surrounding these characters and their situations. Maybe that will be saved for the optimism of getting a sequel. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that, based on the amount of people in my theater, but anything is possible with Hollywood. This points to a realization within the laziness of the screenplay that keeps it from reaching the emotional climax or underlying social commentary of animated films like “Inside Out” or “Coco”, instead settling for the tired and tedious narrative of protagonist overcoming the odds to reach greatness. That’s fine enough, but a film with more to say about the world outside of its screen could transcend it as a cliche kids movie, and redefine it as something socially conscience.
– Nameless soundtrack. Aside from the pleasant-but-grounded approach of the movie’s adventurous musical score from composer David Buckley, the film features three different lyrical tracks that even still I haven’t been able to track down who is responsible for. This points to another immense difference in budget between studios, as Pixar has been known to throw in a timely theme from top 40 radio to sell downloads and get kids toes tapping with familiarity. American Studios takes an ambiguous approach, incorporating a trio of songs that, while relevant to the complexion of the story’s narrative, does nothing to solidify the expense of the movie’s minimalist production. Perhaps “Arctic Dogs” will stand as the first step in the highly-necessary evolution of this studio’s quest for better days. As it stands right now, however, it’s a cheap execution lacking the kind of artistic expression to hook kids into its fluffy fun energy.
My Grade: 3/10 or F+