I happened to catch a trailer for the straight-to-video Snow Buddies tacked on to the end of another Disney DVD. I had heard of Air Bud, but honestly had no idea that these doggie "Buddy" movies were a whole franchise unto themselves. Without the baggage of having sat through the half-dozen other pup movies in the series, I still found myself slack-jawed and smiling at the trailer for this live-action sled-dog puppy adventure, even though the dogs moved their lips and talked like children.
Yes, super-creepy, I'll admit. The only CGI-lipped talking-animal movies that have ever worked in my book are Babe and its sequel Pig in the City. And in Snow Buddies, when they start talking, especially with horrid affected lingos (like the hip-hop spewin' B-Dawg, a new-agey pup named Bud-Dha that says "namaste", etc.) it is THIS close to intolerable.
Then you kinda get used to it.
Then you don't notice it.
It's Disney magic!
Snow Buddies takes a pack of golden retriever puppies from their comfortable home in Fernfield, Washington (yay! Washington State!) and drops them (literally) in Ferntiuktuk, Alaska via an ice cream delivery. There is much fun to be had with the discovery of snow (which doesn't taste like ice cream), the fun of sleeping in a snow cave, and the excitement of meeting a wise old sled dog named Talon (voiced by Kris Kristofferson!).
The human hero in the story is a cute, floppy-haired boy named Adam (Dominic Scott Kay) who desperately wants a sled-dog team, but his father had covered the sled permanently with a tarp since The Accident. Adam prays for five dogs to join his husky pup Shasta so he can have a real team and enter the famous sled-dog race in town. When Shasta (voiced by Dylan Sprouse) brings home the golden retriever pups, his prayers have been answered! But first, Adam has to discreetly train his new team, enter the race in secret, and then ultimately face-off against the evil French-Canadian musher Jean George (John Kapelos—Holy crap! It's Carl the Janitor from The Breakfast Club!) and a handful of international teams (including a Russian with a hammer and sickle logo on his sleeve... um, what year is this?).
Though the parents are as bland as models on a Bounty commercial, and the dog-lips are genuinely creepy, Snow Buddies is actually pretty harmless and cute entertainment for younger kids. It is nowhere near as wretched as Snow Dogs, and doesn't contain any of the emotional trauma of Eight Below (sob!). And heck, even I'll admit I laughed out loud to hear Jean George's evil lead sled-dogs speak in exaggerated French accents (one of them voiced by Lothaire Bluteau of Jesus of Montreal!). With the support of surprisingly recognizable actors doing the critter voices, from Jim Belushi to Whoopi Goldberg to Molly Shannon, Snow Buddies is actually more enjoyable, in a completely benign way, than I ever expected.
OK, I was able to tolerate the talking dogs in the movie, but I draw the line at showing talking dogs flubbing their lines in the faux-bloopers. Yikes. AND, if you can't get enough of that, the dogs do the commentary. For those of us who can't quite stomach such nonsense, there are some nice making-of featurettes, but then a final dash of something to stir up the bile again, a Disney music video "Lean on Me" by some kid named Mitchel Musso (from Hannah Montana), who I guarantee will regret this haircut for the rest of his life.