Move over, Air Bud. The Real dogs are here.
As I've mentioned before I do not as a rule like movies featuring animals, as they can be silly and full of sentimentalism. 2006's Eight Below is what a Disney movie starring animals should be. It's a great adventure story, full of beautiful scenery, suspense and emotional impact. Stories do not get much simpler than Man vs Nature, or in this case, Dog vs Nature. There are humans in the story, but the plot focuses on the eight sled dogs, which act like real dogs – no cute slapstick or funny tricks. The dogs in Eight Below are working dogs.
The story takes place in Antarctica, where Jerry is a sled dog teamster, working for the NSF to guide scientists around the Bottom of the World. Just before the onset of winter, a geologist shows up at his base with a mission for Jerry and his eight-canine crew, to ferry him to a distant location so the geologist can search for a special meteorite. A storm is approaching as Jerry and the team set off, and we get some fantastic landscape shots as the dogs mush along (the film was mostly shot in Greenland, but the scenery is just as amazing there).
Along the way, disaster strikes, as the geologist falls onto some thin ice, which breaks, plunging him into deadly cold water. Jerry and the dogs are able to rescue him, but must rush him back to base, into the face of the oncoming storm. With the weather only threatening to get worse, the base crew must evacuate the geologist to a hospital and themselves to a safer location. But there's not enough room aboard the plane for the dogs as they are forced to evacuate ahead of their planned departure, but Katie the pilot (Jerry's love interest character) promises to come right back and pick the dogs up.
The storm comes down hard, and it becomes impossible for the dogs to be rescued. All the Antarctica personnel are returning to warmer climes and won't be back for months. A distraught Jerry has to leave with them, anguished that his beloved dogs were left behind.
The second half of the film goes back and forth between the dogs' efforts to survive in the harshest of environments, Jerry's struggle to come to grips with what he sees as his abandonment of his team, and searching for a way to get back down South, even if none of the dogs have survived.
Loyalty is the major theme of this film. Jerry is loyal to his dogs, and they to him. He says more than once that he owes it to the dogs to return and learn their fate. Jerry's friends (Katie, his pal Coop and the geologist) get together to arrange an expedition which they hope can rescue the dogs. The Eight Below are also loyal to one another, and it is their teamwork that allows them to survive as well as they do. There are several very touching scenes of the dogs' loyalty to one another as they fight to survive.
This film did it right. There was drama and suspense, but not so much that little kids would freak out. But expect at least one jump scare. The scenery was fantastic. There was lots of emotion,both positive and negative, but the film avoids the sentimentalism that often infects animal films. The human actors also avoid overplaying the angst of the situation. The film runs just shy of two hours, but never drags, and there's almost no distracting sub-plot elements to draw you away from the main story of loyalty and survival against the odds.