Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 28, 2020)
Occasionally I opine that family-oriented animated films exist as a license to print money. Occasionally – often? – I found myself proven wrong.
Such became the case with 2019’s Arctic Dogs. Despite a star-studded cast and an appealing early Thanksgiving release date, the film utterly flopped.
Dogs opened on a sizable 2844 screens in the US but took in a total of less than $6 million total for its run. In contrast, Frozen II made seven times as much on its first day alone.
Of course, we expect a Disney-produced sequel to a huge hit to do well, but still, Dogs can’t be seen as anything other than a massive commercial dud.
Set in the Arctic – duh! – Swifty the Arctic Fox (voiced by Jeremy Renner) works in the mailroom for a delivery company. However, he dreams of a promotion to “Top Dog”, a job as a courier.
To prove his merit, Swifty package-naps a delivery, one that sends him to a mysterious location. There he discovers a nefarious plot to melt the Arctic.
With this information in tow, Swifty amasses his friends to stop the plan. This puts Swifty and company up against evil Otto Van Walrus (John Cleese) as they attempt to save the Arctic.
Huh – no heavy-handed environmental message there! Admittedly, I agree with the point the movie wants to make, but that doesn’t negate the way in which Dogs lacks subtlety.
Of course, we find a movie made for kids, so perhaps one can understand the lack of nuance. However, even this blatant message won’t impact the target audience, as they’ll lack the broader comprehension of climate change issues. This means the basic social commentary ends up as less than useful.
Beyond these elements, Dogs sputters simply because it provides a wholly mediocre animated tale. Only one aspect of the film stands out as impressive: its voice cast.
We really do get a solid group of performers here. In addition to Renner and Cleese, we find talent like Alec Baldwin, James Franco, Anjelica Huston and others.
Alas, their lackluster performances match their generic characters. While none of the actors embarrass themselves, none find much spark or spirit in their roles.
As implied, some of that stems from the basic blandness of the parts and the story. Dogs consistently feels like Generic Animated Entertainment, and nothing about it ever threatens to impress.
It doesn’t help that the movie struggles to fill its 92 minutes. The plot moves oddly slowly, as Swifty doesn’t even make his initial delivery until about 20 minutes into the tale.
Matters don’t really kick into higher gear at that point, as the narrative continues to dawdle. Even the big “action spectacular” finale feels sluggish and uncommitted.
To be fair, you can find family flicks much worse than Dogs, as it never becomes painful to watch. However, it fails to find much purpose or entertainment value.