Arctic Dogs is an animated film directed Aaron Woodley and written by himself, Bob Barlen, and Cal Brunker, with additional writing contributions by Bryan Thompson. It stars Jeremy Renner as the voice of Swifty, an artic fox so white that he blends into his environment and longs to join the arctic dogs delivery team at the local packaging plant as a sled runner. According to everyone else, though, Swifty is “just a fox,” possessing neither the strength nor the will to pull sleds through or around the many obstacles in the path of a delivery dog. But when the original canine sled pull team goes missing, Swifty must rise to the occasion, becoming the sole package delivery animal for his local town, and do whatever it takes to solve the mystery of what happened to the arctic dogs, hopefully saving them from a mysterious, impending doom. The film also stars the voices of Heidi Klum, James Franco, John Cleese, Omar Sy, Laurie Holden, Angelica Huston, Alec Baldwin, and Soraya Azzabi.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, there’s little more to Arctic Dogs than what you might find in a standard C-list kids movie that got sent straight to the 9 a.m. spot on any children’s tv network, but perhaps to my surprise, I didn’t dislike this film as much as I though I would. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good, but it’s far less of a dumpster fire than its marketing might lead one to believe. The plot is overly convoluted, they end up dumping what could have been an inspiring story for kids for yet another “espionage”/save the world narrative, it’s all but completely thematically incoherent, and the animation lacks texture, substance, or basically anything to make it interesting to look at, but it seems that, against all odds, Entertainment Pictures might have managed to drag this one out of the Top 10 Worst list for the end of the year, if only by a fox hair (no promises, though).
One of the main things weighing this movie down really is the side characters; almost none of the supporting characters actually come to end up mattering all that much except for when some of them are trapped in a nondescript location and each of them has just one special thing to do in order for them and their fellow characters to escape captivity. Other than that specific instance, they’re mostly just fodder for Swifty to alternately misunderstand or aspire to be like or take advantage of. At one point, two wacky conspiracy theory characters get introduced as an excuse to give the real plot to the film a reason to actually get going, and then they’re never seen again until the third act of the film. This movie hardly has any characters besides its main one with any hint of their own unique personalities. In fact, there are really only two that get personalities of their own, and one gets the feeling that the only reason they behave like actual characters would at all is because of the likely malignant salaries the star voices behind those characters demanded if they were going to be in this movie at all. That’s probably where most of the film’s budget went, as the animation the film contains does absolutely nothing to help boost its profile among the rest of the fall season’s cinematic offerings. Animated fur is a bit overrated as a concept to try and make look “realistic,” even when it serves no actual purpose to the story (although I do still enjoy seeing it done well), but even the lowest-budget animated films seem to have more detail or texture to their creatures than this one does.
The humor in the film also really doesn’t work; not a single joke lands anywhere close to producing laughter, and if any of them do, it’s likely because they’re just so ridiculous, you can’t help but laugh at how awkward the attempt came off. The conspiracy characters are meant to be this running gag through the film, but as we’ve established, the story can’t even follow through on them in a way that makes sense organically. I didn’t expect anything from Arctic Dogs, truthfully, but after a flawed yet decent start, you’d think that it would be a little more difficult to let me down, even then.
The biggest thing that doesn’t work, though, is the story itself. Now, to be fair, Arctic Dogs did have me going a little bit for the first act, as it’s not all that bad, and actually starts us on the path to telling a decent story about a young fox attempting to better himself and eventually achieve his dreams by working hard and using what’s unique to him as a valuable skill in becoming a sled runner. Unfortunately, I must give animated films like this one a bit too much credit, cause no sooner did it actually start reeling me in than it flung me back out into dirtier, colder waters again by switching to an espionage/spy narrative that only the worst of kids films fall back on when they can’t seem to find any way to keep its audience in their seats. Kids like spy stuff, I guess, so it seems most bad kids films succumb to this when the studio needs to make a few bucks but doesn’t have any real ideas. There are any number of plot holes and logic problems in this movie, and not just ones that the film seems to accidentally set up either; these plot points and narrative elements are set up to have some sort of dramatic payoff later on down the line, but one gets the sense that the studio changed the story halfway through production because they didn’t have faith it could keep children occupied for any decent length of time, so what we’re left with is a third of one kind of film and two thirds of another that bear resemblance to each other only by names and locations of certain events.
Surprisingly enough, however, Arctic Dogs is actually not a total dumpster fire (okay, well, it is from an animated film perspective, but considering what it could have been, I’ll take any improvements I can get). The first act is actually somewhat pleasant and harmless to watch. It’s clearly for kids, and again, the animation itself just isn’t all that interesting to look at, but it sets up the main character fairly well and most of the voices suit their roles well enough to make that part of the film work. There are also some sequences, though hindered by this movie just being not very good, that manage to set up the town Swifty lives in as one that he genuinely cares about, and you can see that he really is supposed to have a decent character arc. That’s about all the good you get, though, and then the film goes off the rails.
So, while Arctic Dogs may not end up being the worst movie of the year, nor the one to actively anger you the most, it’s still not good enough to even be called a decent little kids film, something it would have been able to call itself if, after the first act, the film had kept going with the pretty solid story it was already telling. But bad animation will be bad animation, and instead this thing veers off into territory that fits neither thematically nor narratively with the premise of the movie itself. Perhaps it could be entertaining as a one hour children’s tv program, but even then, it would be a stretch to claim that it could keep them entertained, or that it could keep you in any way interested.
I’m giving “Arctic Dogs” a 3/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.