The dogs take the biscuit in Eight Below, an enthralling fact-based tale of man's best friend struggling to survive a harsh Antarctic winter. Disney used to churn out dozens of real-life nature yarns like this, and Frank Marshall's adventure never misses a beat whenever it's dealing with his hairy husky heroes. Unfortunately, he insists on cross-cutting their furry frolics with a boring human subplot involving the terminally bland Paul Walker, pushing the running time up to a patience-testing two hours.
The brisk opening scenes capably sketch both the dogged determination and varying personalities of Walker's eight-strong sled-dog team, corralled in the first instance to drag a single-minded scientist (Bruce Greenwood) across the snowy wastes in search of a rare meteorite. Around the halfway point, however, a fierce storm forces Walker to abandon his plucky pooches, leaving them to face treacherous ice, hungry leopard seals and subzero temperatures while he raises funds for a rescue mission.
"A BRACING BLAST OF PUPPY POWER"
Resembling a canine spin on Marshall's 1993 Alive, Eight Below delivers a bracing blast of puppy power that helps dispel the lingering stink from Disney's 2002 Snow Dogs. The problem lies solely with its two-legged contingent, to whom scripter David DiGilio continually returns just when the canine capers are at their most exciting. Walker's simpering romance with pilot Moon Bloodgood gobbles up valuable screen time to little effect, while Jason Biggs merely irritates as a wisecracking cartographer. Gurning and griping for all he's worth, he's the only character here truly in need of a muzzle.