A two-hour Alpo commercial aimed at kids ages 10–12, Eight Below is loosely remade from a 1982 Japanese drama loosely based on a 1957 Antarctic rescue mission. But basically it's about dogs: eight Huskies left behind by their human guide when an expedition goes bad. The poor pooches are forced to fend for themselves for over six months of Antarctic winter (our summer) while their guilt-ridden master tries to save them. Is our hero's quest successful? This is a PG-rated Disney movie, so you tell me. But gay men and mothers will have a different question: When does Paul Walker take off his shirt? Well, the very first scene takes place in a sauna. Unfortunately, that sauna is shared by sidekick Jason Biggs, which pretty much destroys the pretty-boy vibe.
Director Frank Marshall had considerably more extreme-storytelling material to work with in Alive. Here, when one of the doggies expires in the cold—yes, there is death, as in Bambi, so your children had better be forewarned—the others only nudge and lick its body in respect, instead of helping themselves to a meal. The bulk of the action consists of sled dogs running in the snow, foraging on gulls and whale carcasses, stoically whimpering, and licking one another. Never have I seen so much licking in a movie. At first I was worried, once Walker and company were forced off the southernmost continent by a storm, that the dogs would suddenly start talking to one other with those creepy CGI lips. No—their acting is all silent-movie pantomime: quivering ears, alert eyes, and occasional howling at the borealis.
It's actually quite effective, and I wish I could say the same about Walker's icy blue electrodes. After Into the Blue, in which he mastered the dramatic art of "hot" (by which I mean climate, not sex appeal), he's now added "cold" to his repertoire, exchanging his Speedo for fleece. Sure, he kisses dogs on the mouth and drips a few tears at their canine loyalty, but something is missing. He travels all the way to Alaska for an Indian wise man—OK, dog trainer—to tell him, "What's important is finding that one thing that will truly put your heart at rest." In other words: Jessica Alba. (PG)