‚Arctic Dogs’ a frozen cinematic wasteland

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'Arctic Dogs' a frozen cinematic wasteland

“Arctic Dogs” never feels like a movie. From the performances of the voice actors to the look of the animation, this flick never rises above the level of an over-long episode of one of those low-budget animated kids’ shows on Netflix. The lack of effort on display here makes one wonder why the producers pushed for a theatrical release as opposed to just releasing it through some streaming outlet. Because there’s absolutely nothing about this movie that screams “SEE THIS IN THE THEATER.”

In fact, there’s nothing about “Arctic Dogs” the screams “SEE THIS MOVIE” at all. Period.

“Dogs” follows Swifty (Jeremy Renner), an Arctic fox who dreams of one day becoming one of Arctic Blast Delivery Service’s Top Dogs and becoming a hero to his fellow Taigasville residents. When he sees an opportunity to escape his dreary mailroom job, he stumbles across a nefarious plot by Otto Von Walrus (John Cleese).

Things heat up (literally) as Arctic Blast’s Top Dogs disappear, followed by Swifty’s love interest, Jade (Heidi Klum). Swifty assembles a team, including his buddies P.B. (Alec Baldwin) and Lemmy (James Franco), to save the day. Can Swifty embrace who he is instead of who he wishes to be in time to stop the bad guy?

This movie’s a wasteland of bland visuals, hackneyed plotting and characters and lackluster humor. It borrows elements from other successful movie franchises. Von Walrus’s puffin sidekicks are this movie’s answer to the Minions from “Despicable Me.” The stop-the-giant-super-weapon climax sure feels like the end of “Star Wars”, only much more poorly done.

But that’s just the start of what this movie does wrong. The voice actors, for the most part, give uninspired performances, and that’s putting it nicely. Renner sounds like he’s just here for the paycheck. Klum may not have much voice talent to begin with but she gives no emotion with her performance here. The two leads don’t get much help from the supporting cast, but when your movie’s leads are as banal as Renner and Klum are here, that puts you in a hole that’s hard to get out of.

Then there’s the look of the film and the quality of the animation. To put it bluntly, it looks cheap. If you’re gonna spend the money it takes to bring something like “Dogs” to the screen, you’re probably better off cutting back on the big names in the cast and putting it into making it look as cinematic as possible. But this movie never gets beyond looking like your standard TV animated series. That doesn’t work on the big screen.

There are so many things here that fail. The screenplay is full of characters that don’t compel you to keep watching and a very unsubtle anti-climate change message that might have worked had it been presented in a less-obvious way. The musical score is intrusive when it should take a step back and let the characters’ emotions play. And on and on.

There are only really two things that keep this movie from being a complete loss. First, there are a few genuinely funny jokes, including a very clever gag that references the Beatles. Secondly, Cleese gives a terrific performance. He’s the one actor in the movie who sounds engaged and committed to the character he’s playing.

Unfortunately, those two bright spots can’t come anywhere close to saving “Arctic Dogs.” It does nothing to stand out from other family movies and looks cheap and free of ambition. I know it may look petty to bash a movie aimed at kids like this, but there are so many better family movies out there. There’s no excuse for something as empty and lazy as this movie.

1 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG