Attending the first public screening of Arctic Dogs, it was a bit disconcerting to see that the entire audience for the animated film geared toward young children was composed of a handful of grown men attending alone. Since the movie wasn’t screened in advance for the press, one can only assume that everyone there was a film critic. (At least, I hope they were film critics.)
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. As has by now become usual, a starry cast has been assembled to provide the voices, despite the fact that the target audience will be unlikely to recognize any of them. Here, the tactic sometimes pays off, especially with John Cleese voicing a villainous walrus in his reliably amusing style. More often, it’s simply baffling, unless the producers think that having Heidi Klum on the marquee will entice middle-aged dads who somehow fail to realize that she’s playing an animated fox. A cute fox, but still. The film also features Michael Madsen, because when you think of kiddie-oriented animated movies, you naturally think of the guy who cut off someone’s ear in Reservoir Dogs.
For the record, the story revolves around Swifty (Jeremy Renner, thankfully dialing down his trademark intensity), an Arctic fox who works in the mailroom of the Arctic Blast Delivery Service. Swifty has bigger things in mind for himself, namely to become one of the agency’s elite couriers known as the “Top Dogs,” a role normally filled by huskies. Managing to persuade his tyrannical boss Magda (Angelica Huston, clearly enjoying herself) to give him a chance to prove himself, he winds up delivering a package to a mysterious hidden fortress inhabited by the evil Otto Von Walrus (Cleese) and his puffin minions.
Walrus, who moves around on robotic legs, lives in a lair worthy of a Bond villain. He also has a villainous plan worthy of one, something to do with melting the polar ice caps and ruling the world. Unwittingly helping Walrus execute his plan is Jade (Klum), an engineer working for Arctic Blast, on whom Swifty has a serious crush.
Swifty enlists his co-workers to help him foil the diabolical scheme. They include his polar bear friend (Alec Baldwin), a ditzy albatross (James Franco, who somehow squeezed this assignment in between directing a movie every other week) and a pair of conspiracy-minded otters (Omar Sy and Klum), who consider themselves the “Resistance” and, judging by their thick accents and berets, are apparently French.
It would be nice to think that kids will come away from Arctic Dogs suddenly motivated to fight against climate change because of its underlying environmental themes, but it’s more likely that they’ll simply be asking their parents to buy them a stuffed animal that looks just like Swifty.
Lacking much in the way of humor or charm, the film, directed by Aaron Woodley (Spark), culminates with the sort of frenetic, action-laden climactic sequence that has become de rigueur for these offerings. The screenwriters have at least resisted the temptation to thrown in the sort of endless pop culture references that invariably go over children’s heads, although that admittedly leaves little to interest chaperoning adults. The computer animation proves competent if uninspired, and somehow manages to make even its presumably fail-safe puffins devoid of cuteness.
Production: AMBI Media Group, AIC Studios, Assemblage Entertainment
Distributor: Entertainment Studio Motion Pictures
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Heidi Klum, Alec Baldwin, Anjelica Huston, John Cleese, James Franco, Michael Madsen, Laurie Holden, Omar Sy
Director: Aaron Woodley
Screenwriters: Cal Brunker, Bob Barlen, Aaron Woodley
Producers: Andrea Iervolino, Monika Bacardi, Graham Moloy
Executive producer: Byron Allen
Animation director: Satjit Matharu
Composer: David Buckley
Rated PG, 93 minutes