Arctic Dogs (2019) Review
AN UNMEMORABLE (AND DATED)
While animation juggernaut studios will continue to make “waves” with their feature film releases (from the likes of such companies like Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination Entertainment), more and more small animated studios have slowly been appearing in theaters (or other various media platforms); trying to catch the attention of its viewers within its cartoon presentation. While major animated features are the “top” of everyone’s list (most being popular franchise series or cartoon tentpoles), several animated films, including Leap!, Duck Duck Goose, Rock Dog, Norm of the North, and Ratchet & Clank, to play a part in spotlight entertainment in children’s animated endeavors. Now, Entertainment Studios and director Aaron Woodley present the latest cartoon adventure motion picture (from a non-major animated studio) with the movie Arctic Dogs. Does this movie find itself as “top dog” or does it get lost within its arctic mess?
Swifty (Jeremy Renner) is an arctic fox, who works in the mailroom of the Arctic Blast Delivery Services (ABDS), but he has much bigger dreams. While fellow work pals PB (Alec Baldwin) and Lemmy (James Franco) find joy in their mundane task at ABDS, Swifty yearns to become the company’s “Top Dog”, the Arctic’s star husky couriers that deliver the mail all around town. Yet, despite his small stature, inexperience, and occasionally drawing fire from curmudgeonly Elk boss Magda (Anjelica Huston), Swifty still continues to be optimistic in becoming Top Dog status. One day, Swift suddenly gets his chance to command his own sled and delivers a mysterious package to a secret isolated location to one Otto Van Walrus (John Cleese). However, Swifty quickly becomes entangled into something larger by this action, discovering a nefarious plot with Otto Van Walrus’s plans, a secret conspiracy over the disappearance of ABDS’s Top Dogs, and the sudden change in warmer weather in the surrounding. To prove himself, Swifty, along with PB, Lemmy, and Swifty’s secret crush Bertha (Heidi Klum), must uncover the truth behind Otto’s plan and save their town from doom.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I’ve said it before (many times before) and I’ll continue to say…. I do enjoy love watching animated movies. Maybe it’s the “kid at heart” mentality within me or just simple childhood nostalgia (i.e. a much simpler time), but animated feature films have always fond within my movie viewing entertainment. Naturally, I told gravitate towards the “big releases” of animated movies from the major studios, but (much like I said in the opening paragraph) I’ve seeing several smaller studio cartoon movies coming out and getting a theatrical release and / or placed on various streaming sites (i.e. Netflix). That being said, most of them have the potential to be good (and certainly get some things right), but, more often than not, most are subpar to some of the more prominent kid’s animated movies out there. Still, I’ll give them a try and I do like how animated studios produce movies, but it’s sad than these endeavors are not as fully develop nor as are they polished as they could’ve been.
This, of course, brings me to talking about Arctic Dogs, the latest animated film project from a non-animation powerhouse studio that’s ready to display cartoon tale in its theatrical release. As one can imagine, since the movie wasn’t released by Disney, DreamWorks, or even Illumination Entertainment, I really didn’t hear much about this particular movie online. To be honest, my first somewhat introduction / reaction to Arctic Dogs was when I saw the film’s movie trailer come online. The selection of the movie’s voice talents interested me, but the trailer preview for the feature didn’t little to instill much excitement let alone curiosity to see the movie. However, being an inspiring movie critic (amateur, of course), I decided to take a chance and to see if Arctic Dogs proved to be a wholesome kid’s animated movie. Did it? Unfortunately, it did not. Despite having a recognizable voice cast, Arctic Dogs just ends up being a I rather dull and bland animated feature endeavor. There’s a story to be told, but it’s buried underneath a messy and an uninspiring plot and presentation that doesn’t go anywhere.
Arctic Dogs is directed by Aaron Woodley, whose previous directorial works includes such as The Entitled, Tennessee, and Spark: A Space Tail. Given his directing chance of Spark: A Space Tail (a movie that was okay. Interesting, but bland), Woodley delves right back into the animated theatrical foray with Arctic Dogs; crafting a film that has a lighthearted charm throughout much of its proceedings by following Swifty’s journey from underdog (or rather “underfox”) to town hero. It’s quite easy to see where the movie is going with its story and character motivations (more on that below), but Woodley makes Arctic Dogs easy to digest and clearly hits its target audience of young viewers out there. Plus, the movie’s thematic message of self-esteem and environmental awareness are well-intended and well-represented in the film. It may be a bit redundant (because it’s been done many times before), but it’s always a welcomed one to hear.
Animation-wise, the movie looks mediocre. It’s definitely colorful and feels like a kid’s animated movie would’ve (character designs, settings / location, etc.), but feels like a downgrade of today’s animation; dating the feature immediately as if it was supposed to be released sometime in the mid to late 2000s. Thus, in comparsion today’s best animated studios (i.e. Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination Entertainment), Arctic Dogs is woefully lacking. There isn’t a whole lot of cinematography work that worth noting about, so it’s all just pretty humdrum average looking. Additionally, the movie’s score, which was composed by David Buckley, is adequate, with a soundtrack that definitely feels appropriate for this feature (action sequences to soft dialogue moments), but never feels memorable.
Unfortunately, Arctic Dogs doesn’t live up its own hype (if there ever even was one), with the main problem with the movie being is that the animated feature is a bit “meh” from beginning to end. Yes, there is a story to be told, but it goes about it all in a derivate and formulaic way that really doesn’t stand out. In truth, the movie (as a whole) is somewhere in-between an animated theatrical motion picture and a DTV release (direct-to-video), but leans more towards the DTV appeal. What do I mean? Well, the movie itself just seems subpar in all aspect areas of filmmaking. Yes, I do understand that the movie is not created / produced by a major animated studio, but the whole thing feels like on big “meh”. The story is there, but underwhelming and weirdly complexed at times, which makes it hard to follow / understand, especially Otto Van Walrus (the main antagonist of the movie) and his nefarious plans. It just seems wonky and really unnecessary to Swifty’s story. Arctic Dog’s script should’ve been more focused on Swifty’s journey (a smaller scale focused) instead of racing towards a large action sequence of “saving the town from a bad guy’s mastermind plan” cliché. Coinciding with this, the movie’s story seems a bit hollow and often than not gets lost within its own story, creating several meandering subplots that don’t really go anywhere or just add unnecessary characters to an already overstuffed cast of characters to follow. Looking beyond that, the rest of the movie just doesn’t rise to occasion; offering up bland and unoriginal storytelling, comedy, romance, action, and everything else. In short, Arctic Dogs comes across as a mediocre project that feels hallow and uninspiring.
The voice cast in the movie is alright and is probably the best part that the film has to offer. That being said, most of the voice talents (though played by recognizable actors / actresses) are just plain boring and don’t really make the characters come alive and well-rounded; sticking to a more stock-like / stereotypical tropes. Jeremy Renner is perhaps the only one that really sticks out of the voice talents as Swifty, the movie’s main protagonist character. Though Swifty’s journey has been done time and time again (nothing original), Renner does make the character work and interjects his energy and charisma into the role; making Swifty memorable and easy to root in Arctic Dogs.
The rest of the voice talents, including model / actress Heidi Klum (Project Runaway and Ella Enchanted) as Swifty’s love interest Jade, actor Alec Baldwin (It’s Complicated and The Departed) as Swifty’s friend PB, actor James Franco (127 Hours and The Disaster Artist) as Swifty’s friend Lemmy, actor John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda and The Meaning of Life) as the villainous Otto Van Walrus, actor Omar Sy (The Intouchables and Jurassic World) as Leopold, actress Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead and The Americans) as Dakota, and Anjelica Huston (John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and Ever After: A Cinderella Story) as Swifty’s boss Magda, are bland to say the least. You can tell its them by their distinct voices and definitely lend weight to the feature’s various characters, but none of them make their respective characters their own; making most of the Arctic Dogs characters (major or supporting ones) unmemorable and cliched caricatures…. even for a kid’s animated movie.
It’s time for Swifty to run with the big dogs as he goes out to prove himself to be “top dog” in the film Arctic Dogs. Director Aaron Woodley latest animated movie finds lighthearted nature and whole cartoon nuances within its premise as well as reflecting upon several important themes to learn along the way. Unfortunately, despite a solid performance of Renner, majority of the film just doesn’t go anywhere and ends up being an iffy (if serviceable) animated movie at best and a forgetful one at worst. It gets the job done in its story, but lacks the certain quality narration that other recent animated feature films have accomplished (storytelling wise). Likewise, its animation, which (again) is serviceable, while many of the voice talents are wasted on this project. To me, this movie was pretty “meh” and disappointing. I wasn’t expecting a lot from this movie, but the end result is bland and unmemorable. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is definite “skip it” as there’s not a whole lot that the film has to offer…. even for its target audience. In the end, Arctic Dogs is a bland and uninspiring project, which will end up being one of those movies that will be a lost and forgotten endeavor in children’s entertainment.
2.2 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: November 1st, 2019
Reviewed On: November 19th, 2019
Arctic Dogs is 92 minutes long and is rated PG for some mild action and rude humor