Movie - 2002, PG, 99 minutes, Disney; IMDb entry
Genre - Family, Comedy, Drama
Cast - Cuba Gooding Jr., James Coburn, Sisqo, Nichelle Nichols, M. Emmett Walsh, Graham Greene, Brian Doyle-Murray, Joanna Bacalso
Director - Brian Levant
DVD - 1.33:1 pan & scan, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), DTS 5.1 (English); subtitles - English; single-sided, dual-layered disc; $29.99 SRP, Released 5/14/02

Movie - Even the charismatic Cuba Gooding Jr. can't save Snow Dogs, as he looks uncomfortable doing phsyical comedy as banal as the sight gags within. Snow Dogs tries to be a live-action cartoon of physical comedy and thoughtful family drama at the same time, and the two elements mix like an acid and base, resulting in an explosion of bad cinema. And I wouldn't be lying if I said that this is James Coburn's best work since The Great Escape. Okay, I would be lying. Now, Snow Dogs was falsely advertised as a "talking dogs" film, and the marketing certainly turned off any potential adult moviegoers, who might have been interested in the film within. Nevertheless, upon seeing the actual movie (which, while not a "talking dog movie", is not a good one either), they too would be disappointed. Snow Dogs takes the serious melodramatic tone of Iron Will and mixes it with the low-brow unfunny comedy of My Favorite Martian, resulting in one very bad comedy/drama of a family film. For an example of how to balance comedy and drama in a family-friendly film, check out Cool Runnings, Disney's live-action movie from 1993.

Video - There is one major problem with the video and that is that Disney has released Snow Dogs exclusively in Pan & Scan. If you bought it by mistake, you won't have any luck exchanging it for a widescreen disc, because Snow Dogs falls into a category of movies that Disney considers to have limited appeal, and thus is not released in its original aspect ratio. This may not seem like a big deal (it's only Snow Dogs, you say...), but consider that this is one of the most high-profile movie releases from this year thus far. Prior to this month, it was the third-highest grossing film of the year. And it will not be released on DVD in its original aspect ratio. Even with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this pan & scan transfer of Snow Dogs causes several framing problems, while effectively chopping out about 30% of the picture. What's amazing is that some of the highest-rated TV shows, a majority of music videos and commercials, and even the DVD ads for Snow Dogs are all in widescreen and people accept that. But the main feature is not in widescreen and it's a disappointment. No, this film is not The Godfather, but the exterior photography was clearly created for the 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, and the fact that there is a one minute scene in which the dogs talk is not a valid reason for the lack of a widescreen release.

Audio - The audio on this DVD is up to snuff. In fact, Disney has included a DTS track. I don't think the people with the big expensive systems that are big DTS enthusiasts are the ones who are buying pan & scan DVDs, so it doesn't make too much sense. Both the DTS and DD 5.1 tracks sounded fine. Not too much of a difference, and the mix isn't overly active. The various growlings of the various snow dogs make use of the surround. Overall, an adequate audio track which is undermatched by the pan & scan video quality.

Closing Thoughts - If you are considering purchasing Snow Dogs, I say hold off. Disney is a corporation just like any other, and they'll do what earns them more money. By ignoring the people who wish to see movies as they were created and not cut up for a 4 x 3 television screen, Disney is losing business. Potential customers caving in and buying this unacceptable DVD will set Disney off on a path to ignore the market of "film enthusiasts", the people who established the DVD format as a lasting format and who do not appreciate having movies cut up from their original form, whether that movie is Snow Day, Snow Dogs or Dog Day Afternoon.

It's not just about Snow Dogs alone, but rather about preserving the principle of releasing films in their original form, a principle established from the launch of the format. When I started this review in May 2002, I had ended with the following sentences: "If you hope to see the upcoming Country Bears or unreleased catalogue titles like the Mighty Ducks sequels, the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids films and sequels, and many more released in the version that they were created in and not panned and scanned for TV dimensions that will soon be replaced by 16 x 9 televisions anyway, do not buy this Snow Dogs DVD."

Of course, years have passed, and unfortunately, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Country Bears have already fallen victim to the hand of Pan & Scan. Disney has gotten infinitely better at releasing their films in original aspect ratio, but you're still encouraged to pass on this DVD.

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