Below [2002]

Despite a likable cast of humans, it's the canine stars who steal the show in Eight Below, a terrific live-action adventure in the time-honored Disney tradition. Based on a true story that was previously filmed (much differently) as the 1983 Japanese hit Antarctica, this above-average family film takes place in 1993 and focuses on a dog-sled guide at an Antarctic research station (Paul Walker) who is forced by a severe storm to abandon eight beloved sled dogs for the duration of a harsh Antarctic winter. Left to fend for themselves, the rugged and resourceful dogs encounter danger at every turn, surviving for nearly six months while Walker and his closest colleagues (engagingly played by Bruce Greenwood, Moon Bloodgood, and American Pie's Jason Biggs) join forces to mount a daring rescue mission. Having endured similarly extreme conditions on his 1993 film Alive, director Frank Marshall brings an abundance of natural splendor (and minimum use of digital wizardry) to spectacularly arctic locations in Norway, Greenland and Canada, and Walker (star of The Fast and the Furious) lends an amiable sincerity to his compassionate role. For most viewers, however, it's the remarkable dogs (six Siberian huskies and two malamutes) who make Eight Below so thoroughly entertaining. It's not quite an instant family classic, but it comes pretty doggone close. --Jeff Shannon

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