Who'd'a thunk it that a little French flick about penguins and their larger-than-life struggle to spawn would turn moviegoers into a legion of eager naturalists, hungry for its next march into the wild? Well, Disney picked up on that newfound hunger and made 8 Below, the family-oriented adventure that would have made Jack London proud (if he hadn't committed suicide 90 years ago and had found a way to live to be 130). It is based on the true story of a pack of Antarctic sled dogs (and very beautiful ones, at that) who survived for countless days after being stranded by a fierce winter storm (and is a remake of the hard-to-find 1983 Japanese epic, Antarctica).
The scenes with just the dogs are easily the best ones. Fans of the House Of Mouse will recall how Disney is an old hand at creating natural-looking action out of what we know are staged set pieces. Remember, back in the days before anyone had ever put the word "animal" together with the word "rights", it was Disney who was simulating nature quite regularly with their "True Life Adventures" series. One Oscar-winning installment from 1958 called White Wilderness featured lemmings in a dramatic cliff-diving suicide ritual. Of course, lemmings do not actually commit suicide, so the appearance of this mass demise was another kind of Disney Magic ("Kamikaz-O-Rama" never really caught on, I guess). No matter, documentaries are really docudramas anyway, and at least this one does not claim to be an as-it-happened account. Actually, the story, which took place in 1957, is here set in 1993, the last year sled dogs were allowed on the continent before they were banned in an effort to protect its seal population from distemper.