Five mischievous golden retriever puppies accidentally wander onto a cargo plane to Alaska, where they befriend a husky puppy who is trying to help his owner Adam (Dominic Scott Kay) get a sled team together for a dog sled race. Soon the husky realizes that the five puppies and he would be enough dogs to make a six-dog sled team, and Adam would be able to enter the race.
- Starring: Dominic Scott Kay
- Director(s): Robert Vince
- Producer(s): Robert Vince, Anna McRoberts
- Screenwriter(s): Robert Vince
- Distributor: Walt Disney Home Video
- Animal Coordinator: Anne's Animals Actors
- Release Date: Tuesday, February 05, 2008
- Rating: Unacceptable
Featured Animal Action
American Humane’s Guideline indicating that written permission is needed before using puppies under the age of eight weeks was deliberately written so that puppies would not be separated from their mothers earlier or exposed to unnecessary stress. Clearly the intention behind our Guideline was being misinterpreted in this case. Unlike most puppies that arrive on a set for filming at eight weeks old, the puppies had traveled at six and a half weeks old -- by plane for over 3,000 miles, then by car -- enduring a trip of longer than 12 hours, as well as traveling in cold weather. American Humane will be revising this Guideline since it clearly does not give the animals the protection they deserve. We are considering the revision to recommend that no puppies under the age of 16 weeks should be used for filming and we are making more detailed recommendations regarding transport. Sadly, experience has pointed out that unscrupulous individuals will endeavor to circumvent regulations, impelling us to move forward to avoid the filming of eight-week-old puppies in the future.
American Humane has rated this film “Monitored: Unacceptable” due to the numerous deaths of young animals and the unlawful and fraudulent behavior that we believe impacted their fate. Although the producers may have been victims of unscrupulous people in their hire, American Humane, as an animal protection organization and the animals’ safety representative, finds the outcomes for these animals unacceptable.
American Humane would like to acknowledge that the production cooperated in every way with the Animal Safety Representative’s recommendations, and once the unhealthy puppies were removed from the set to receive veterinary care, healthy puppies were then brought in -- using proper procedures and following all guidelines regarding age limits, vaccinations, illness prevention methods and other safety protocol -- to ensure that healthy puppies were ultimately used during filming.
Featured Animal Scenes
All adult dogs appearing in the film were experienced sled teams that had worked together. Mushers (human drivers) for the teams were professionals, including the child actor who played Adam (Dominic Scott Kay). Before filming began, cast and crew members were instructed on the safety and handling of the animals. All grounds were thoroughly inspected and slopes were tested for snow stability. Only necessary cast and crew members were allowed on the set and all were quiet during filming. Animals were housed in a warm location. Any yellow snow seen in the movie was made using chicken broth. Whenever dogs barked or performed mild action, like jumping on an object close to the ground or walking from point A to point B, they were cued by an off-screen trainer. Before dogs pulled sleds, the snow was groomed with a machine so there would be no footprint holes that dogs could fall into. Before dogs ran uphill, the snow was packed to make it more solid and give them better footing. All food was safe for animal consumption. Camera angles enhanced the steepness of cliffs and hills, and adjacent roads were closed off to traffic during filming. All costumes worn by the dogs were custom-made for comfort.
In one scene, one of the puppies chases a kitten, which runs to its mother, and the mother cat then chases the puppy. The cat and dog scenes were filmed in separate shots; it looks as if the dog and cats were close together, but they were not actually on set at the same time. To get the kitten to run, one trainer released it at point A and another, off-camera, trainer called it and retrieved it at point B. To get the adult cat to run, one trainer released it on its mark and a waiting trainer used a buzzer to guide the cat in a certain direction.
One of the puppies runs across the street and up the ramp of an ice cream truck. Other puppies follow, all heading into the back of the truck, where they see the first puppy covered in ice cream. For this, an off-screen trainer cued the puppies to walk up the ramp of the truck while another trainer hid inside the truck, calling the puppies. The “ice cream” on the puppy was actually yogurt, which was deemed safe for consumption.
The puppies’ parents chase after the truck. For this shot, two trainers released the adult golden retrievers on the closed-off street and cued them to run after the moving truck, which had a trainer hiding inside, calling the dogs.
The puppies are next seen in an airplane’s cargo hold, where they eat some of the ice cream. For this scene, the puppies were placed on a secured platform specially built at window level. A trainer held a food stick just above the camera to get the puppies to look in various directions. The ice cream containers were weighed down with sandbags. Different types of “ice cream” covered their faces -- for example, rocky road ice cream was made using plain yogurt mixed with crushed dog food.
Two adult golden retrievers sit on the roof of a house, looking out into the night sky. For this shot, one trainer stood on scaffolding next to the roof’s edge as a precaution. Two other trainers helped the dogs up a series of specially made, secured platforms that led up to the roof. The trainers then placed the dogs on their marks on the roof and cued them to stay. Immediately after filming, trainers helped the dogs down the platforms and back onto the ground below. When the adult dogs are seen on the roof later in the film, the same methods were used, and the howling was a sound effect.
In one scene, the puppies enter a snow cave, seeking advice from a wise old husky. The cave was made of Styrofoam. Four trainers outside the cave released six puppies to two trainers shaking a food bowl inside the cave. All action in the cave was achieved by off-screen trainers giving the dogs verbal cues.
For the scene in which Mudbud stares at his reflection in the ice, the ice was made of wax and a piece of food was placed on the ice to attract the puppy’s attention. The reflection was computer-generated.
The puppies walk across a large log lying on the snow. For this, trainers placed two puppies at a time on the far end of the fake log and another trainer called them to the other end of the log. The fake log allowed for comfortable and secure footing because it was made of a nonslip material and had no jagged “tree bark” areas. This scene was filmed on a set with fake snow covering a padded mat. Trainers hid alongside the log in case they needed to catch a falling puppy.
Throughout the film, the puppies are seen in Adam’s shed in several scenes. The shed was heated for comfort. For the scenes in which the puppies sleep in the shed (in a basket, on a burlap bag and on ropes), they were given an hour of play time before filming to release some puppy energy and tire them out a bit. Without any prompting from trainers, the puppies all cuddled up together on a blanket, where they fell asleep. Once they were asleep, trainers carefully moved them to their marks. The shed was checked for debris and hazards before filming, and the area around the shed was blocked off with fencing. As the puppies in the shed are hiding out, they hear a noise, causing them all to look around a corner. They appear to have their heads stacked on top of each other. For this scene, a five-tiered shelving unit was secured to the wall. Each shelf had a wooden safety panel on the back and a safety bar along the edges so puppies could not fall off. Once the puppies were placed on their respective shelves, one trainer stood behind the shelf and another stood behind the camera dangling food on a bait stick and making noises to get the puppies to look in certain directions.
During a montage of the puppies training with Adam, each puppy pulls a log attached to a rope. For this, the puppies pulled lightweight, hollow plastic logs attached to their body harnesses by ropes. Upon filming, trainers released the puppies down a slight hill to make pulling easier. When the puppies first pulled Adam on his sled, they were equipped with a harness attached to a gangline, which was attached to the boy’s waist. Two trainers held the gangline until the director called “action.” When the puppies pulled on the line, the child actor fell over on cue.
During a snowball fight, one puppy gets smacked in the face with a big snowball. To make it appear as if a snowball was spinning through the air toward the puppy, a small fake snowball prop was placed on a special rotating contraption mounted to the front of the camera lens. The camera itself then moved toward the puppy as the fake snowball simultaneously rotated in front of it, giving the appearance of a snowball in flight. The camera then cut, allowing the trainer to place some Vaseline on the puppy’s face (as an adhesive) and attach fake paper snow. These separate shots were then edited together in post-production.
Adam uses a welder to create the puppy’s sled. The welding tool was fake, and the spark was an effect added later in post-production.
Sled teams race. The adult dog teams, who were accustomed to racing, were lined up at the starting line and cued to run, pulling their sleds and drivers. Before filming began, a snowmobile created tracks for the sled teams to follow, and the snow was packed, which allowed for more solid footing. For the puppy team, the puppies were wearing harnesses attached to a gangline, which was attached to their sled. Their sled was smaller and more lightweight than the adult dogs’ sleds. A trainer called the puppies toward him, and they ran from point A to point B while the child actor, an experienced musher, guided the sled. Several off-screen trainers called the puppies to get them to run and look in various directions. Closer shots of the dogs pulling the sleds were filmed on an indoor set with trainers holding the gangline just out of frame. The earlier scene in which the puppies pull a large empty sled (made for adult dogs) was actually filmed toward the end of the production, when the puppies were accustomed to the action of pulling a sled. When two adult teams were racing side by side, they were from the same kennel and were prepared for the close action, so that no aggression would occur. The scene in which one adult team appears to cut off the puppy team’s path was filmed in separate shots. The two teams were never actually on set together for this part of the sequence. The whip used by a musher was fake.
When a female musher falls off her sled, the Saint Bernard rescue dog runs to her aid, licking her face to revive her. For this, baby food was placed beside the actress’ head to encourage the licking.
The puppies find shelter from the storm inside an igloo, where they rest on furs and warm up near a fire. The fake igloo was made of wood and plastic. The flame lamp emitted a “cool flame,” which allowed it to be cool to the touch. A crew member was standing nearby with a fire extinguisher, just in case. The dogs lay on fake fur rugs. For the part of the scene in which the husky puppy looks out the hole of the igloo, a trainer equipped the puppy with a waist tie. On command, the dog poked his head out of the hole and back inside. To help get the dogs to sleep, they were allowed to play before filming, and studio lights were turned off during filming.
Two dogs who appear to have fallen through thin ice are trying to get out of the water. This was filmed on an indoor set using a shallow pool filled with warm water. The ice was made of plywood covered in fake snow. Trainers surrounded the pool. The dogs wore harnesses attached to a gangline held by an off-screen trainer. Trainers prepared the dogs for swimming before filming began and assisted them in and out of the pool. The dogs were dried off and given 30 minutes of rest between takes.
Due to late notification or limited resources, American Humane did not monitor some of the puppy scenes.