Exciting, but misleading
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I love movies on sled dogs, especially those that are a little "different" ( there are some magical type things in the movie I won't give away ). Beautiful dogs and scenery, good character portrayal of a well meaning but troubled teenager, but I think it gives a really inaccurate portrayal of Mushing and most Musher's attitudes in general. I should know, as I was a musher for five years, until illness forced me to stop. Anyway, there are things in this movie that seen to be taken verbatim from George Attla's famous book "Training and Racing Sled dogs". Not to put down Mr. Attla, who overcame major obstacles in his life including a crippling disease, but Mr. Attla is a Native American who came from a culture that out of harsh necessity ( lack of food, severe conditions ) has a very different attitude toward dogs than most of us are used to. I won't go into detail, but people living in isolated Native villages in which deprivation is still a fact of life are often harder on dogs than Mushers from "Outside". I've seen this attitude myself. These people are not cruel people, they are as hard on themselves as they are on their dogs. Mr. Attla spoke of people being expected to be able to snowshoe 50 miles a day to run traplines! He could not because of his disability, and became a professional Musher instead. This is why he needed to win- it was about survival for someone who could not run the family trapline. Toby's father's obsessional with winning at all costs is a bit abnormal when he has other choices. He is NOT a typical musher. The way he treats his dogs is NOT typical for a Musher ( especially when he complains about other people mistreating dogs and then mistreats his own). Whips are NOT a common part of training for non Native Mushers. Most races do not allow them. I've never actually seen anyone use a whip. All that whip stuff made me cringe- it's not necessary for training a good team. But whether it's Politically Correct whips have long been a part of Native Mushing culture, and traditions change slowly. Also, Mr. Attla's book, which could have been the primer for this movie, was written back in the 70's when I was mushing. For all I know, Native attitudes might have changed a lot. I have heard that Native Mushers are now concentrating on better treatment and nutrition for thier dogs as their own living conditions improve. Times change.I guess Toby's dad could be seen as a kind of time capsule of another, harsher era. He wouldn't last long today- people who beat their dogs in races today get disqualified.
Toby objects to his father's attitudes because he has a heart- he loves racing too, but he loves his dogs more. He thinks his father is a hard man , and he is. When Toby begin to emulate his father, I was really disappointed. If you train a dog with cruelty, he won't respect you, he will distrust you. The moviemakers had to invent a financial crisis to make all this obsession with winning at all cost OK. It's a mess.
It's an exciting, visually beautiful story, but I can't really recommend it to those who have not actually experienced the real thing and met real Mushers. I think it gives people the wrong idea about sled dog racing. For most of us, it's not about winning so much as just being out there with your dogs. That's an incredible experience that all the money in the world can't match."