Blessed with truly warm-and-fuzzy, kid’s-best-friend appeal, movies about animals are a breed apart. Whether they’re the pick of the litter (Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey) or the runt (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective), such movies hook kids as long as the critters themselves stay on the screen.
The original White Fang (1991), based on the Jack London novel, worked best when it remembered that rule. As a boy-and-his-wolf-dog story, it was standard fare, but the scenes focusing on the orphaned pup were beautifully depicted and powerful enough to merit a sequel.
If only White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf had kept the camera on its four-legged hero and let animal trainer Joe Camp (Homeward Bound) work his magic, it too could have been as effective as jujubes in keeping kids glued to their seats.
White Fang’s mission this time begins in 1890s Alaska when his new master, Henry Casey (Scott Bairstow, taking over for the original’s Ethan Hawke), is rescued from a raging river by a Native American woman named Lily (Charmaine Craig). Lily believes Henry can fulfill the legend of the white wolf by leading the missing caribou herds back to her starving tribe. White Fang is more than ready to sink his teeth into the task. It’s Henry who has to be convinced. The lessons he learns—about helping others and the need for some kind of family—are ones White Fang knew instinctively.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers (including the director, thirtysomething’s Ken Olin) tend to relegate their titular hero to the role of Superwolf—he appears mainly to rescue folks and then disappears again into the forest. In place of quality animal screen time there’s lots of laborious mythology and Native American dreams, which will set kids fidgeting.
Yet in the end, youngsters will surely leave the theater smiling over the wolf’s adorable little fanglets. Thanks to the furry stars—and their irresistible animal magnetism—WF2 wins out over its basic failing.