January 24, 1994 12:00 PM

Mackenzie Astin, Kevin Spacer, David Ogden Stiera, Beau the dog, George Gerdes

If it were any cornier, it would have to be shown with a chowder projector. Nonetheless this live-action Disney film rises above its predictable feel-good plot, cardboard villains and gosh-awfully-cute dogs with an old-fashioned, virtue-espousing story and enticing, postcard-beautiful, wintry Wisconsin and Minnesota locations.

A fictionalization of a 1917 incident, the film tracks a teenage boy’s participation in a 522-mile, $10,000 dogsled race from Winnipeg, Canada, to St. Paul.

The boy, Astin, uses his beloved late father’s dog team to raise money for college and save the family farm. His competition is a group of ruthless adults, most of whom have European accents, with Gerdes, as an arrogant Scandinavian champion, giving the kid the most trouble.

Spacey is a cynical news service reporter who covers the event and makes the boy a hero in the U.S., giving him the nickname Iron Will for his determination. Stiers plays a magnate who’s one of the race’s sponsors, while Beau, an ugly pooch amidst husky sled dogs, leads Astin’s team.

Beau is also the most striking actor in the cast. Of course, he also has the most authentic, stirring lines, including “Woof, woof and “Grr, grr.” The film’s trio of writers doesn’t provide much help to Aslin, brother of Sean and son of John Astin and Patty Duke, who is an appealing enough kid, but never reflects the steely character his role requires.

Director Charles Haid, best known as Renko on Hill Street Blues, garbles a lot of the action; it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening in the race. The crucial thing, though, is whether the boy’s perseverance and all-around nobility will pay off at the finish line. While only skeptics who think Bambi ended up as venison stew will be surprised by the result, it is heartwarming enough to melt the Great White North. The kids—and not a few adults—may cheer. (PG)”

You May Like