Jeremy Renner—worst Avenger, vanity app maker, and alleged domestic abuser—sings five songs on the Arctic Dogs soundtrack, because that is also a thing Jeremy Renner does sometimes. Other than that, you could take the film’s basic elements and swap them out with bits and pieces of any of the other animated movies unceremoniously dumped into theaters a few times a year, and no one would notice. It’s a Mad Libs game of a movie: A misunderstood [animal] voiced by [celebrity] and their friends, a [animal] and a [animal], must succeed at [job] in order to save their [natural habitat] from [villain] and their [animal] minions. Oh, and learn that the best thing you can be is yourself.
The natural habitat this time around is the arctic, although it could just as easily have been a jungle, or a farm, or anywhere animals live. The setting does dictate the type of creatures that appear in the movie, however, and here we get bears, dogs, mice, beavers, a caribou, an albatross, two otters, a walrus, and a flock of puffins alongside our protagonist, an Arctic fox named Swifty (Renner). That doesn’t make the celebrity voices attached to the animal faces any less bizarre: James Franco as a stoner bird makes sense, but Alec Baldwin as a neurotic polar bear? (Not to mention the fraught nature of those three being in the same room.) Poor Heidi Klum has it the worst, though; there’s absolutely no reason why she should be in this movie, playing the love interest/obligatory woman (or female fox, as the case may be) in STEM.
Anyway, the skill that no one seems to have faith in Swifty’s ability to perform is package delivery, of all things. At the beginning of the film, an awkward voiceover explains that, since Swifty’s hometown is so remote, the Alaskan huskies who deliver the mail—one of whom is voiced by Michael Madsen, by the way—are local celebrities. The villagers depend on these “Top Dogs” for their inhalers and other anthropomorphic medical supplies, making pulling a delivery sled the most celebrated gig in town. It’s a job that’s traditionally been performed exclusively by dogs, and if you suspect that this status quo will be challenged by the end of this film, well—you are correct.
In the meantime, a slapped-together series of events leads Swifty to discover that the strange weather patterns he and his fellow villagers have been experiencing recently aren’t the result of greenhouse gases, but the infernal work of mad genius Otto Von Walrus (John Cleese). Arctic Dogs doesn’t deny climate change; in fact, its affirmation of the phenomenon as a threat to Arctic wildlife may send a few hyper-conservative parents to their keyboards to complain about liberal politics infecting children’s entertainment. But it also features a plot point where a walrus supervillain builds a giant drill to unleash stinky fart gases that will melt the polar ice caps in mere minutes, which is to say that it isn’t exactly advocating for a carbon tax. If scenes like the one where a bunch of Arctic animals are threatened with drowning inside of a supervillain’s lair that looks like a melting iceberg are supposed to be satirical, the humor is very dry indeed.
That’s probably giving Arctic Dogs too much credit, though, given that most of the comedy is both very broad and painfully unfunny. There’s really not much to recommend about this film: the animation lacks texture, the score is overwrought, the plotting is scattershot, and the character design is uninspired. But Angelica Houston does put on a thick Russian accent to play the caribou who runs the courier service, and that’s kind of fun. File it next to Norm Of The North in the “lazily assembled animated kids’ movies set in the Arctic” section of your collection, if you must.