Picks and Pans Review: White Fang 2

updated 04/25/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/25/1994 01:00AM

Scott Bairstow, Charmaine Craig, Al Harrington

Even the most cynical eyes in the house will have a hard time staying dry during this literate and lively, if heavy-handed and politically correct, Disney animal adventure.

Not only is there the frisky, furry hero—the wolf dog crossbreed of Jack London's novel and the 1991 movie—but there is also an appealing, if overwrought, crosscultural romance between Bairstow, White Fang's new master, and Craig, an Indian princess. Fang 2 even features a love match between Fang and a wolf that results in a litter of cuddly pups.

Bairstow, having inherited the role of White Fang's owner from Ethan Hawke, loses the dog in a rafting accident. Bairstow is rescued by Craig, whose uncle, Harrington, a chief, has dreamed she and a wolf would lead their tribe out of doldrums brought on by the disappearance of their normal prey, a caribou herd.

Along the way we get lots of mystical claptrap about prophetic dreams and Craig's Psychic-Friends-Net-work-caliber powers. There is also much antiwhite attitudinizing, including a ritualistic, gratuitous mention of smallpox, "the white man's disease," having killed Craig's parents.

And yet for all its drawbacks, this first feature directed by thirtysomething alum Ken Olin is energetic. It includes a number of engaging action sequences, and the Colorado and British Columbia locations are gorgeous. The stolid, athletic Bairstow. a Canadian, and Craig, an expressive, raven-haired Meryl Streep look-alike from New York, are both ingratiating. Harrington, a Hawaiian, underplays his overwritten role effectively. The five different dogs who play White Fang are anyone's dream pooches.

All sequels should be this entertaining. (PG)

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