Walt Disney movies can make a cheery triumph of anything -- even cannibalism.
In the studio's 1993 movie "Alive," based on the real-life tragedy of 1972, a plane carrying 45 passengers from Uruguay to Chile crashes in the frozen Andes Mountains. With little food, the survivors are ultimately forced to consume the flesh of their dead (and snow-preserved) fellow passengers.
But the creators of "Dumbo" turn the film into an uplifting, rah-rah paean to the human spirit. They were given up for dead, they ate their own and they were triumphant! The survivors practically raise fists in the air, "Rocky"-style, because they, well, chomped their fellow man and stayed alive.
"Mystery, Alaska," in which a hockey team from the eponymous small town faces the New York Rangers on their frozen home pond, may not have cannibalism. But the cheering -- and its concomitant happy ending -- continues apace.
The studio has touted the movie, co-written by "Ally McBeal" creator David E. Kelley, as a character-driven, adult-themed Disney event. It's a sort of adult "The Mighty Ducks" that stretches and strains in the direction of "The Last Picture Show," but falls flat on the ice.
Despite an array of salty, small-town archetypes who indulge in extramarital affairs, drinking binges, public fights and choice obscenities, these characters -- including Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Colm Meaney and Lolita Davidovich -- never stray from Disney's formulaic rink.
Their struggles, trials and tribulations are mere preludes to an inevitable orgy of affirmation. We know the story will conclude with a crescendo of frozen-north hallelujahs. Cheering is endemic to Disney. They can't help themselves.
Charles Danner (Azaria), a former resident of Mystery, has created the publicity stunt of the year: a hockey game between the Rangers and his former home team.
At a spirited town hall meeting, the good folks of Mystery debate the issue. Judge Walter Burns (Burt Reynolds) believes Mystery should hold on to its dignity and illusions of being a great hockey town. But Birdie (Scott Grimes), the judge's son, thinks otherwise.
"Where's the dignity in not trying?" says Birdie, as if prompted by off-screen Disney executives.
They vote yes on the Rangers. You can almost feel the imminent cheering.
Will the judge, a former hockey coach, ever descend from his moral position and help the team? Will veteran player and sheriff John (Crowe) lead the locals to victory? And how is Pitcher (Colm Meaney), the town mayor, going to react when he learns that hockey player Skank Marden (Ron Eldard) is sleeping with his wife (Davidovich)?
There is further romantic tension for Sheriff John because game promoter Danner happens to be his wife's old flame. Will Donna (Mary McCormack) leave John for Danner's apparently glamorous life?
These and other questions are not only answered, they're wrapped and bow-tied. To enjoy this movie, I'd venture to say, you'd have to like "The Mighty Ducks" far more than you ever did "The Last Picture Show." Which would almost certainly empower you to stand up and -- you know.
MYSTERY, ALASKA (R, 119 minutes) -- Contains sexual situations, nudity, obscenities and cheering. Area theaters.