Mega-producer Frank Marshall’s fourth vacation in the director’s chair—and his first movie in more than a decade—follows the tragedy that was Congo and, before that, the über-creepy Alive and Arachnophobia. This time out, he manages to make a movie about eight Antarctica-based sled dogs (not exactly a novel idea) into a melt-your-heart drama of man—er, actually animal—against nature. The fact that it features one of the past year’s biggest scares makes it all the more surprising; who knew leopard seals could be so gosh darn frightening? The plight of these dogs, abandoned because of a winter storm for almost half a year by their owner Gerry Shepherd (Paul Walker, in a role not nearly as robust as any of the animal actors’), is the sort of big-hearted, animal-adventure movie for which producer Disney usually needs animators. Maybe that’s what makes Marshall’s achievement so impressive: Though the director goes to great lengths to get his audience empathize with Shepherd, it’s ultimately the dogs’ bark- and whimper-filled journey across a frozen landscape that matters here. Heck, he even manages to fit in an animal coming-of-age story en route.