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Gold and Winter Glory

Sean Sweany | Wednesday, February 15, 2006

As the Olympic Games at Torino kick into high gear this week, headlines are filling quickly with updates from the Italian Alps.

For some, the abundance of coverage is pure bliss, but others actively look forward to the closing ceremonies of the cold-weather sports. The magic of Hollywood can provide a simple alternative for both those awaiting the next piece of coverage and for anyone hoping for warmer weather. Various films use the competitive zeal of the winter Olympics as a backdrop, but only a select handful appear ageless and continue to enthrall audiences regardless of the season.

D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)

Quack. Quack. Quack. This popular chant, made famous by the first “Mighty Ducks” movie, echoes the same goofy sentimentality in this second film of the Disney franchise.

Emilio Estevez returns as Gordon Bombay, a minor league hockey hopeful who must return to coach the Minnesota Mighty Ducks after suffering an injury. The Ducks are invited to a teenage version of the Olympics – the Junior Goodwill Games – in Los Angeles, Calif.

Branded as Team USA, the group is quickly overwhelmed with the hype and glamour of Los Angeles. Much like the first film, both the coach and the team lose focus before rallying around each other at the end of the movie to beat the bigger and meaner Iceland squad.

There are many reasons why this should be a bad film. The plot is predictable and laughable, the acting ranges between the B-grade talents of Emilio Estevez and Joshua Jackson (“Dawson’s Creek”) and the hockey presented in the movie is horribly fake. Nevertheless, “D2” has found a deserved place in the hearts of many viewers.

As expected with a Disney film, the message is positive and conveyed in an interesting format. Any youth aspiring to play hockey is undoubtedly aware of the “Knucklepuck” and “The Flying V,” two moves immortalized in the “Mighty Ducks” series.

Additionally, the dramatic theme song helps make the movie memorable, especially during the final shootout scene, when the Ducks win victory over Iceland wearing the same uniforms the NHL’s Anaheim Mighty Ducks wear.

While cheesy and simple, “D2: The Mighty Ducks” is a film that resonates and recalls childhood. Tied to the Olympics at least somewhat, it is a film worth viewing to get in the spirit of international hockey competition.

Cool Runnings (1993)

“Cool Runnings” falls in the same genre as “D2” – another feel-good, inspirational family movie from Disney. Inspired by a true story, the film relates the trials of the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, which struggled against the odds to simply train and compete in the Winter Olympics at Calgary.

The story begins with Jamaican track runner Derice Bannock (Leon Robinson, “Oz”), who falls victim to an accidental tripping incident, disqualifying him from representing the Jamaican team at the Olympics.

In his desire to compete, Bannock decides to organize a bobsled team since one does not exist in Jamaica. In spite of the fact that there is no snow in Jamaica and little time remains before the Olympics, he fields three other men for a team and finds a coach in Irving Blitzer (John Candy, “Home Alone”).

Publicly disgraced when he had a gold medal taken away for cheating, Blitzer is another misfit who joins the group. Thanks to the acting of Candy and the other members of the bobsled team, there is enough comedy to carry the movie through to its completion.

The team faces much hardship and scrutiny from outsiders because of its appearance and actions once at the Olympics. Their looks, reggae music and unconventional style draw derision and make them stick out like sore thumbs in the cold weather of Canada – until they begin to perform well and amaze the world.

This is an entertaining movie that accomplishes what it sets out to do – tell a story about personal courage in a fun, lighthearted manner. The late Candy turns in an emotional, inspired performance that highlights his diversity as an actor.

The various bobsled scenes provide enjoyable action, including a funny run down the hills of Jamaica. “Cool Runnings” is another enjoyable Winter Olympics movie that tells of the unending perseverance of the human heart.

Miracle (2004)

The 1980 “Miracle on Ice” – the U.S. men’s hockey victory over Russia – is documented in the film “Miracle.” The movie stars Kurt Russell (“Backdraft”) as Herb Brooks, the legendary coach of the team of college players against the Russian juggernaut at the Lake Placid Olympic games. During the Cold War, when the threat of a possible nuclear showdown between the United States and Russia loomed overhead, the world watched as the two countries battled on the ice.

This excellent film manages to capture the mood of the time while detailing the training and play of the Olympic team. The scenario of a young team facing a perennial powerhouse and winning is the inspiration for many sports movies, including the Mighty Ducks series, but this version is the precedent from which the other movies draw their ideas.

The hockey in “Miracle” is real, as director Gavin O’Connor cast actual hockey players as his actors. Unique cameras and microphones were used in production to capture the sights and sounds of the hockey scenes filmed for the movie. This credibility makes the movie enjoyable for serious hockey fans and those looking for a relaxing watch.

As the Americans make their way through the Olympics, coming from behind to beat every team they play, the showdown with Russia in the semifinals takes the world stage.

Russell turns in a spectacular performance as a stern, caring, plaid-wearing head coach who must lead his team to victory amidst many distractions.

The historic game against Russia is tense and exciting, capped with the famous Al Michaels question at the final buzzer, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

Overall, “Miracle” is well done and presents both the spirit of Olympic competition and a feel-good success story.