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The Antarctic Adventure Begins
When producer David Hoberman encountered the 1983 Japanese blockbuster "Nankyoku Monogatari” many years ago, the story of the marooned dogs and the human companions who refused to forget them took his breath away. The film's epic storytelling and gripping evocation of the unsinking will to survive became the highest-grossing Japanese film of its time, continuing to hold box-office records for more than a decade. In the grand tradition of classic adventure sagas, he saw it as being "at once exciting, suspenseful and emotionally powerful.” Hoberman felt that the underlying themes of the story deserved to be seen by a much wider audience—and he envisioned a less harrowing, more family-oriented adventure that would bring the inspirational, sustaining links between friendship and survival even more to the fore.

"I loved the story because it was so action-packed, but it was also about all these epic themes of friendship, responsibility and triumph of the spirit,” says Hoberman. "It stayed with me for years and years, and I kept trying to get the project going, until at last a Disney executive who had seen the Japanese film and felt the same way about it as I did agreed to option it.”

David DiGilio, a young writer in Disney's New Writers program and himself an avid outdoorsman, received the assignment to write a first draft of the script. DiGilio couldn't believe his tremendous luck at being handed such a thrilling, real-life adventure story on which to cut his screenwriting teeth. "I fell in love with the story right away,” he says. "I've always been attracted to the outdoors and I'm a huge dog person, and I just thought this could be the perfect cinematic marriage of the two. I also liked the idea of exploring themes about friendship. Of course, it's obviously about man's best friend, but the movie also demonstrates how people from different backgrounds can be thrown together and find common ground when faced with adversity. When you place complex characters in a riveting outdoor adventure, you see how friendship truly is the key to our survival.”

Immersing himself in the turbulent, century-long history of Antarctic exploration, DiGilio moved the story to 1993, the very last year that sled dog teams were allowed to work in Antarctica (despite their long-standing status as essential members of numerous important expeditions, they were ultimately banned to protect the continent's seals from exposure to the disease known as distemper). He forged a scientific mission for the men, based on the reallife search for million-year-old meteorites on Antarctica, and developed a quartet of quirky, adventuresome characters at the heart of the story: the fiercely independent Jerry, whose family is his dog team; the gruff, goal-oriented Davis, who just wants to put the tragedy of the expedition behind him; the lighthearted Cooper, who brings flashes of humor to the dark and icy Antarctic life; and the remarkably strong bush pilot Katie, who helps to drive Jerry towards his bold rescue.

He also took on an unusual and daring feat of imagination: forging eight compelling canine characters who demonstrate the same friendship, loyalty and courage as their human companions—and whose actions must carry a large portion of the story. A dog owner himself, this was a rare chance for DiGilio to explore the language, social structure and spiritual world of dogs from a truly inside perspective. Though he was already intimately familiar with the joys and wonders of befriending canines, DiGilio had a lot of fun further researching dog behavior and the unique history of how humans and dogs evolved together—all in the hopes of creating an exciting view into the inner minds of the dogs as they struggle to survive and reunite with their human friends.

"A lot of people don't know that the human-canine relationship goes back 14,000 year

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