Theodore "Ted" Brooks (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is a dentist from Miami, Florida whose picture appears on every city buses in advertisements promoting his dental practice. When Brooks receives a letter from Alaska one day naming him as the only heir of a Lucy Watkins, his mother, Amelia (Nichelle Nichols), reveals that he is adopted. Brooks travels to the fictional village of Tolketna to claim his inheritance left by his biological mother: seven Siberian Huskies and a Border Collie, and discovers his roots. Totally out of his element, Brooks has to face challenges he has never dreamed of: blizzards, thin ice, an intimidating, crusty old mountain man named Thunder Jack Johnson (James Coburn), and the aggressive, defiant lead dog, Demon. All of this happens with the buzzing excitement of the Arctic Challenge Sled Dog Race which is only two weeks away.
During his stay in Tolketna, Brooks attempt to find the reason why he was given up for adoption, including any information about his biological father. He meets a bar owner named Barb (Joanna Bacalso), who was a close friend of his biological mother. She helps Brooks to deal with the dogs and teaches him how to drive a sled, and falls in love with him during the course of the film. Brooks continues to encounter Thunder Jack, who wants all of his biological mother's sled dogs, especially Demon. Eventually, Brooks learns from Barb that Thunder Jack is his real father. Brooks feels that the truth is worth the dogs themselves, and trades them to Thunder Jack. Jack tells Brooks that he and Lucy stayed in a cave during one of the Arctic Challenges. It is there that Brooks was conceived. The next morning, when Thunder Jack woke up, Lucy was gone. He says that he was looking for Lucy, but never found her. Lucy gave Brooks up for adoption.
With Demon, Thunder Jack take part in the Arctic Challenge Race, but is unable to finish it because of a huge snowstorm. Meanwhile, Brooks, who just returned to Miami, learns that his personal journey to Alaska is unfinished. Infuriated by evidence found proving that Thunder Jack was at the hospital when he was born, Brooks returns to Alaska to look for answers. When Brooks learns of the missing musher and his team, he feels that this may be the opportunity to save a man, and perhaps find out the whole truth once and for all. Brooks sets out to rescue Thunder Jack, with Nana as the lead dog. He eventually finds Thunder Jack in the old cave, who confirms that he had been there when Brooks was born. Thunder Jack reveals that he and Lucy agreed then that neither one of them could raise a baby, and confesses his love for Lucy. Brooks finds out the reason for Demon's bad temper is the pain caused by his bad tooth. He pulls it out and Demon becomes a friendly dog. During the journey back to Tolketna, the sled nearly goes over a cliff into a river, but the dogs managed to pull themselves back up. Brooks finally brings Thunder Jack across the finish line. After Brooks introduces Thunder Jack to his adopted mother, Brooks and Thunder Jack decide to share their trophy together.
Sometimes later, Brooks and Barb were married and Nana and Demon have four puppies. Now having grown to love Tolketna, Brooks moves his practice to it with Barb, who is pregnant as his secretary. Brooks' adoptive cousin, Rupert (Sisqó), becomes the new famous Miami dentist with his face on every city bus.
- Cuba Gooding Jr. as Dr. Theodore "Ted" Brooks (a.k.a. "Teddy Bear")
- Joanna Bacalso as Barb
- James Coburn as James "Thunder Jack" Johnson
- Sisqó as Dr. Rupert Brooks
- Nichelle Nichols as Amelia Brooks
- Christopher Judge as Ted's Father
- M. Emmet Walsh as George Murphy
- Jean-Michel Pare as Olivier Trajean
- Graham Greene as Peter Yellowbear
- Brian Doyle-Murray as Ernie
- Jim Belushi as the voice of Demon
- Jane Sibbett as the voice of Nana
- Richard Steven Horvitz as the voice of Scooper (uncredited)
- Michael Bolton as Himself
- Fly as Nana
- Dash as Nana (stunt double)
- Don Juan or D.J. as Demon
- Cody as Demon (stunt double)
- Floyd as Mack
- Speedy as Scooper
- Nando as Diesel
- Buck as Sniff
- Koda as Yodel
- Gloria as Duchess
- Flower as the Skunk
In some scenes, the faces of the dogs are partially animated to give them human expressions like winking.
The film's budget was US$33 million.
Canmore, Alberta, Canada was used to film the fictional city of Tolketna, Alaska.
The dogs D.J., Koda, Floyd and Buck also starred in the adventure film, Eight Below. Many of the dogs and mushers used in the film were locals. Two of the hero team doubles and all of Olivier's team were supplied by Nakitsilik Siberians of Bridge Lake, British Columbia. Mountain Mushers' from Golden BC supplied the Thunder Jack team. Old Ernie's team was supplied by Russ Gregory from Calgary, Alberta. Arcticsun Siberian Husky Kennel from Edmonton, Alberta was one of many kennels — including Czyz, Snowy Owl, Gatt racing — from the area that supplied background for the film. Two of the dogs came from Kortar Kennels, in Ontario.
The animatronic effects were designed and built by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. The special effects were provided by The Secret Lab, the special effects division of Disney.
John Debney won the ASCAP Award in 2003 for the soundtrack.