During the 1950s and 1960s, Walt Disney Studios produced a number of excellent documentary-story films centered around wildlife, the majority of them being released under James Algar's True-Life Adventure series banner. One film, however, was released as a feature film independently....Nikki, Wild Dog of the North ( 1961 ). While it bore a remarkable resemblance to the True-Life Adventure series, the film was not produced by Algar and was helmed by two different directors - Don Haldane and cinematographer Jack Couffer.
Based upon James Oliver Curwood's "Nomads of the North" the film tells the story of Nikki, a wolf dog, and the adventures he encounters in the wild north woods of Canada. Nikki is trapper Andre Dupas' ( Jean Coutu ) beloved hunting dog, but when they get separated in the water rapids, Nikki learns to fend for himself while he waits for his master's return.
Nikki is a highly entertaining blend of true-life documentary sequences ( complete with narration by Jacques Fauteux ) and dialogue scenes with actors. Just like Disney's True-Life Adventure series, the film features impressive scenery and spectacular wildlife footage. Some particularly startling shots are the grizzly bear and black bear fight, the scene of Nikki and Neewa forging the rapids, and Nikki luring a muskrat out of its underground home in the middle of an iced lake.
Nikki is not the best film to watch with children, however. Since this is true-to-life, the dog encounters a number of hardships throughout his journey. The bear attacks will send a few goosebumps down your back, Nikki gets himself bloodied up when his paw gets caught in a wolf trap, and there is a brutal fight between Dupas and LeBeau ( Emile Genest ) who was cruelly training Nikki to become a fighter-dog. Genest would later appear in Disney's Big Red ( 1962 ) playing a kindly animal trainer, but here he is a hissable villain.
Critics and audiences warmed to Nikki upon its initial release but over the years it has become obscure - even among Disney audiences. Fortunately, the film has since been beautiful remastered and is now available for viewing on Hoopla and on DVD.