I'm going a little obscure with this week's Movie Crush, but if you've come this far along in my hazy rear view mirror-recollections of the dreamiest teen idols the '90s had to offer, then we're already kindred spirits. Which means you might even remember a little live-action Disney teen adventure from 1993 called White Wolves: A Cry in the Wild II (AKA I Know What Zack Morris Did Last Summer).
Now, as a point of clarification, White Wolves: A Cry in the Wild II was only a loose sequel to A Cry in the Wild, the 1990 adaptation of Gary Paulsen's book, Hatchet, about a teenage boy left to fend for himself in the Canadian wilderness. White Wolves pretty much only took two ideas from its predecessor: the idea of teenagers forced to hone their natural survival instincts after being stranded in the wild, and the mystical white wolf of legend that always showed up to save the day. (One older character alludes to being saved by the white wolf himself as a child, suggesting that either he's the kid from A Cry in the Wild, or he had the exact same thing happen to him. Not that it matters.)
Beyond those similarities, White Wolves took on a formula of its own -- tame family friendly nature adventure populated by attractive teen stars -- and went on to spawn two additional sequels: White Wolves II: Legend of the Wild (1995) and White Wolves III: Cry of the White Wolf (2000). But honestly, folks, who are we kidding? The one with the beefed-up Mark-Paul Gosselaar was the best. (Fun fact: the entire White Wolves franchise was produced by Roger and Julie Corman's Concorde Pictures.)
To give you an idea of what sort of Mark-Paul Gosselaar we're dealing with, think "Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style" rather than "Good Morning, Miss Bliss." Shot presumably during Gosselaar's break between the spring finale of "Saved by the Bell" and the fall debut of "Saved by the Bell: The College Years," White Wolves found the then-19-year-old Gosselaar in, ahem, fine athletic form.
Gosselaar played Scott James, the hot-tempered jock in a group of five teens embarking on a fun-filled two-week school trip to Oregon's Cascade Mountains. Reduced to their Breakfast Club types, Scott (Gosselaar) is the athlete, Cara (Ami Dolenz) is the princess, Adam (Newsies' David Moscow) is the brain, and Benny (Marc Riffon) is the criminal. The unfortunately-named fifth kid, Pandra (Amy O'Neill, AKA the sister from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) isn't so much a basket case as she is just plain awkward. Rounding out the wilderness group is the teacher/guide Mr. B (Matt McCoy, of Police Academy 5 and 6), a survival expert and the kids' protector -- that is, until he takes a dive off of a cliff to save Adam from idiotically falling over the edge himself.
Mr. B's fall sets the true drama of White Wolves in motion, as the bickering, scared teenagers dig deep to survive, make their way down a mountain to save their teacher, and help him to safety. A lot of hiking, river rafting, arguing atop craggy mountains, screaming about bears, and running from bears ensues -- as does the gruesome setting of a broken bone and the meeting of Gosselaar's fist to David Moscow's face. What else is a beefy jock to do when his outdoorsy mentor falls thousands of feet to his certain doom? Yes, you must beat the crap out of the nerd who caused the accident. If only to make amends and get closer to said nerd later in your arc.
Maybe we were supposed to crush on Adam's whiny jokester, or for Benny's sensitive juvenile delinquent. Despite the Daytime Emmy award that White Wolves won writer-director Catherine Cyran, character writing was, shall we say, not the strongest. If you saw White Wolves it was probably on VHS or in its repeat Disney Channel airings. Either way, in catching it multiple times, 12-year-old me got swept up in the family-friendly teen action and dug Gosselaar's brawny, All-American alpha male vibe. For whatever reasons, though, I never developed a fondness for the great outdoors. You wouldn't either, if every movie you watched about camping was about kids getting lost in the wilderness and running from terrifying bear attacks.
After growing up on "Saved by the Bell," which saw him transform literally from 90 lb. wisecracker to hunky college kid in the span of six or so years, Gosselaar seemed in search of a role that'd transition him into adulthood. (The year after White Wolves, Gosselaar's Zack Morris married Kelly Kapowski in Vegas. By 1996, he was date raping Candace Cameron in the TV movie She Cried No.) In that context, White Wolves was a decent next project for Gosselaar, a film that allowed him to be sporty (as Gosselaarites know the actor to be) and exercise more dramatic chops than even the most very special episode of "Saved by the Bell" could offer.
If you've never had the pleasure of watching White Wolves: A Cry in the Wild II, hunt it down on Netflix and transport yourself back to 1993. Or just watch the amazing, thrilling, heart-pounding, river-rafting, bone-snapping, face-punching, wolf-licking, CPR-administering, corny narration-having trailer below. "We did everything right! EVERYTHIIIIIING!!"