Film Review: The Call Of The Wild
Director: Chris Sanders
Cast: Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Colin Woodell
Running Time: 100
Australian Distributor: Walt Disney Studio
The Call of the Wild, Jack London’s 1903 novel about a dog’s adventures in the Yukon, has already been adapted to the screen five times. This, the first 21st century adaptation, comes from animation director Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon) and marks his first time working with a live-action cast. The film itself is packed with computer animation: many of the backgrounds are digitally created, as well as all of the animal characters including the protagonist Buck. It is, in effect, less of a live-action feature and more of an animated film with live actors incorporated into it.
It’s the story of Buck, a big-hearted dog whose blissful domestic life is turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Alaskan Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail delivery dog sled team–and later its leader–Buck experiences the adventure of a lifetime, ultimately finding his true place in the world and becoming his own master.
The screenplay by Michael Green starts with John Thornton (Harrison Ford), a prospector, talking to the audience via voice-over narration which recurs throughout the film. Other than one brief scenes, Thornton himself doesn’t show up with Buck until much later, so the first half hour or so will leave audiences anticipating the moment when the two will finally meet.
Until then, the narrative follows Buck as he goes from owner to owner while providing some exposition about the main villain, Hal (Dan Stevens), and his intentions regarding Buck.
Once Buck meets Thornton, though, that’s when The Call of the Wild‘s emotional resonance begins to truly soar. Dogs, after all, are man’s best friend, so it’s moving to watch how the two of them befriend each other. Harrison Ford gives one of his best performances in years, and it’s a pleasure to watch him interacting with Buck. Since Buck and Thornton’s bond of friendship feels so palpable, the beats during the third act tug at your heartstrings do successfully land without feeling contrived.
When it comes to the use of CGI animation, you’ll be amazed at home photo-realistic Buck looks despite being all CGI.
Another element of the film that stands out, though, is the breathtaking scenery. The film’s landscape becomes a character in itself, so to fully witness the majestic quality of nature, it would be ideal to watch this on the big screen.
The pace moves briskly without any scenes that drag, and the running time is only 100 minutes. The Call of the Wild is the kind of inspiring family film we haven’t seen for a long time. It’s not afraid to be sincere, and once you get your head in the right place to appreciate that (and accept the CGI animals) it will sweep you up in a beautiful adventure.
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