The Call of the Wild

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Call of the Wild
dir Chris Sanders
scr Michael Green
prd Erwin Stoff
with Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Dan Stevens, Cara Gee, Bradley Whitford, Karen Gillan, Colin Woodell, Michael Horse, Micah Fitzgerald, Wes Brown, Stephanie Czajkowski, Terry Notary
release US/UK 21.Feb.20
20/US 20th Century 1h40

sy stevens gillan

ford and buck
Jack London's 1903 novel is turned into a Disney adventure, complete with an animated dog in the central role. It's also over-produced and badly over-egged to target children. Youngsters will enjoy this scrappy canine odyssey, which is packed with moments that are thrilling, emotional and silly. They won't care about the uncanny effects, and they probably won't notice that the human cast is actually rather good.
In late-1890s California, enthusiastic pooch Buck (performance-captured Notary) is stolen and taken to rural Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. Bought by Perrault and Francois (Sy and Gee), joins their postal-delivery sled team, rising to alpha-dog. When Perrault and Francois are transferred, Buck's team is sold to arrogant treasure-seeker Hal (Stevens) and his spoiled sister and brother-in-law (Gillan and Woodell), who haven't a clue how to care for sled dogs. And when Buck is rescued by grieving old hermit John (Ford), he begins to discover his ancestral instincts as well as a hot she-wolf.
The film has such a cartoonish sheen that even expansive landscape shots look like paintings. Meanwhile, the story has been stripped to its essentials, removing actual nastiness even though Buck's experience sometimes turns violent. John's character is threaded in to provide human connectivity for the audience, including a voiceover that narrates Buck's experiences from an impossible perspective. None of this adds to the story, but it makes the movie easy to watch, especially as it cycles through comical and emotional moments.

Buck is a likeable dog, even if he never looks remotely real with that over-expressive face and odd juxtaposition within scenes. But he's impossible to resist, especially as he connects with Ford, Sy and Gee, each of whom adds terrific oomph to their scenes with him. Stevens has fun as the dastardly dandy determined to wreak revenge on Buck for some idiotic reason. Other characters amiably flit across the background; an animated bear has a larger role than Whitford or Gillan.

Veteran animation director Sanders goes out of his way to create an enjoyable family-friendly adventure. Aside from the greedy gold-hunters and cruel dog-beaters, there aren't many thematic elements here. And thankfully screenwriter Green altered London's treatment of the local indigenous people. Instead, the story centres on Buck's journey from being a pampered puppy who unleashes chaos on a family dinner to discovering his inner untamed wolf. This is nicely handled with a light touch in the script, and will probably encourage kids (and some grownups) to howl at the moon.

cert pg themes, violence 16.Feb.20

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