The Call of the Wild is a G-rated, fun, family-adventure film masquerading as a PG.
All movies that have dogs in them, real, digitally created, or both, should be graded on a curve. Consciously or unconsciously, but I’ve come to realize I’m fully aware by the end of a film with a beautiful pooch it’s going to win me over like a Great Dane who thinks he’s a lap dog no larger than a short-haired Jack Russell. For every film like Disney+’s Togo or The Art of Racing in the Rain, you get a series of films adapted from W. Bruce Cameron. (A Dog’s Way Home, A Dog’s Journey, each I completely sold out my standards and mildly warmed up to). The Call of the Wild falls into the latter category, a G-rated picture masquerading as a PG that slowly wins you over as a fun, family adventure film where all our furry friends are digitally created.
Harrison Ford stars, kind of, in the latest film version of The Call of the Wild, and it takes about halfway through Chris Sanders’s first semi-human cast production. If you think about it, it’s a very tough ask for the veteran animated director of such contemporary classic films like Lilo & Stitch, How To Train Your Dragon, and The Croods to seamlessly combine real-life actors with CGI creations. It’s quite distracting at first, and with The Lion King coming out last summer, it made our hero, Buck, even more noticeably artificial; that being said, at least in this film, all the characters can emote.
The Call of the Wild is light on depth and you shouldn’t expect much more beneath the surface of analyzing the original source material’s take on loyalty and love that is as pure as the freshly fallen snow versus the greedy, vain, uninformed types that think they can tackle the great white north with entitlement and daddy’s money. The villains here are one-note, and leading the charge is The Beauty and the Beast‘s Dan Stevens, whose performance is so overblown that you may think his head might pop at any second. Along with him is Karen Gillan, who is strangely absent after less than five minutes of screen time, and I would estimate less than a minute of speaking lines. I can’t help but wonder if there are a few deleted scenes with her considering her resume in Marvel’s films.
I found Ford’s crustier than a normal performance endearing and heartfelt, even if we don’t get much of his backstory treatment. The film focuses mostly on Buck, the 140-pound St. Bernard–Scotch Collie, and the film’s eyebrow-raising CGI that you slowly get used to but never fully forget. Though, if you give yourself over to it, Buck grows on you, and even more so when Ford’s Thornton takes over the second half of the picture.
Still, it’s hard to knock a film that serves up our beloved Buck chasing a beautiful grey wolf and creating a half-dozen or so “Buck-wolves” in the process. It does serve its purpose as a fun, family-adventure picture that’s in short supply nowadays. It’s worth a rental or seeking out in theaters if you want to treat your kids to a show, are a fan of Ford’s, or enjoy the genre.
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