While the most recent adaptation of The Call of the Wild to the big screen lacks the grit of Jack London’s classic novel, it maintains the moral of the story: that both good and evil exists in the world and that we all have primitive and civilized characteristics within ourselves.
The Call of the Wild is a heartwarming journey between man and dog.
Buck is an unrestrainedly energetic dog who lives with the judge of a California town. When he is kidnapped and sold in the Yukon, set against the backdrop of the 1890s goldrush, Buck embarks on a series of adventures where he meets a variety of characters, some cruel and some compassionate, to eventually discover his inner “call of the wild”.
The film is roughly broken up into two acts: the first following Buck as part of a mail delivery dog sled team and the second befriending John Thornton, played by a grizzled Harrison Ford (who also offers his voice as a narrator).
Before Thornton is his master, Buck is led by Perrault, a French postal carrier charmingly played by Omar Sy. In this chapter of Buck’s journey, he first recognizes his inner “call of the wild” and the power it grants him. Buck may stumble out of the gates, but he eventually learns to work as a team under the guise of a patient and faithful Perrault. It is in this piece of Buck’s story where the film’s heavy use of CGI becomes advantageous; scenes of Buck diving into freezing water to save Perrault’s partner in crime, played by Cara Gee, or where he concludes a fight with another dog by WWE body slamming it into the snow, produce this heroic sense to Buck’s character. I really enjoyed his time as part of the dog sled team, if not the stronger half of the film it was certainly the more exciting.
Unfortunately, after a run of successful deliveries, Perrault’s postal route is cancelled and he is forced to sell the dog sled team, including Buck. Buck and the dogs are later purchased by the film’s antagonists, a group of gold miners led by a cruel leader, Hal, played by Dan Stevens (Karen Gillan also has a tiny role here). It isn’t long before Hal and his crew have run the dogs into the ground with their heavy load of gear and not even Buck can keep up. In swoops John Thornton to the rescue, sharply criticizing Hal for his treatment of the dogs and unleashing Buck – sadly, he cannot take the rest of the dogs with him. From this point on, Buck and John remain side by side, traveling deep into the wilderness and finding themselves in the vast beauty of Mother Nature.
Harrison Ford is one of the obvious highlights of The Call of the Wild; he plays a character who battles grief and alcoholism, and recovers through Buck’s presence. For all the flack he catches for frequently appearing disinterested in his roles, Ford seems genuinely invested as Thornton. It is during the development of the mutually beneficial relationship between John and Buck, whether that be through the act of Buck burying John’s bottle of liquor in the snow, or John allowing Buck to sloppily play his harmonica, that the film truly establishes itself as a feel-good dog movie. However, this is also where the film begins to slow down.
I liked The Call of the Wild and I believe anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or doesn’t know how to enjoy a movie simply for what it is. If the obviously noticeable CGI use for every animal in the film is a concern, allow me to allay that concern and say while it takes a minute to become adjusted to, it never distracts or detracts from the story. Had a real dog been used, this version of The Call of the Wild may have had more of the edge that was present in the novel, but contemplating what-ifs is none of my concern.
If you’re looking for a sappily enjoyable dog movie, look no further than 2020’s edition of The Call of the Wild. 8/10