Director: Chris Sanders
Starring: Harrison Ford, Terry Notary, Omar Sy, Cara Gee, Dan Stevens, Bradley Whitford, Karen Gillan, Jean Louisa Kelly
Written by: Michael Green and (based on the novel) Jack London
Running Time: 100 mins
Release date: 19th February 2020
The current trend in cinemas at the moment is turning to classic novels to adapt. In recent months we have had David Copperfield and last week, Emma. Now we have The Call Of The Wild, based on the Jack London story which is seen from a dog named Buck. In the past, the dogs have been real, and there have been calls about cruelty. This time, however, the animals have been created using realistic photo capturing as used in the likes of The Lion King and The Jungle Book. Does it detract from the classic adventure?
Buck is a large, clumsy dog belonging to a small-town judge. After trashing a party, Buck is left outside the house, only to be taken by dog thieves. Buck finds himself sold to a cross terrain post service for those in the Yukon hoping to find gold. After learning to be a sledge dog, Buck finds a connection with a weary old prospector called John, and Buck finds his call of the wild.
Chris Sanders’ film keeps faithful to London’s story, telling the film from Buck’s point of view. Initially, it takes a few minutes to get used to the CGI dog, and there are moments when it acts far too human to be realistic. Sanders sticks with it, and after a while, you warm to the animal as if it was real. Unlike The Lion King, it was the right decision not to give Buck and the other animals human voices.
As you would expect, the scenery almost becomes the star of the film, with the glorious snowbound backdrop making you feel there on the dog’s epic journey. The transitions from each of Buck’s new owners are smoothly played out and make natural sense. Sometimes in previous movies, the introductions of new characters have been a little jarring. The film is a rip-roaring, old-fashioned adventure with decent set pieces and moves along at a terrific pace. At a swift 100 minutes, it never once outstays its welcome.
Buck is the pivot to the whole film. Get the dog right, and everything else is secondary. Using an expert in animal characteristics helps, in the form of motion capture expert Terry Notary. Taking on the role of Buck, he brings an almost human quality about him while still keeping the dog elements. Once you have got over the first few scenes where Buck could have been ripped from a Tom and Jerry cartoon with its behaviour, the dog has plenty of personalities to care.
The humans are almost secondary, nay, third to the CGI and the scenery. Harrison Ford is ideally suited as John, the man who is suffering from grief, finding solace in his loneliness yet discovering an unlikely friend in the dog, making him long for a new adventure. Dan Stevens is utterly nasty as the wealthy prospector who is after John for embarrassing him.
The Call of the Wild is a decent adventure for all the family. Those fearful of dogs being mistreated can rest assure that no animals were harmed in the making. Perfectly fine for a half-term audience wanting something undemanding and a little bit exciting.
(N.B: This is the first film from the now Disney owned 20th Century Studios. The Fox has gone).