The call of the Wild was a novel by Jack London originally published over a century ago. There has been no shortage of movie adaptations over the following decades but it was impossible for the earlier films to convey the emotions of the canine protagonist, Buck. Can modern CGI technology and the acting chops of Harrison Ford deliver the spirit of the classic tale? Yes… and no.
But mostly yes.
If you are unfamiliar with The Call of the Wild, it is the story of a massive dog named Buck who lives in the southern United States. He enjoys a carefree existence even if his antics cause havoc for his owners and everybody else who lives in the area. After causing a particularly costly disaster, Buck is forced to sleep outside of the house and he is subsequently lured away so he can be sold up north.
Buck is shipped to Alaska where working dogs are in high demand during the Yukon Gold Rush. After a couple of stints as a sled dog Buck falls in with John Thornton (Harrison Ford), a man who has come to Alaska to escape the tragedy of losing his son. The two embark on a quest to what they believe is an unexplored region of Alaska. During the journey Buck begins to explore what it is like to live as a wil creature free from the influence of humans.
Harrison Ford may have top billing but the story arc in The Call of the Wild belongs to Buck. He experiences the best and worst of humanity and his later experiences in the wilderness contribute to his growth as a character. I am grateful that the director did not try to give Buck the ability to speak or shoehorn some explosions or resort to the other ninsensical Hollywood tropes we often see in modern films. There were a few liberties taken with the script but the story is still very much in keeping with the book.
Trigger warning: : The movie does have a couple of scenes that will be upsetting to animal lovers. This includes a moment where a man beats a dog with a club. These scenes are not graphic though and ultimately contribute to the message that the story conveys. With that said, these scenes can be painful to watch.
Buck carries the film almost entirely through body language and facial expressions. It is a remarkable bit of CGI work as the way Buck and the other dogs move is very convincing. The human performers are no slouches either. Harrison Ford is not generally known for tragic characters but he sells his performance as a man who resorts to alcohol to escape his personal demons. Surprisingly, the main antagonist in The Call of the Wild doesn’t chew up the scenery too badly.
The Call of the Wild is a film that makes heavy use of CGI but it doesn’t bother me too much. The depictions of the Alaskan wilderness are beautifully detailed with shots of the Northern Lights, wild animals moving about the scenery and varied environments from waterfalls to forests and massive peaks. Never have I experienced scenes of dog teams pulling a sled that are as thrilling and dynamic as in this film. You feel the sense of speed as Buck and his team race to escape an avalanche.
While there are a couple of scenes that will likely upset aninmal lovers, The Call of the Wild is a fun family film with a message that is not overly preachy or self righteous. Buck is incredibly charming as a once mischievous dog who rises up to take his place in the wilderness.