Published on February 19th, 2020 | by Michael Newman0
Call Of The Wild
I’ll be honest, while Call of The Wild is typically one of those books that are required reading for a lot of classroom kids, I never had the opportunity to do so. It’s not that it wasn’t something that interested me, it just happened to be that the classes I was in chose other authors and books to focus on. So, while I was excited to see the Fox Studios rendition of the beloved children’s novel, I really had very little frame of reference when doing so. So as much as I’d like to compare and contrast the differences between the book and the movie, I simply have to focus on how it stands on its own as a film, versus how it compares to the novel. Granted, the movie has now piqued my interest enough to dive into the classic after all this time, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Call of the Wild’s main character is a CGI created dog by the name of Buck. Buck has grown up spoiled in the California sun, under the watchful eye of his “master” the town Judge, Judge Miller. Rumors of fame and fortune are coming out of the Yukon, where gold can be found if you are willing to brave the bitter cold and harsh conditions to acquire it. The need for dogs, particularly large strong dogs, fetch a hefty price to pull the sleds needed to venture into the deepest parts of the Yukon. Buck is unwittingly captured and sold to a pair of French-Canadian postmen Perrault (Omar Sy) and Françoise (Cara Gee). Unfamiliar with snow and how a sled dog team works, Buck is forced to learn the hard way, sleeping in the bitter cold under the stars and evolving into a pack leader that he was always meant to be. In a series of unfortunate events Buck becomes friends with John Thornton, a man who is desperately searching for himself, and the two go on a grand adventure to uncover what lies beyond the maps present to this day.
After viewing the previews, I had mixed feelings about the choice to utilize CGI animals in place of real animals in the filming of the movie. Animals, and dogs in particular, have been starring in feature films since the dawn of cinema. Lassie, Benji, and a slew of others have held their own in roles as main characters and done so brilliantly. My feelings toward the use of CGI pleasantly faded though, when Buck burst out onto the screen. Unlike the uncanny valley of recent CGI featured films (The Lion King/CATS), Buck brings character, humor and suspends the disbelief between real and Memorex. The use of CGI for animal portrayal has come a long way since they were used in films such as the original Jumanji, and at times my mind struggled to comprehend the difference. The many emotions and subtle gestures would have been difficult (if not impossible) for an actual K-9, so the choice here seems to have been the correct one.
The acting is superb, while obviously Buck is the focus of the film, he is surrounded by an excellent cast. Harrison Ford brings his rugged, Indiana Jones persona to the screen brilliantly. Omar Sy and Cara Gee bring a believability to the roles of postmen/women in the untamed North and bring both humor and compassion in a movie that at times certainly needs it. Dan Stevens does a magnificent job as the villain Hal, who has no problem turning the entire audience (and film characters) against him immediately. The film has been cast perfectly, even when the main character is a CGI dog that wasn’t even there doing the filming.
While the movie is based on a beloved book, and is clearly directed at children, I thought a word of caution would be wise. The movie contains a number of fairly violent acts against both other people and animals (even if they are CGI). There are a number of very intense and scary moments that younger children will likely have issues with. During the screening there were a few kids that had to be taken from the theater because they were crying almost uncontrollably. Buck’s journey is difficult and the filmmakers ensure that the audience understands exactly how difficult it is. While Old Yeller may have been the movie that made children cry back in my day, Call of the Wild has multiple events throughout that might be particularly disturbing for kids (and parents) who come unprepared. It’s a fantastic movie and certainly meant for the family to enjoy, just be aware that it might be a bit to much for younger kids to handle.
Call of the wild is an amazing adventure, with scenery that is both awe inspiring and terrifying at the same time. It’s a triumphant film that harkens back to the days of the very earliest of Disney movies. While I haven’t read the book, I can safely say that if you are a fan of it, you will be a fan of this movie. If cruelty to animals (even CGI ones) is something that bothers you, you will certainly want to prepare yourself before attending.
4 out of 5 stars