The Call of the Wild, 2020.
Directed by Chris Sanders.
Starring Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Dan Stevens, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Cara Gee, and Terry Notary as Buck.
Based on Jack London’s 1903 adventure novel, The Call of the Wild charts the remarkable journey through the Alaskan Yukons for an intrepid dog and the numerous companions he makes along the way.
There’s a moment during this pure-of-heart fable in which Buck, the hyperactive pain-in-the-ass dog at the centre of the story, is introduced to his pack, with whom he’ll be pulling a mail sled around the treacherous Alaskan snowscape for the majority of the film. They’re a disparate collection of breeds, and each offers up their own reaction to meeting Buck, which manifests in the kind of facial expressions that The Lion King remake couldn’t compute: there’s enthusiasm, excitement, disdain, disinterest, and boredom. Their reactions mirror those you’ll experience while taking this old-fashioned Disneyfied journey towards a finale that’ll full-on boot you right in the feels.
The first thing you’ll need to get your head around is Buck. He’s a fully CG creation who looks as though he’s a cross-breed between something that fell off one of the back carriages on The Polar Express, and Beethoven. Initially it’s as jarring as when an oversized dog jumps up at you uninvited, but then much like those encounters, you soon warm to the experience. He’s not really photo-realistic, and sometimes his scale against his human counterparts seems to fluctuate, but because he’s imbued with a personality, albeit at times quite a testing one, you accept this strange creation as your protagonist.
Buck’s human counterparts are a mixed bag: Dan Stevens turns up as a mustache twirling bad-guy, and as charming and charismatic as Omar Sy is, his fortune-cookie dialogue, while well-meaning, becomes quite tedious.
The Call of the Wild finds its path when Harrison Ford’s own crosses that of Buck’s. He arrives properly about an hour into proceedings, which up to that point have been enjoyably silly, but his effortless film star charisma brings a weight to the film. He’s so watchable that you don’t even need the presence of Buck for his arc to work. However, there’s enough chemistry between the two to make the emotional beats land hard towards the end, and for you to forgive the fact that everyone has conversations with Buck as if he can fully comprehend what they’re saying. So-much-so that you half expect Will Arnett’s voice to come out of the dog. In all seriousness, there’s a scene in which Omar Sy explains the ramifications the impending introduction of the telegram will have on the postal business TO A DOG!
Yet the whole thing is executed with a days-of-yore charm that washes away any cynicism you might have towards a film that the pups in the audience will no doubt love.
On which, there are a few sequences that might prove to be too frightening for younger viewers. A scene set against the backdrop of an Aurora, in which Buck fights a husky dog who challenges his dominance, is stunningly rendered, but also BBC nature documentary brutal in execution.
The Call of the Wild is more Scooby-Doo and Shaggy than The Incredible Journey, but it’s overriding sense of good-natured joy, plus a grizzled Harrison Ford, carry it through the rougher waters towards becoming a gentle, feel-good recommendation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt