Friday, February 21, 2020

The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild, adapted from the Jack London novel of the same name, follows the journey of a St. Bernard/Scotch Collie named Buck who ends up in the Yukon as a sled dog after being stolen from his owner (Bradley Whitford) and sold north. The CGI-enhanced mutt is the main character of the film, while making friends (Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Cara Gee) and enemies (Dan Stevens) along the way with both men and dogs. CGI is used on Buck to enhance the pooch's emotions. The effect works in most cases, but there are scenes where it does feel a little disturbing.

Adapted by screenwriter Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049, Green Lantern), the straightforward tale of a heroic dog offers an earnest family-friendly film. I will admit I found both Buck and his journey more enjoyable than I expected. Buck is easy to root while the rest of the film's characters are mostly cast in simple terms as good, evil, or indifferent. Released by the rebranded 20th Century Studios (renamed after Disney acquired Fox), the movie will no doubt play for years on Disney+ making a suitable companion piece to something like Eight Below or any one of the various Benji films.

Green and director Chris Sanders do make some changes to the source material both in enlarging the role of Stevens' character and to tone down some of the more traumatic and bloody moments Buck survives (and, in the novel, causes). Instead the script embellishes Buck's willful, but kind-hearted, nature which often leads him in trouble. The simple Northern town we see reused during Buck's time as a sled dog on the mail runs reminded me of the old western sets thrown together quickly by studios for any number of films which were just as quickly torn down, adding a bit of extra nostalgia that fit well with the film's themes. Despite being a film now owned by Disney, neither Buck nor any other animals are given a voice in the film, although narration is used to explain the dog's thoughts at times and foreshadow events in the movie's final act.

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