The Call of the Wild Review
What makes a good family film? I don’t have all the answers, but a very cute dog and a scruffy Harrison Ford certainly help making your film appealing to families around the globe. Both are universally recognised as signs of an entertaining film and that’s exactly what The Call of the Wild is.
It’s the classic Jack London story of a dog who is robbed of his comfortable life and sent to the wilderness as a sled dog in the midst of the gold rush. Buck, the dog in question, is all CGI this time around and while that seems like a terrible idea, it doesn’t get in the way of the story and the overall enjoyment of the film too much.
Harrison Ford plays old man John Thornton who has retreated up the mountain to grieve the death of his young son. John encounters Buck a few times before setting out on an adventure with the dog to find something better for the both of them. The Call of the Wild is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve so obviously, it’s hard to resist its powers. Buck’s journey from a spoilt house dog to a magnificent, honourable beast will always be an engaging one and ripe for the big screen treatment. This is really a coming-of-age film, but for canines.
The all-CGI animals are possibly the film’s biggest obstacle it must overcome to win audiences over. Buck, as are all the other animals, is glaringly obviously not real, although there’s a certain beauty in the details of his fur and the way it curls and waves ever so slightly. While the film mostly sticks to close ups with Buck and whichever human acts as his master, few shots where Ford must look at Buck are a little wonky as the eye-line is all off.
The structure and pacing is also ever so slightly off. After a winning first hour or so, Dan Stevens and Karen Gillan show up in full camp mode and drag the film down with them. It’s a sequence which constantly feels out of place and once Ford claims Buck for himself, and the pair head out on their big adventure, it once again feels like a whole new narrative with a three-act structure, stuffed into another film.
Despite all of this, however, The Call of the Wild is compelling and delightful. It nails Buck’s fun and sweet nature and there’s something oddly satisfying about seeing a dog find its true place in the world and, I guess, its identity too. The connections Buck makes with the humans that are kind to him feel real and lifelike. Buck’s first new owner is Perrault (Omar Sy), a mail man with a sled of dogs and this storyline is the best part of the film and while nothing can quite match it in excitement, it gets pretty close. Sy's Perrault creates some wonderful comedic bits and a real desperation when tragedy threatens to strike.
This may be what makes this particular adaptation so decent. It treats Buck’s story with conviction and a seriousness even if it sprinkles humour throughout its narrative to keep things relatively light. While some of the humans treat Buck like throwaway goods, the film never does. It places value on Buck’s journey and on the effect he has on the humans he encounters. It makes the film feels especially earnest and isn’t that what ultimately makes a good family film?
The Call of the Wild opens nationwide in UK cinemas on February 19.