“Call of the Wild” opens Friday nationwide from 20th Century Studios. The film is an adaptation of Jack London’s tale of struggle, friendship and riches during the Klondike Gold Rush of the nineteenth century. In addition to the CGI dog, Buck, the film stars Harrison Ford in the role of recluse John Thornton, Omar Sy and Cara Gee as sled driving mail carriers, and features Bradley Whitford as the put upon owner of Buck in the film’s beginning. Though heavy on CGI and light on plot, “Call of the Wild” is a nice movie that fills the January through March lull and tugs on the heartstrings of nature lovers and dog lovers alike.
The film opens on the life of Buck, a spot of chaos in the pristine life of the town Judge. After being banished to the porch for the evening, Buck is abducted by dognappers looking to profit off of the need for sled dogs up north. Buck is bought by Francois and Perrault, mail carriers preparing to drive their sled 500 miles to the gateway to the Yukon. After a rough adjustment, Buck begins to return to his genetic roots, taking on the role of leader in the sled pack. The pack is sold to inexperienced gold hunters at the end of the route. As conditions worsen, the sled is intercepted by John Thornton who rescues Buck, making an enemy of the gold hunter before embarking on a journey into the wild regions off the map.
In the lead up to the film, I had doubts about the CGI quality of the film, particularly of Buck, but I was pleasantly surprised. At first, it’s a little rough, but after the first scenes it’s easy to forget that the main character is computer generated. The scenes of nature mostly filled in through digital means are essentially flawless and the animals aside from Buck are more believable.
The movie is pretty thin on plot, particularly since the film is rated PG, meaning a lot of the book’s action scenes involving some more disturbing scenes of violence against animals are omitted. Buck’s hero’s journey is a bit more metaphorical, as his quest is to rediscover his instincts from a time before domestication. Likewise, the drama of John’s story is mostly in the past, and his anguish is told through letters and voice overs.
While most of the year is crowded with big budget action movies, and social thrillers, it’s nice to enjoy a low stakes movie with some nice scenery, a heroic dog and a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. “Call of the Wild” delivers on all of that, plus some cute little puppies.