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Review: Harrison Ford and CGI Star in “The Call of the Wild”

The Call of the Wild, starring a gruff and grizzled Harrison Ford and a marvel of a CGI dog, is the latest iteration of the beloved 1903 classic novel by Jack London. Set in the Canadian Yukon during the 1890s Gold Rush, this live-action/animation hybrid adventure is at times thrilling, at times tender, and speaks to all of us looking to find exactly where we fit in.

The Call of the Wild
Harrison Ford and Buck, stars of The Call of Wild

If by chance you have not read the book, it’s the tale of Buck, a noble, if somewhat awkward St. Bernard/Scotch Collie, who finds himself torn from his cozy home and thrust into an unfamiliar and sometimes cruel world. His adventures in the wilderness change him as he finds his true nature and answers “The Call of the Wild.”

Although the film veers occasionally from the London novel, and waters down some more unsavory aspects of the century-plus old book, most of the main plot points remain.

Buck’s safe and happy existence is upended when he is kidnapped and sold into service in the Yukon. There he experiences hardship at the hands of men indifferent to his considerable charms and sweet nature.

Fortunately, life improves when he becomes a sled dog for Perrault (French actor Omar Sy) and his companion Francoise (Cara Gee). They and their team of dogs deliver the mail in the frozen tundra, facing an array of perilous situations, among them ice-covered lakes and avalanches. After a few false starts, Buck discovers that he excels in this new environment, and also learns the pros — and cons — of belonging to a pack.

Buck crosses paths a number of times with down-on-his-luck prospector John Thornton (Ford) before the two join forces and form a special bond that allows both characters to grow and heal emotionally and physically.

Without spoiling too much more of the story, suffice to say that Buck gains confidence in himself as he deals with the many challenges he encounters. He begins to rely more on his instincts and natural abilities as he learns to lead and take charge of his own destiny. And unlike many Disney films that feature canine heroes (Old Yeller, I’m looking at you!), Buck’s story has a positive, even uplifting ending.

Under the direction of Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch), the film’s thrills, suspense and breathtaking scenery are compelling. And speaking of the scenery, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List) manages to create such amazing arctic landscapes that you may be surprised to discover that the movie was not filmed on location — the scenery is all CGI.

Ford provides the narration of the early scenes, and although his voice is gruff, you can also feel its warmth and take comfort in its familiarity. When he eventually takes his place on-screen, it’s a welcome presence that makes the film feel even more purposeful.

The canine star of the film is as realistic as a computer-generated dog can be. At times, his CGI-ness is apparent and makes him seem a bit unnatural, but at others you will be amazed at just how much Buck seems to be a real dog. His motion-captured movements were created by Terry Notary, the same former Cirque du Soleil performer who worked as a movement coach on the recent Planet of the Apes films.

Joining Ford in the human cast are Dan Stevens (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Downton Abbey) cast against type as a villain, Karen Gillan (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy), and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) as Buck’s kindly original owner.

The Call of the WildThe Call of the Wild now available on digital; DVD coming May 12.

Rated PG, the film does have some violence, but most of it is more implied than seen on the screen (save for one scene featuring an unlucky bunny). The film does a good job of staying suitable for a younger audience — maybe 9 years old and up — tempering its less attractive moments with messages of compassion and positivity.

In general, this version of The Call of the Wild is a family-friendly adaptation that may well be just the right slice of entertainment that you and your family are looking for during these long lockdown days and nights.

The Call of the Wild is available for digital download now on Movies Anywhere™. It will be available for purchase on 4K UHD, Blu-rayTM and DVD next month, on May 12.

Feature Run Time:
Approximately 99 minutes


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Deb Koma

Deb Koma is a Northern Virginia-based freelance writer and editor who has specialized in writing about all sorts of Disney things for more than 20 years.

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