“Disney’s The Call of the Wild is a PG sanitized version of something better.”
The Call of the Wild should be a movie that we are talking about during awards season. The book is a classic and lends itself to some incredible action and powerful moments. With Harrison Ford anchoring the cast we should be talking about a PG-13 adaptation that is part The Revenant, part The Edge, a dash of Homeward Bound, and a touch of Dances with Wolves. I’m serious. The source material is there. That is why I am pretty disappointed to report that this is a PG sanitized version of The Call of the Wild that goes through the motions of any typical Disney movie featuring animals. There isn’t enough here to intrigue adults and there isn’t enough here to hold young children’s attention. What we are left with is a weird purgatory of a movie where no one can walk out entirely pleased.
If you don’t know the story of The Call of the Wild, it follows a dog named Buck and his adventures after being kidnapped from his home in California. Buck is a huge, strong dog and he finds himself owned by a few masters before one day he refuses to cross-ice as a lead sled dog. Thorton (Harrison Ford) watches Buck’s owners beat him for not crossing then leave him behind. Buck’s former owners don’t make it across the ice and Thorton nurses Buck back to health. From there Thorton and Buck form a close bond and head to the Yukon together where they encounter all the dangers you can imagine. The movie avoids certain dangers that could be problematic in 2020, namely Native Americans and focuses on CGI animals.
The main issue I have with this movie is the choice to make Buck a CGI dog. Why couldn’t you train a dog? Seriously, the CGI isn’t very good and it is cartoony on a regular basis to the point of distraction. I understand that special effects have to be used so real dogs aren’t put in danger but Disney just released TOGO on Disney plus about a sled dog and it starred a real-life dog. I felt connected to Togo in a way that I never felt for Buck because I could see Togo was real. Buck was more Marmaduke or Scooby-Doo at times and it really cut the tension from the film. If Halle Berry can fight an army of assassins with 2 dogs and Togo can be played by an actual sled dog why can’t they find a real dog to play Buck? Also, I understand that budgets mean everything these days but after The Lion King and Life of Pi, the studio could’ve dumped a few million more into the CGI budget and at least rendered a better-looking dog.
What you are left with because of the choice to make this movie PG and use CGI for the animals is a movie that feels like you are watching Harrison Ford interact with a green tennis ball. I’m sure they used a real dog and painted over it with CGI but Harrison Ford seemed out of place in this movie because of the situations he was put in. This is Han Solo and Indiana Jones! We should have zero issues with him as an explorer in the Yukon but alas they don’t give him enough to work with and what he does work with feels out of place at all times. In fact, one of the major action scenes feels like a video game cut scene.
In the end, I can’t do anything but waffle on this movie. It is not good, it is certainly not bad. It is definitely a missed opportunity. I don’t know if when it is released on streaming that the flaws in CGI will be less glaring but on the big screen last night they distracted me to no end. One day somebody will make a worthy adaptation of The Call of the Wild and I promise you that if it is done right and follows the book it will be talked about for years. For now, if you are looking for a PG adventure with a dog just stream Togo, Togo is far from perfect but its better than this!