The Call of the Wild
Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Gillan, Dan Stevens, Bradley Whitford, Omar Sy
Since 1923 Hollywood has been relentlessly turning out a new version of Jack London’s story about a California dog who becomes an Alaskan sled dog, every few years. Live action, animated, feature films and TV Movies. It’s a long list. The two most widely seen versions were the 1992 Made for Television (CBS Films) movie starring Rick Schroder and the 1997 Hallmark feature with Richard Dreyfuss in the leading role. Both films were limited to the visual effects technology of the time and the practicality of using live dogs. These films were often young audience’s first glimpse into what life must have been like in the early 1900’s as a gold rush swept through unexplored Alaska. Disney now in control of the screen rights via the Fox takeover, dumbs the story down, giving us the dog’s perspective. Gone are the educational bits about life in Alaska, just an old man and a dog with super powers.
Abducted from his home in California where he enjoyed the freedom of being the judge’s dog, the Scotch Shephard/Saint Bernard mix named Buck, will find his greatest adventure is still to come. From the warm comforts of domestic life, to the bitter cold of Skagway, Alaska. His first job is pulling sled for a mail route along the Yukon Gold Rush trail. It’s here he finds a new master and purpose in life, at least until technology strands him and his new furry comrades. His next master (Stevens) isn’t a kind one, but the fearless dog is rescued by John Thornton (Ford), one of the few men in the area not looking for gold. It’s here Buck’s kindness to others is repaid. Thornton doesn’t want Buck as a pet or anything else, and for the first time in his life, Buck is allowed to be his own master as he answers the call of the wild.
Disney now in control of the screen rights via the Fox takeover, dumbs the story down, giving us the dog’s perspective.
“The Call of the Wild” will leave adult audiences with a sore nose, as you are clubbed to death by the obvious. What’s worse, John Thornton appears to have super powers, narrating to the audience what the dogs are thinking and feeling. In one scene where the leader of the mail route pack challenges Buck for dominance, Thornton (who isn’t even remotely in the vicinity or the scene) tells the audience, “he’s had enough.” Michael Green (“Logan,” “The Green Lantern”) is a comic book film/tv show guy who has modified London’s work to make Buck appear more like the dog version of Dwayne Johnson, lifting fallen trees in one scene and exploding through solid ice in another. The modern updates to the story lean so far into the fantastical that the latest “Call of the Wild” feels more like Buck is about to join the Marvel Comic Universe.
The fakeness of the dog mirrors the awkwardness of Robert DeNiro’s de-aging in “The Irishman,” it’s unsettling. Something is always a bit off, but you get used to the over- sized animated dog eventually. “Lilo & Stitch” director Chris Sanders transitions from animated films to live action, but his direction still comes across like he is pandering only to children. While audiences won’t get much in the way of 1900’s life in Alaska, the script does tell children they shouldn’t drink alcohol, because Buck will judge you. Panning for gold is also reduced to a joke and made to look incredibly easy. This version of “The Call of the Wild” is all about cute dogs and little else.
Gone is the educational and social value of Jack London’s story, supplemented instead with visual effects and bad narration.