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The Call of the Wild (2020): ‘An uplifting adventure film’

by | 19 Feb 2020 | Film Reviews

A stolen dog crosses paths with a man named John Thornton. The two of them embark on an adventure into the exotic wilds of the Alaskan Yukon.

Adapted from the 1903 novel, The Call of the Wild is an ode to those animal-centric movies that were popular during the Nineties. Such films like Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) and White Fang (1991). Where the main character was the animal and the humans were just supporting players.

The story follows Buck, a pampered and spoilt dog living in California during the late 1890’s. When he is kidnapped and taken to the cold Canadian mountains, he must quickly adapt to his new surroundings. Becoming a sled dog, he soon bumps into old loner John Thornton (Harrison Ford). Developing a strong connection between each other, they decide to explore the vast wilderness together.

The Call of the Wild (2020)

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As a director of animated features, Chris Sanders transitions over to live-action seamlessly. He’s able to put that background to good use by creating all the animals through photo-realistic CGI. Despite the potential to backfire if not convincing enough, this ends up working in the movie’s favour. An older film would have used real animals, which requires a lot of training and can be really limiting. But with Buck as an animated character, Sanders can get him to do literally anything. He’s able to put him in situations that you just couldn’t do with real animals. Sanders has him perform feats which if done with actual dogs, would almost certainly be labelled animal cruelty.

Happily, the visual effects used to create Buck and the other non-humans are really good. From the very start, you’ll find it hard not to get invested in Buck and his journey. Although not being able to speak, he’s given an expressive face so it’s easy to tell what he’s feeling. As a result, The Call of the Wild is a great example of visual storytelling. Little dialogue is used, with Saunders brilliantly getting across the narrative through the stunning cinematography alone.

‘Having more freedom, all the movie is shot on manufactured sets.’

A lot of green screen is used to create the vast wilderness, and for the most part it succeeds. Sure, it would have been nice to shoot on location and use real mountain ranges. But what the creative team have achieved within a studio is still pretty convincing and impressive. Many of the action sequences, which are really exciting, just wouldn’t have been possible in the real world.

When it comes to the story, this is an engaging tale of an individual overcoming adversity. Buck is given a riveting arc from spoiled pet to a wild animal, who has to get in touch with primordial side to survive. Human characters come and go through the various stages of Buck’s evolution, but this is clearly he’s film. We follow him on his journey from beginning to end and it will be hard not to be moved by this kind canine.

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Outside of Buck, Ford is obviously the star of this movie. He carries that human element beautifully as the broken John Thornton. A man beaten down who just wants to be left alone, he finds a kindred spirit in Buck. Ford is excellent, and he’s perfectly cast as that gruff outdoorsman type with a soft heart. Even with one of them technically not existing, you’ll absolutely believe and buy into their budding friendship. They truly are at the heart of the story. Letting down the movie slightly, is Dan Stevens antagonist, Hal. Forced in, he doesn’t really need to be there. He’s just another hostile element for Buck to go up against, and is more functional than anything else.

‘Some might find it jarring that all the animals are CGI creations.’

If, however, you’re a sucker for dogs, you’ll probably enjoy The Call of the Wild. With a well told story and a great performance from Ford, you should find it really easy to get swept up in this uplifting adventure.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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