Based on the 1903 Jack London book, this latest incarnation of Call Of The Wild varies slightly from the original story but it is still a heart-warming adventure tale. It tells the story of Buck, a pampered St Bernard x Scotch Shepherd dog, who runs riot around the California ranch of Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford). When the Alaskan gold rush starts, strong dogs are in high demand to pull sleds, so one night (after ruining an important family occasion) Buck is kidnapped and shipped to the Yukon in Alaska. After being beaten by humans on the ship, Buck escapes and is eventually bought by a couple, relentlessly optimist Perrault (Omar Cy) and his more realist wife Francoise (Cara Gee), who run the dog driven mail delivery service. It is during this mail delivery job Buck learns the importance of teamwork and hard work, and becomes a more worldly and confident animal, eventually leading the sled dog team.
The introduction of the telegraph renders the mail delivery service obsolete, and Buck and the dogs are sold to Mercedes (Karen Gillan) and her cruel brother Hal (Dan Stevens) who are woefully ill-prepared for Alaskan gold rush life, and who run the sled dogs into the ground. When Hal tries to force the dogs to cross a melting river, Buck is rescued by John Thornton (Harrison Ford), a hard drinking loner who is grieving the death of son. Buck & Thornton venture to an unmapped part of the Alaskan wilderness, where Buck meets a pack of Timberwolves and gradually leaves the side of his ‘master’, becoming a wild dog like his ancestors.
The biggest point of difference in this version of the story to any other is that Buck, and all the other animals featured in it, are animated. They are extraordinarily life-like, almost photo-realistic, but animated nonetheless and there is sometimes a bit of a disconnect between the viewer and the dog, in a way that I don’t think would happen if the dogs were real – especially in the more slapstick scenes (which are a bit Scooby-Doo-esque!) or when nearly human expressions appear on the dogs faces.
Harrison Ford is excellent as John Thornton, and his acting chops and natural charisma help bridge the gap between real and fake. The scenery too is often enhanced by computer graphics but it still very beautiful, shot on location in Canada & Alaska. This also a much more family friendly telling of the Call Of The Wild. Buck’s kidnapping and his cruel treatment on the boat to Alaska are the only real depictions of cruelty to animals by humans, and many characters and animal deaths are left out altogether or implied rather than shown. This makes it a much easier film to enjoy with younger children but takes away from the darker themes that were explored in the novel.
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