PG Score: 7.25/10
The Call of the Wild is a genuinely heartwarming adventure. Showcasing the power of the bond between man and dog, some truly stunning cinematography, and a few exciting sequences of peril, this is a worthy adaptation of the classic novel of the same name by Jack London. The film centers on Buck, a powerful sled dog who battles for survival in the Yukon wilderness. He meets a variety of characters throughout his journey and faces many obstacles along the way. It’s best to address the elephant (or in this case, the dog) in the room right up front. The CGI used for Buck and the other animals can be a bit jarring at first. At some points, the effects aren’t very realistic and the animals look noticeably computerized. Moving past this technical blunder early on will allow the viewer to have a much more enjoyable overall experience. Harrison Ford doesn’t have as large of a role as the trailers would have you believe. This isn’t a bad thing, as the story is primarily about Buck, and Ford’s John Thornton is only one of multiple characters he meets during his adventure. HF delivers a more reserved performance in The Call of the Wild, but it has a quiet power to it. John is wrestling with a demon he can’t seem to shake and Ford convincingly conveys this struggle. Director Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon) does an admirable job of taking JL’s book and making it more accessible to a younger audience. It’s worth noting that it will still appeal to the older crowd as well, as this is certainly a movie for all ages. It is a much tamer version of the novel and there’s very little onscreen violence. Sanders instead puts the focus on the storytelling aspect, particularly emphasizing the human-canine connection. While many of the emotional moments are borderline cheesy, they’re still largely effective. Despite the blatant yanking of the heart strings through slightly cliché man-dog interactions, it’s hard not to feel an authentic sense of primal appreciation for this timeless relationship. The cinematography here is one of the main highlights. The multitude of shots that captures the vast wilderness is breathtaking. Dense forests teeming with life, barren lakes frozen over, moonlit skies blanketed in stars, and rivers rushing with whitewater rapids all simply shine onscreen. The variety of lush environments and the bleaker locales is truly astounding. The sequences of natural disaster and peril are reasonably gripping. The few that are especially intense manage to capitalize on the aforementioned impressive cinematography. These scenes blend the beautiful settings in with the immediate danger to the protagonist quite effectively. In addition to the occasionally off-putting CGI, there are a few other negatives. While most of the film moves smoothly, TCotW suffers from pacing issues in the final act. After running at a brisk clip for the better part of 80 minutes, it somewhat stalls out during a portion of the climax. The other noticeable knock is some of the cheesier scenes go a bit overboard. Many of these similar instances are easily overlooked because of the emotion they evoke. However, the ones in question are so heavy-handed that they aren’t able to achieve the desired effect.
Aside from a few missteps, The Call of the Wild is a powerful chapter in the book of man’s best friend.