Released: 20th February
Seen: 2nd March
When it comes to movies featuring animals, you could say that I haven’t exactly had the best luck. In fact you could say that any time I see a dog on the poster of a film I break out in a rash and start rocking in place because I’m fairly confident that whatever I’m about to see is going to either bore, infuriate or confuse me. There was the eternally hated A Dog’s Purpose, a film I will never stop complaining about because it’s bad and deserves nothing but ridicule, along with its sequel A Dog’s Journey. There was the spinoff to those two movies that was so boring that I can’t be bothered to type the title even though typing the title would take up less space than this comedic riff about how I won’t type the title, Show Dogs literally had a scene that resembled child grooming pulled out while it was in cinemas, Dolittle was a trash fire of epic proportions. The only film of the last few years that prominently featured a member of the canine family that didn’t want to make me start setting fires was Pick of the Litter, that adorable documentary about how they train guide dogs. It’s now become a rule around here, if a film is fictional and heavily features a CGI dog then it’s going to be awful… and just as soon as I make that rule, something comes along to prove it wrong because that’s how my life works.
Call of the Wild, based on the novel of the same name by Jack London, focuses on Buck who is your common household dog living with a very wealthy family. One day he’s kidnapped and taken to be sold as a sled dog, a job that ends up giving him multiple owners who help him grow in various ways. He also deals with bad humans who beat him, bad dogs who bite him, and bad weather that tries to bury him. Buck the dog goes through a lot of things beginning with B, it’s his power letter. Anyway the bulk of the story is known because the book is about a hundred years old and is a standard story for many, this version has just been made a little more family friendly because they would like a lot of money and need the film to be more palatable for an audience that will undoubtedly consist of a lot of young children wanting to see the big silly dog movie.
Luckily for those kids, the big silly dog in the big silly dog movie is actually pretty adorable. It does take a few minutes to get used to the new visuals because they are a touch jarring but once you get used to it, it actually works. This is a film that really requires you to empathise with the main dog and it’s so expressive that not only can it pull off emotional moments with ease but can actually do some pretty good comedy. Buck’s model really stands out against everything else and yeah, it’s distracting but the rest of the CGI animals feel a lot more realistic. It’s basically the kind of animation I would’ve liked to have seen with that Lion King movie, one that allows me to know what the characters are thinking based upon their reactions.
The animation is so expressive that it makes the repeated narration by Harrison Ford (playing the John Thornton role) about as essential was it was in the original cut of Blade Runner. It just keeps saying the stuff that we already know because we can see it, I didn’t need the narration to tell me that the two dogs currently trying to kill each other aren’t being friendly right now. It pops up throughout, including during the ending and we never need it. Also not needed, the big third act villain who is there basically to fill in the part of the story that was once filled in by a racist stereotype of savage natives… I mean, yes, cut out the early 1900’s racism out of the story but replacing it with some generic asshole with a gold obsession just feels cheap. There were ways to get the story where it needed to be without this irritating character popping up after his story should’ve ended.
The film really consists of three stories revolving around Buck, the first being his privileged life with a judge, the second being his time working as a sled puller and it all leads up to him finally getting to the stuff with Harrison Ford. Each section of Buck’s journey works, especially the stuff as a sled puller. That entire section of the film feels like it could’ve been its own movie and is easily where this film shows off its best work, letting us adjust to how the characters look and getting used to how they perform. Every character beat for Buck just works, the other dogs he runs with have character to them, there’s a lot of very beautiful visuals, it’s all so great watching Buck’s journey from domestic animal to alpha dog… but then I forgot a lot of it afterwards. It’s nice, but it doesn’t stick around.
Call of the Wild is a good movie that’ll probably make the kids happy but that’s as far as it goes. It’s got a lot of sweet moments, some laughs and a few places that tug on the heartstrings but it doesn’t have anything special beyond that. It has some pretty good performances and a lot of really lovely visuals, but it’s also been about 3 hours since I walked out and nothing about it really stands out enough to make me hungry to see it again. If your kids want to go see something, this will probably give them a good time but that’s about it.