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The Call of the Wild – Movie Review

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The Call of the Wild – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Studios

Jack London’s novel The Call of the Wild is a stirring and page turning adventure that puts the reader into the point-of-view of a dog. Buck’s journey from domesticated pooch to a dog understanding where he came from is a beautiful, but also tough tale. Chris Sanders, whose previous directing efforts contain themes in support of human-pet relationships, was a fitting choice to helm this latest adaptation. He succeeds very nicely in bringing his storytelling sensibilities to The Call of the Wild and especially takes advantage of what the latest technologies can do to enhance the film. Aided by a smart screenplay by Michael Green and one of Harrison Ford’s best performances, this film really shows the possibilities of filmmaking today when adapting classic stories.

While Ford understandably receives top billing, the film is really about Buck. The visual effects artists give him so much personality and watching the movie, it makes sense why Sanders would want to use computers, rather than a real dog. In addition to avoiding the risk of harming an actual dog, they give him the freedom to do anything that helps move the character forward. The Call of the Wild is Sanders’s live-action directing debut, but he hasn’t abandoned the approaches that made his animated hits like Lilo & Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon so charming and meaningful. We see what’s going through Buck’s mind and a number of scenes don’t even have dialogue, thus respecting the audience will easily follow along.

Some of the most stunning scenes in The Call of the Wild don’t even contain humans. The sequences in which the dogs interact capture their pack mentality, especially when Buck tries to prove his worth. Those moments are appropriately brutal, not unlike how they were written in London’s book. Sanders shows a real skill in directing the action scenes, including an exciting sled run. There are also scenes of beauty that take advantage of the Yukon landscape. The movie isn’t afraid to slow down and let us absorb the moment. The thematic visual ideas in Sanders’s direction and Green’s screenplay add to Buck’s journey and bring a richness and dimension to the character as he attempts to come to grips with this new snowy world.

John Thornton is the most prominent human in the book, although he doesn’t become part of Buck’s life until a good chunk of the story. Owing to Ford’s star power, he’s introduced a bit earlier and those chance meetings with Buck do work in showing why they bond later on. Sanders has often had a knack for portraying the friendship between people and their pets and that definitely continues here. Ford brings a wonderful enthusiasm to his outdoorsman and he shares excellent chemistry with Buck. We get some funny scenes with John and Buck as well as more heartfelt moments. There’s a believable connection that makes the third act all the more rewarding.

Chris Sanders has been contributing to some of the most beloved films of the past thirty years. Even going back to his days as a storyboard artist at Disney Animation, he showed an incredible sensitivity as well as a remarkably winning sense of humour in his work. The Call of the Wild is a great transitional film for Sanders as he brings his talents to live-action filmmaking. However, watching the movie, it’s clear how much he wants to continue developing what he honed at Disney and DreamWorks Animation. Sanders is one of the most underappreciated auteurs of modern cinema and The Call of the Wild is yet another fine piece of storytelling from this inventive artist. He and Michael Green understand the appeal of Jack London’s novel, while also doing the necessary modifications. This is a worthy film adaptation of a classic piece of literature.

Stefan Ellison