“The Call of the Wild” Barks Up The Wrong Tree

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Sebastian Hunt, Head of Opinions and Reviews

★★☆☆☆

A film like The Call of the Wild is built around dogs. The canine star determines the success of this type of film and its appeal (or lack thereof), which explains why Call of the Wild feels neutered.

In a likely trendsetting move, Call of the Wild ditches casting a showbiz pooch in favor of Lion King-style photorealistic animation. This decision, however humane, compromises Call of the Wild’s charm. The film’s poorly rendered stand-in is not at all believable; the slobbering, barking innocence of man’s best friend is sorely missed. 

The screenplay attempts emotional resonance, but is undermined by shoddy special effects. The CGI surrounding the lead dog, Buck, is at best inconsistent, at worst mildly disturbing. He never looks quite right, especially in action sequences. Consequently, I did not find myself at all connected to or sympathetic toward him. My brain registered an artificial dog. 

The film’s shortcomings are not limited to the digital effects. Unfortunately, the story is schmaltzy and luridly sentimental. Adapted from a classic novel of the same name, Call of the Wild follows Saint Bernard mix Buck as unforeseen circumstances bring him to the Alaskan Yukon. It’s the height of the Gold Rush, prompting greedy individuals to abuse and exploit him for his strength. Things improve once Buck meets John Thorton (played by Harrison Ford) — a hard-drinking, ultimately warm-hearted old man in dire need of companionship. The pair eventually embark on a quest, forging an unshakable friendship. Unfortunately, the film’s major themes are communicated in a manner that makes them feel overwrought, numbing their emotional impact.

Call of the Wild headlines an assortment of human supporting characters, Omar Sy’s Perrault emerging as the most memorable. Ford is not in the film nearly as much as the trailers suggest, which is just as well: he delivers a thoroughly bored performance. Not that I blame him; I’d be bored too on a lonely green screen set.

In fact, “bored” is the word that best describes Call of the Wild. The film is so passively uninspired that it’d be tempting to dub it “passable”. But considering the legendary prowess of its source material, Call of the Wild frankly should’ve been better. Not even your dogs will enjoy this one.

 

Ratings Key:

★ – Bad (e.g., Godzilla ‘98, Pixels, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Justice League

★★ – Mediocre (e.g., Incredibles 2, Watchmen, Alice in Wonderland, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)

★★★ – Good (e.g., Creed II, Batman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Pretty In Pink, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)

★★★★ – Great (e.g., Jurassic Park, Return of the Jedi, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Social Network)

★★★★★ – Amazing (e.g., Dr. Strangelove, The Terminator, The Dark Knight, Back to the Future, Skyfall)