Film review: ‘THE CALL OF THE WILD’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Jack London’s beloved novel The Call of the Wild has been adapted for the screen numerous times including the 1972 version starring Chuck Heston. The story always seemed perfect material for one of those Wonderful World of Disney Sunday Night specials. Now, with the latest cinema incarnation starring Harrison Ford, this tale of the touching relationship between man and dog in 1890s Yukon wilderness has been given the wholesome Disney-style treatment even though it comes from 20th Century Studios.

The film centres on the large, rambunctious St Bernard-Scotch Collie named Buck, who lives in domestic comfort in a California mansion. When he’s abducted by dog-nappers he finds himself sold to a sled team in the decidedly less accommodating frozen Yukon Territory in Canada. During his adventures in this stunning but treacherous environment he encounters grizzled old prospector John Thornton (Harrison Ford) who has become a grief-stricken recluse and drunk following his son’s death. Freeing Buck from the ignorant and malicious owner (Dan Stevens) who will become Thornton’s nemesis, Thornton develops a moving affection for his new four-legged friend but finds Buck increasingly drawn by his ancestral wolf instincts to the wilderness and away from human civilization.

This version of The Call of the Wild is clearly aimed at a younger audience with much of the focus on the powerful, slobbering but lovable hound (realised here through reasonably convincing motion capture) and the brutal realities of the wilderness toned down.

Despite his white hair and unkempt look, Ford still has that Han Solo charisma and twinkle in his eye and his relationship with Buck occasionally recalls that of Han and Chewy – he even appears to make a reference to a line from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Most of the other human characters are cyphers designed to progress Buck’s journey but Omar Sy as the Yukon wilderness’s French-Canadian mail man and Cara Gee as his assistant, Francoise, still manage to make an impression. Despite being largely computer-created, Buck is still a delightful mix of nobility and goofiness that children will love– youngsters at the preview cackled uproariously every time he bowled over a grumpy adult human.

Being very much a family film, this version of The Call of the Wild at times seems a little squeaky clean for a movie set amid the ravenous and often brutal gold frenzy of the Yukon but it’s warm, fun and exciting enough to appeal to most audiences.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Historical adventure/ animal film.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Chris Sanders.

Release date: 20th Feb 2020.

Running time: 100 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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