Gretchen Lee — Staff Writer
At first, I was not excited to see Call of the Wild. The CGI dog in the trailer was a big turn-off, and I wasn’t particularly in the mood to watch Harrison Ford play a gruff, surly character; he already acts like that off the big screen. I walked into the theatre with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, but I left with tears in my eyes and a new perspective on life. I couldn’t have been more wrong about this film.
Call of the Wild follows the journey of a large dog named Buck. He begins his life as the pet of a rich mayor in the southern United States before being captured by thieves who sell big dogs to gold hunters in the Yukon to be used in dog sled teams. Though Buck is abused on the journey to Alaska, his spirit is not broken and he is adopted by a kind mail-runner and his wife. From there, Buck is passed between several owners of varying kindness until he finds a depressed John Thornton with whom he forms a special bond. As the two travel together, Buck leads Thornton towards closure regarding the death of his son, and Thornton leads Buck towards the irresistible call of the wild Alaskan valleys.
To answer the question that I know has you all very concerned: no, the dog does not die. If the dog had died, this review would have a very different tone.
This movie is fantastic in so many ways. While the human characters were not super well-developed, this move kept the focus on Buck. The exploration of an animal psyche throughout the course of his “return” to the wild was incredibly fascinating and executed in such a simple but meaningful way.
The “call of the wild” was represented by a large, black wolf that Buck saw at key moments in the movie where he needed to act on instinct and rely on his own abilities. The more Buck begins to embrace his inner wildness, the less he sees his wolf. Thornton’s development throughout the movie was also well done and meaningful; we are able to watch him heal and find joy in life again as he travels with Buck.
The CGI for the dogs was, at times, a bit cheesy. However, it very accurately captured the mannerisms of real dogs while still effectively portraying the emotions and thoughts of Buck without the use of speech. The fact that they were able to convey such emotion and understanding though processing in an animated dog is absolutely incredible. The rest of the CGI used to create settings and scenes was flawless. The score was also near-perfect, evoking strong emotions from the audience.
Overall, this movie is a wonderful exploration of the relationships between man and dog, a dog and his wild instincts, and man and the wild. The execution was excellent, the emotional impact was incredible, and the movie was, overall, wholesome.