“The Call of the Wild” is proof it’s not a good idea.
Giving Buck, the St. Bernard/Scotch Collie mix, more emotions than a Kardashian, director Chris Sanders loses the natural charm that comes from having real animals interact with humans. Here, Buck does everything but talk in an effort to find a place to fit in.
He runs into prospector John Thornton (Harrison Ford) during the Yukon Gold Rush between adventures with a team that delivers mail and a run with a greedy outsider (Dan Stevens) who believes in cruelty to animals. He drives the dogs to the brink and discovers it’s never good to cross an animated dog when lessons are meant to be learned.
While this “Call of the Wild” has plenty of action, it’s more like a CliffsNotes version of Jack London’s novel than an exacting adaptation. Writer Michael Green takes plenty of liberties with the text but gets good mileage out of Ford when he narrates. Entering the Sam Elliott phase of his career, Ford doesn’t figure into a good half of the film but does show up enough to make you remember he’s top-billed.
In that early adventure, Buck has to deal with a surly lead dog when he delivers the mail with Francoise (Cara Gee) and Perrault (Omar Sy), a driven pair that look more like Ralph Lauren models than mail carriers. They make their deadlines but are forced to disband, tossing Buck to the fates. That’s when Stevens enters the picture, complete with sister (Karen Gillan) and a case of champagne. Broadly drawn (and overplayed), the rich money grubbers don’t care about common sense. They push the dogs and live to regret it. Luckily, Ford's Thornton is around to give Buck the life he deserves.
The two deal with more traumas and discover the tie that binds, but not until Buck has had a chance to rescue Thornton’s harmonica and curb his drinking. The dog saves lives, too, and falls in with timberwolves. When (spoiler alert) offspring are born, you’ll swear Sanders has swiped a scene from “Lion King” and there’s a Pride Rock in Gold Rush territory.
Because a Cirque du Soleil performer did motion-capture work for the dog, there are more human characteristics than necessary. The animal’s proportions aren’t right, either, giving him a head that’s often twice the size of most humans.
Fortunately, London’s adventure still has drive. Clocking in at around 100 minutes, it’s short, too, which could make this ideal for folks unwilling to invest the time in reading the book.
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