The Call of the Wild has been adapted countless times and this remains another unnecessary novel-to-film adaptation that fails reinvigorate fresh life into its source material. The story centers around a St Bernard/Scotch Collie called Buck Buck is a domesticated dog that is kidnapped from his wealthy family and sold to a couple who delivers mail. Buck later crosses paths with John Thornton (Harrison Ford), where the pair venture out into the wilderness to help Buck find his inner wolf. Throughout this narrative Buck finds himself navigating the natural world and must learn to embrace his natural instincts.
Tonally, the film is consistent all the way through creating an adventure with a bit of maturity around its edges, distancing itself from purely being a kids film and closely operating as a family film. The issue lies within its script as it often gets distracted from telling its story to include exaggerated sentimental one-liners to evoke emotion. Problem is, there is little development in its characters up until Buck and John cross paths. Harrison Ford gives an honest and earnest performance but is undermined by a weak script that doesn’t allow him to truly be great in this role. As for Buck, well…
Buck, the CGI dog, is immediately recognized as being rendered imagery from the get-go, which makes it all the more harder to get invested. Integrating that with unrealistic movement and uncanny behaviors is frustrating because you can tell the animators have put a lot into this. The Call of the Wild is no CG eyesore unlike Cats or The Lion King, and honestly, almost hits the mark of blending emotion and realism into a photo-realistic animal in a film. Sadly, the end result is a poorly-rendered CGI dog trying to embrace his natural instincts despite not actually being a real dog. Janusz Kaminski cinematography creates some stunning sequences as we navigate the icy terrain or look towards the night sky.
One aspect I have really come to admire about this film is the location scouting as we are taken to a variety of places. This helps the film feel a little more authentic despite Buck being completely CGI, we can at least bask in the genuine locations. As for the set-design, it successfully creates environments that feel late-1800’s in which the characters interact with. John Powell composes a rather generic orchestrated score with no memorable pieces and forced in as an attempt to evoke emotion rather than it feeling naturally inserted.
Frankly, this story has many adaptations to the point where there is no more fresh meat on the bone and maybe it is time to bury that bone. And yes, making every critter CGI is not going to be disguised as fresh. The Call of the Wild aims to be a charming adaptation of the Jack London classic but is ultimately compromised by a protracted pace and unsatisfying use of CGI.