The Call of the Wild, which plays like those sofa-warming, cheesy 1970s Disney films such as Grizzly Adams and Wilderness Family, is a sweet – if strained – story about the lovable, highly excitable domesticated dog named Buck. The St. Bernard/Scotch Collie hybrid embarks (no pun intended) on an adventure of self-discovery after he is shipped all the way to the Yukon from his home in California during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush. There, he works as part of a dog sled team delivering mail across the vast landscape, which leads him to meet John Thornton (Harrison Ford) and the two ignite an instant connection.

Chris Sanders’ film is very loosely based on the 1903 novel of the same name by Jack London, and whilst the film diverges substantially from London’s book, The Call of the Wild is generally a fun, family-friendly piece of entertainment. Ford is comfortable in the role of the grumpy yet compassionate, estranged yet amicable elderly man and delivers a grounded performance. His supporting cast, namely Omar Sy as Buck’s first Arctic-owner Perrault, are all tolerable, with the exception of Dan Stevens’ horribly contrived, recklessly exhibited Hal, supposedly the main villain of the story.

But of course, this is Buck’s story, and whilst the Collie is often a charismatic hero, the CGI used to create Buck, as well as all the other animals in the film, is a considerable distraction. Frankly, it’s just nowhere near good enough; Sanders humanises Buck to extreme measures, and the decision to gift Buck this sometimes-unsettling ability to react with human capacities is definitely an odd choice given the seemingly limited budget for the computer effects. Sure, the CGI was handy in the more intense action scenes, but when we’re up close and personal, it’s difficult to believe there really is a dog there.

What’s more, his almost humanoid temperament also digresses from the film’s central theme of an animal finding redemption through embracing its instinctive nature. Nevertheless, it does allow for a closer connection to the canine to be achieved, which the film rides on adequately.

It’s not exactly ground-breaking, but it is an easy, enjoyable watch. The Call of the Wild provides some wholesome family fun – a charming tale for everyone if you can get past the shoddy CGI.

3 stars

Image: Movie DB

Josh Teggert is a Screen Editor at Forge Press.

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