John and Buck go on an adventure in The Call of the Wild.

The Call of the Wild

Dept. of Anthropomophic Dogs


In 1935, William A. Wellman’s early adaptation of The Call of the Wild, with Clark Gable and Loretta Young, was the last movie to be released under the Twentieth Century Pictures banner before it merged with the Fox Film Corporation. Now, 85 years later, we have yet another version. The fifth cinematic effort, and the first to be released under the newly reinstated Twentieth Century Studios. I’m not really sure what that means, but in the grand scheme of things, unintentional symmetry is always something to behold.

That wasn’t my only takeaway from watching The Call of the Wild. The other, was that the world is clearly split down the middle with regards to dog movies. You either love them with all your heart or you just don’t care. The Sunday morning showing that I happened to attend seemed to be full of folk who fell squarely within that first group. I could hear sighs of nostalgia. I could hear children laughing. I could feel my chair gently quiver as the lady next to me openly wept when Harrison Ford knelt down and finally said the words: “You’re a good dog Buck”.

John and Buck look out into nature in The Call of the Wild.

As a critic, it’s easy to be sniffy about movies like this. It is, after all, just another tired adaptation of a classic novel that all of us were forced to read in school. Watching such movies, especially at preview screenings surrounded by other critics, it’s easy to be disconnected from the audience at large, to get so caught up in the esoteric that we forget to evaluate the emotional impact a movie has. Which is, in essence, what great cinema should aspire to.

Now I am in no way claiming that The Call of the Wild is great cinema. And it doesn’t purport to be. This is a movie that knows exactly what it is: a morality play, steeped in sentimentality, featuring a four-legged hero who has a heart, a soul, and a destiny.

So I figured that the best way to review this wasn’t actually by writing about the movie, but by writing instead about the aforementioned weeping woman sitting next to me. Why? Because I wanted to be able to see The Call of the Wild the way she did. To love this movie as she loved this movie. Why? To quote Chesterton: “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

A CG Buck in The Call of the Wild.

She didn’t care that screenwriter Michael Green had distilled Jack London’s parable down to yet another time-worn “man saves dog, dog saves man” narrative, doing away with the darker elements of the novel, sacrificing the brutality and violence of the time for a more family friendly offering. She didn’t seem to miss the tragic, wistful, and occasionally philosophical, inquiry into the nature of nature that the novel was.

It didn’t bother her, not one bit, that besides a short meet-cute between John Thornton and Buck early in the film, we don’t actually see much of Harrison Ford until the last 45 minutes or so of the movie. He may have his name on the poster, but to her, this was Buck’s movie and Buck’s movie alone. Forget Ford. Forget the other humans in Buck’s life. Perrault and Miller – played by Omar Sy and Bradley Whitford respectively – are merely stops on this dog’s journey rather than the destination.

Harrison Ford rowing a canoe in The Call of the Wild.

She loved the movie’s lampoonist introduction to Buck, laughing out loud as he tore through the Miller household. She gasped at his harrowing escape from an avalanche. She tensed as Buck dived into the frigid waters of a lake to save a drowning Françoise. And I understood then the attraction of a computer generated dog and the freedom it offered director Chris Sanders. To really put Buck through his paces by crafting these grand and exciting sequences that would otherwise be impossible. I appreciated why this movie was helmed by the guy who previously co-directed Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon, and The Croods. Because you need an animator’s sensibilities to properly bring something like this to life.

She didn’t seem to mind the anthropomorphism in Buck’s design. That his eyes were a little more expressive than they should be. Or that his mouth just stops short of curling into a smile. (Then again, I guess it isn’t quite as distracting as all singing, all dancing lions and hyenas.)

She was completely and utterly enthralled. She was all in. And watching her watch The Call of the Wild, so was I.

The Call of the Wild
100 Minutes
Director: Chris Sanders
Writer: Michael Green
Cast: Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Colin Woodell, Cara Gee, Scott MacDonald, and Terry Notary.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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