No, this is not the story of Indiana Jones in retirement going on an adventure with his dog. Sorry.
The Call of the Wild was released on Feb. 21, 2020 and was directed by Chris Sanders. The film stars Omar Sy as Perrault, Dan Stevens as Hal, and Harrison Ford as Jack Thorton. When Saint-Bernard mix Buck, is taken from his home and shipped to the Yukon, he must learn the way of the harsh environment in order to survive.
Omar Sy is excellent; he brings much humor and heartfelt spirit. Dan Stevens is a little cliché, his character is just a greedy, businessman with nothing much added to his character. For most of the film it works, but there were some moments where he goes a little extreme. The film succeeds at making you really hate Hal, in the same way Jurassic World did with the Indimonus Rex.
Harrison Ford is wonderful. He steals every scene, and does a good job at balancing emotions. One scene with Thorton involving him writing a letter to his wife is a great example of his acting skills.
The script takes its time to develop each character, especially Thorton and Buck, both together and separately. For example, the first 40 to 50 minutes of the film are centered around Buck and the many owners he’s had. This is also a great example of how the script lets you connect with Buck. All of the character development feels natural.
It’s impressive how much you learn about Buck without him saying any dialogue, due to the connection you feel to him it makes his CGI body blends seamlessly with the story. A lot of this film is shown but not shoved in your face, which I respect tremendously. For example, there is a point in the film when Buck is placed with a dog-sledding pack, and other than the dog’s names we’re told nothing verbally about each dog but shown.
This is easiest seen during scenes involving the dogs away from the humans. You can tell the wide variation of personalities for each dog is like just by the reactions to each other and the way they’re designed.
This dog pack is a great example of how the film takes time to show us Buck away from the human characters, to further add to his character. There are several scenes, but one part in particular, in which Buck protects his pack from a threat, making you root in favor of him and want to see him triumph. Scenes like this wonderfully establish him as the main hero of the story.
The script does a good job subverting expectations; it uses the fact that you expect something specific to happen to its storytelling advantage. For example, it makes you think that the film will purely be about Thorton and Buck’s journey, but there’s a solid amount of time dedicated to Buck’s life before.
There is some voice over that at times feels a little unnecessary but never takes you out of the film. There were also some moments, within the story, when it seemed as if someone took four seconds to explain their viewpoint on some conflicts, which could have been avoided, but again, nothing takes you out of the film.
The Call of the Wild does a delightful job of having a good moral without shoving it down the audience’s throat.
Chris Sanders’ directing is beautifully crafted, and the cinematography is majestic. The CGI is wonderful, especially for Buck. At first Buck does look slightly off, but within the first ten minutes you’re invested in the story and movie magic takes its course.
The editing excellently transitions from various scenes, and uses soul-warming music to help. For example they blend Thorton’s harmonica with the soundtrack and have the pacing work in the editing room.
All the actors work well with Buck, considering he’s really just a dude in a green suit so the animators have a reference. Due to the wonderful CGI on the animals, it’s clear that some smaller shots were overlooked. For example, there were some shots where the actors were obviously in front of a green screen. There was one match-to-action error near the end involving a scene with Thorton and Buck.
It says something about the current state of the film industry when a dog has more character development than, for example, Rey from the new Star Wars sequels, or even as recent as Sonic the Hedgehog from his title film.
[My grade for The Call of the Wild is an A-]