REVIEW: ‘Call of the Wild’ hampered by split story, CG canine

In the 2019 “Lion King” I thought the computer animated animals didn’t emote enough. In this movie “Call of the Wild,” they might have done it too much.

This is the latest adaptation of a book of the same name about a big dog named Buck. As the films start, the dog is stolen from his home in California and sold to buyers in the Yukon.

From there, Buck goes on a series of adventures, which include becoming a sled dog to help deliver mail and later befriending a man named John (Harrison Ford) who lives in the region.

Personally, I walked into this one unaware of the material. I had never heard of the book this was based on and also didn’t know that the dog was computer animated. While adapting the book to the big screen was a fine decision, though, the same can’t necessarily be said about the computer generated dog.

It’s immensely distracting from start to finish, and it’s not just that the dog is artificial, either. What really makes it a rather difficult watch is how many human emotions the filmmakers added to Buck, to the point where it just feels bizarre and out of place.

There’s one standout where Buck is confronting the alpha sled dog as other canines look on. The dogs are behaving with basically human reactions to an extent where one wonders why they didn’t just make the animals talk.

CallofWildBlog
Courtesy 3 Arts Entertainment and 20th Century Studios.

Story-wise, “Call of the Wild” suffers somewhat from basically having two halves that are quite disjointed. The film introduces Buck’s dilemma in being sold, and then an arc begins where the canine becomes accustomed to being a sled dog. As an audience, we’re introduced to both of the post office employees, and we get to see how they interact with Buck and react as he becomes leader of the sled dog team.

Then, that whole section of the part of the movie stops and is cut off as the film takes a hard turn toward another story. The audience then follow Buck meeting a man named John (Ford), who’s been running from his past but gets inspired to go on an adventure with his new canine friend to honor his late son.

Something like this can and probably does work just fine in a book format. But the difference in the two halves on screen is quite jarring. That’s not to say a movie can’t work with two halves, but most of the time those other films have a protagonist that can talk, making the transition between the two parts more relatable. It’s more difficult here, and the film doesn’t flow as well.

With all of that said, “The Call of the Wild” still has some value. The main three human characters here are fun and likable, especially John. Ford does solid work portraying an older man who finds a reason to be happy again thanks to Buck.

Additionally, while the CGI was never truly convincing, Buck’s story remains fairly endearing, making it easy for an audience to latch on. Plus, the many ventures the characters take into the outdoors makes for an alright experience.

Overall, “Wild” has some good qualities that make it a pretty good watch for a family audience. However, it’s not strong enough to warrant a trip to the theater. The execution with how the animal characters were animated and the flow of the story causes this flick to stumble a bit, making it more worth a watch at home. 2.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, and I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2009 graduate of Rainy River College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University in Moorhead. At MSU, I studied journalism and film. Outside of movies, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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