In 1890, as the Klondike Gold Rush emerges in America, a St. Bernard / Scotch Collie dog called Buck finds himself stolen from his California home and shipped to be sold in Yukon to traders.
Buck is bought by American Mail sled driver Mr Perrault and his colleague Françoise and, while initially out of his league, becomes a solid leader and dependable friend.
But fate intervenes, and Buck ends up befriending wanderer John Thornton (Harrison Ford), seeking to find worth in a broken world. The two form a strong friendship as they explore the wild together, but have to contend with both Mother Nature and gold hunter Hal tracking them…
One of the first major releases from the new Disney subsidiary 20th Century Studios (look for the Disney-audience pleasing A113 cameo), this is, at heart, pure Disney in the production a family-friendly adventure that hearkens back to the classic adventures of the past. It’s devoid of bad language, violence, scary imagery, or immediate threat. And why not, when you’ve got a wonderfully created CGI lead and the solid support from screen legend Harrison Ford to take you through ye olde American wilderness of gold-digging, sled-riding, and canoe paddling.
Ford, as ever, is the main attraction but never overshadows the story or our Bucky. With the grizzly grey beard and hair, his 77-year-old frame never looks tired or spent, but just rustic and worn and testament to a man who has lived through the call of the wild himself and struggling with the aftermath. He looks good, has great moments to shine in some fine acting beyond recent sci-fi nonsense like The Force Awakens or Blade Runner 2049. Ford is stripped back, like the film, and plays it as natural and as endearing as ever, proving what a star he continues to be away from the galaxy far, far away.
This is a story about friendship. Nothing more. It’s about finding where you belong, and who you are, and what you have always been. A classic morality story, yes, but told with wonderful spirit and heart with great performances throughout from our human supports to Bucky, a beautifully rendered CGI St Bernard. More likable and real in action and movement that Simba ever was, Bucky is brought to life in a photo-realistic way, along with the other animals here – Disney don’t permit using real animals on films sets, and kudos to that. Why spook or pressure them when CGI does the job safely and to decent effect.
A film near split in two, the first half belongs to Bucky, Omar Sy and Cara Gee as they carry out dangerous postal duties spanning over 2,000 miles of harsh American terrain. The final act belongs to Bucky and Ford as their adventure goes above and beyond anything they expected. There is minimal schmaltz and whimsical emotion here; there are plenty of heart-tugging moments that are dealt with in good measure, but without being overly sentimental or predictable. The plot points are dealt with in powerful ways, but laced with strong human performances, gorgeous sets and authentic locations with CG enhancement, and humour. Good old sweet family humour at it’s best.
The action sequences, few and far between, are not the main calling for this film and all the better for it. They’re not needed except pushing the story on and adding to the strong bonds developed in the film. Instead, it’s about…spirit. Standing up for what is good and what is right, believing in yourself and taking the chance to BE someone – or something – that changes lives forever.
With Dan Stevens on call to add some mild, nasty, waxy mustache menace as gold-hunter Hal, the characters are authentic and well brought out from book to screen. While this adaptation is aiming for an easier watch than the previous adaptations, and taking some licence with the novel, it still doesn’t detract from the heart of it all, and that’s most important.
The Call Of The Wild is just what is needed for a gentle pace of cinema adventure, of a sweet story of friendship and of classic story-telling, devoid of Hollywood excess.
Dir: Chris Sanders
Scr: Michael Green
Cast: Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Dan Stevens, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford
Prd: Erwin Stoff & James Mangold
DoP: Janusz Kamiński
Runtime: 100 minutes
The Call Of The Wild will be available on 20th Century Studios digital release from May 18th 2020 and on DVD/Blu-ray from June 15th 2020.