Screenwriter: Michael Green
Starring: Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Children/Family
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some violence, peril, thematic elements, and mild language
Release Date: 2/21/20
Where to Watch: Rent/Buy — Fandango, Vudu, etc.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 62%
Let me start off this review by saying that I have not read Jack Lownden’s book, Call of the Wild, on which this movie is based — so this means that I may not have the same issues with the adaptation as fans of the book might. In fact, I had very few issues with this new adaptation, which features a fully-CGI dog (and other animals). Granted, I am a vegan and all-around animal lover who is a sucker for movies with animal protagonists, and I for one was happy that no real dogs were used in the film, as this was the most ethical way to do so (to ensure that no animals were hurt or stressed). And, the CGI enables the dog to do all sorts of things that even the most well-trained dog would be unable to do; plus, the CGI is impressive enough to not look too fake. Yes, it is noticeable, and I can see how some audience members might be thrown off by this, but it wasn’t distracting to me in the least.
What is perhaps misleading about the trailers, posters, and other advertising for this movie is that it seems that Harrison Ford is the lead, when, in fact, the dog, Buck, is the real main character and Ford’s screen time is minimal. And, that’s okay, because Ford makes excellent use of his limited scenes, bringing a soulful yet also cheerful touch in a performance that reminded me how great of an actor he can be. His scenes with Buck are among the best, even though they would’ve been more impactful with a real dog. (Again, no complaints here about the CGI).
Buck also has some meaningful scenes with Omar Sy, as the caring sled dog leader (FYI, this is a practice that I do not condone, but the character treats the dogs fairly well). Then, there’s Dan Stevens as a truly villainous character, although thankfully, even with his occasional presence, the film never becomes too scary for the little ones (or for yours truly).
Perhaps the film is overly sentimental at times, which made it much easier for me to cry. And, then there’s this weird motif of a large, fantastical black wolf who randomly appears to Buck, even at the end. And, it seemed odd to have Ford’s character be the narrator, seeing as he did not meet and know Buck until relatively far along in Buck’s journey; and especially since Ford’s character [SPOILER ALERT] dies and then continues to narrate Buck’s life after him.