The Call Of The Wild - This Pretend-Doggie Movie Sort Of Rocks In A Kinda Weird Place
Dir: Chris Sanders
Starring Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Cara Gee, Karen Gillan, A CGI Dog, Dan Stevens, Bradley Whitford
So, is this the movie that rings the death knell on highly trained movie animals? Possibly, because Buck, the dog here, ain’t nothing but CGI. Remarkable computer work, to be fair, but the anthropomorphic nature of the beast (and his numerous supporting beasts) make this more akin to Favreau’s take on The Lion King than it does to anything Jack London ever wrote.
One of the few “real” elements here is a suitably grumpy, hard-drinking and heavily grieving Harrison Ford, sporting an epic old geezer beard, which – who knows? – may well also be made my machine, more than grown by man. There are times in fact where you wonder if the whole of The Call Of The Wild shoot consisted of Harrison standing up against a green screen, possibly in his living room. Why go and explore the beauty of the Yukon when they can create it round your house?
Whatever the final reality of green vs real is, Lilo & Stitch director Sanders has delivered a gorgeous looking movie, even if the characterisation of its animal cast – Buck in particular – sometimes becomes curiously alienating. Said dog is canine-napped from his beautiful Antebellum home and finds himself in the Alaskan gold rush of the 1890s and, after a brief dalliance with Sy’s postman and Stevens’ nasty writ-large villain, ends up in bed with Harrison Ford. Not a bad thing, but Buck proves to be something of an annoying moralist, stealing and then burying Ford’s whisky supply, whilst also shacking up with a gorgeous white female timber wolf, whose size appears to keep changing – again CGI-wise.
Undoubtedly the very young will be able to buy into this with ease; for anyone slightly older it feels…well, a bit strange. Had the makers decided to create a fully realistic (fake) dog rather than, say, a Disney dog, it might have proved both more of a challenge and more interesting.
It’s not a bad film, but it’s one that’s often hard to engage in due to a new variation on the uncanny valley. Favreau’s work on both Jungle Book and Lion King are the best – albeit unexpected – comparisons. That said, by the time you do buy into it, you may well find yourself shedding a non-computer-generated tear by the end. Weird.