The Call of the Wild

The latest adaptation of Jack London’s classic novel stars Harrison Ford and a CGI-created dog

Jack London’s classic novel, The Call of the Wild, dates back 1903 and, since then, it has been adapted several times. Starting from 1923’s silent version by Fred Jackman all the films starred a real dog, but as technology advanced over the years we couldn’t expect that luxury anymore. The latest version by Chris Sanders is the first that features a CGI-created dog, even if there’s “something living” behind it.

The Call of the Wild is the first production by Twentieth Century Studios after becoming a part of The Walt Disney Company. The film, written by Michael Green, is directed by Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon, The Croods).

The story follows Buck, a dog that, after being kidnapped and taken away from his home in California, finds himself in the Yukon during the 1890s’ Gold Rush. Selected by a young couple to join a group of sledge dogs, Buck will soon learn how to be part of a pack and what it feels like to be a leader. The wilderness will give him a precious friendship with a man, John Thornton, but Buck will also find his own “voice” and his place in the world.

The Call of the Wild started as a project lead by CGI, but since the main character has to carry the emotional charge of the story, Chris Sanders and his creative team decided to use a hybrid approach: they didn’t replace the dog with a marker (usually an object), but with a real person, the actor, stuntman and choreographer Terry Notary. Moreover, the film mixes many live takes with other digital-created animals.

It’s really hard to discuss the result: on one side, the visuals are good enough to support the story, on the other, you’ll always feel like there’s something fake about all the animals you see in the movie. Jack London’s novel should look like a real-life adventure, but when you look at those creatures, you expect them to talk or sing at any moment, like in latest (and questionable) version of The Lion King. The good news is that your children won’t mind the details. The screenplay is simple and quite effective as long as it speaks to younger audiences: the adults who read the book will notice that Michael Green took considerable liberties with the original material.

The actors have enough experience to hide the flaws of the film, with Harrison Ford giving a great performance as John Thornton, a man with a troubled soul who is trying to escape his past. The cast also includes Omar Sy (The Intouchables), Dan Stevens (Downtown Abbey), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Bradley Whitford (Get Out).

The Call of the Wild hits theaters on Friday, February 20, 2020.


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