I cannot emphasize enough how much I disliked Fantasy Island. Thus I welcomed a return to substance with The Call of the Wild. The premise of this film is not one to which I would typically be drawn: a computer generated image (CGI) dog named Buck makes its way to the Yukon where it has a series of cute adventures. But at least it did not have confusing fantasies and bored actors.
Building off the brief synopsis provided above, here I will make short work of my one complaint about The Call of the Wild: the CGI. There have been plenty of other dog films where they used the real versions to portray the furry stars. I guess that could become a little tedious as how do you get a dog to show more emotion when you need it? But for the title character, while it looked really close to real, it was fake enough to take me out of the movie periodically. Still, the problems with the graphics went deeper. Given the setting, this film begged for less computer enhanced imagery and more wide-lens, sweeping shots of what remains one of the most unspoiled environments in North America in the Yukon. Given that Lent is coming up, I want to be charitable. Dogs and location shots are hard to get down under the best of circumstances. Just a little more effort, though, and I believe it would have enhanced the thrilling nature of this film.
What The Call of the Wild does have in spades, though, is heart. In a truly St. Francis of Assisi moment, John Thornton (Harrison Ford) learned how to live again from the practically constant sunny disposition of Buck. Thornton had come to the Yukon to escape the pain of losing his family. Of course, Buck had problems too, being abducted from his comfortable home in California and pressed into service as a sled dog in the Great White North carrying mail to its residents. For the both of them, though, there is something driving them forward. Tragedy does make up a significant portion for both, but it is also about finding their place in the world. And because the Uber-canine seems to have the preternatural ability to sniff (or snuff) out evil, Buck even gets Thornton to quit drinking. We should all be so lucky with out pets. Of course, Buck is more than a pet. Until we are blessed with teetotaling animals, I will continue to pray for those who deal with such problems.
I enjoyed The Call of the Wild for several reasons. For one thing, it seemed to be somewhat cathartic for my girlfriend, who cried early and often. For this reviewer, there is no more sure sign that a film has substance than seeing her react from the heart in such a way. It appealed to my historical side by having the right amount of dirt and grit. Finally, it was easy to root for Buck, whose plucky attitude really carried the film (despite not always looking completely real). These aspects were enough for me to forgive the mustache twirling villain of Hal (Dan Stevens), or the fact that he was able to find the cabin where Thornton and Buck ended up in despite it being in the middle of no-where in nineteenth century Canada. It is difficult to get more remote.