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  Call of the Wild, The Wolfing It Down
Year: 2020
Director: Chris Sanders
Stars: Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Cara Gee, Dan Stevens, Bradley Whitford, Jean Louisa Kelly, Michael Horse, Karen Gillan, Colin Woodell, Micah Fitzgerald, Heather McPhaul, Adam Fergus, Stephanie Czajkowski, Abraham Benrubi, Thomas Adoue Polk, Terry Notary
Genre: Western, Drama, Action, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1897 and in North America there is a gold rush on, especially in The Yukon area of Alaska, where dogs are needed to pull the sleds. Further south, one dog is Buck, a pampered pooch who is allowed to get away with quite a bit by the wealthy family of Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford), though he decides to rethink his leniency when Buck destroys a family gathering by devouring all their food in one fell swoop. Therefore that night, instead of letting the dog into the house, the Judge makes him sleep on the porch, where he catches the attention of a passing dognapper who lures Buck into the back of his cart and crates him up, then sends him all the way to Alaska to pull those sleds...

Jack London was the biggest writer around at the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth, and with the newly arrived film industry just establishing itself around the same point, looking for stories to adapt, his works were snapped up. This means London's success was contemporaneous with the rise of cinema, and while many a writer of his era has gone on to be forgotten all these years later, his books and short tales, with their clear, fastmoving style, have never gone out of fashion with adapters, as seen by this version of his biggest novel in terms of sales, The Call of the Wild. Director Chris Sanders wanted to be as faithful as he could to London's intentions here.

To do so he used his skills as an animation director to bring Buck to life, a mixture of animation, actual dog sounds, and motion capture expert Terry Notary acting out the animal's movements over which, effectively, a cartoon dog was placed. You notice the cast talking to the dog not only as if it would understand what they were saying, but as if it would answer back like it was Scooby-Doo or something, and there was a degree of anthropomorphism going on in how it interacted - though it did not actually speak, and unlike The Shaggy Dog, didn't drive a car either. As a newly renamed 20th Century production, it was under the Disney banner, however, and it did resemble one of theirs.

The Disney animal movies had historically been both animation and live action (Old Yeller traumatised a generation way back when, after all), so you could observe this combination of both was an obvious way to go forward, especially when training animals for use in film and television was becoming socially problematic, if the creatures were involved in anything potentially dangerous. Technically, The Call of the Wild was a Western, and you may muse to ponder if CGI horses to ride on would ever be a thing when watching this, but this was one oater where dogs were more important than nags, as they were employed (or forced) to pull the sleds important to the plot, with Buck making sure the post got to its destination on time.

For about half the story, anyway, but this was merely a stepping-stone to the hound finding itself in a fundamental manner, which again was in tune with the twenty-first century view of preservation and celebration of nature. The postpersons were played by Omar Sy and Cara Gee, the former a welcome sight as many were the Westerns from the previous century that ignored the presence of black folks, be they cowboys or otherwise. But Harrison Ford was the first-billed star, even though the CGI dog was the main character, and he appeared a few times before making his mark as Buck's owner after saving him from sadistic gold obsessive Dan Stevens, whose sister was played by Karen Gillan in a role so brief it suggested she had signed on to share a scene with Ford rather than be enthused by any substantial acting opportunities. As an adventure, if nothing else it showed London's storytelling instincts were a classic skill, and while you were never convinced Buck was a real dog, it was a traditional, enjoyable yarn. Sweeping music by John Powell.

[20th Century's Blu-ray has a range of informative featurettes and the trailer as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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