In Brief: Not all that wild and the dog isn’t a real dog. A mild and not wild criticism. This is a good family film.

It’s not a real dog.

Sorry. I normally wouldn’t comment on something like that but it’s already all over the Internet. It’s a spoiler but two-minutes into the movie and you’d figure it out for yourself.

The not a dog is a character called Buck. Some of the dogs in The Call of the Wild are real canines. Buck isn’t. He’s the animal hero of author Jack London’s classic work of fiction and is now the star of his own movie. The dog has to be heroic in all ways necessary to the adventure and to get there, and get him to be the hero he has to be, Buck had to be a man pretending to be a dog.

A man doing a dog? Really?

Really. Here’s how. Motion capture sensors do all the work. The guy just has to pretend to be a dog. Therein lies the problem with the movie. While the guy does a fairly good job, try as they might, men aren’t dogs. Plus, the CGI gurus just aren’t at the place where they can make animated people or animals completely believable.

You’ve noticed that with films like Captain Marvel where they tried to make Samuel L. Jackson look 30 or The Irishman where Martin Scorsese was tasked with making old friends Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro look young again. Neither worked but Scorsese’s CGI artists did better than those from the Captain Marvel movie. They made Jackson’s face look plastic. The dog doesn’t look plastic but the facial expressions and mannerisms a lot of the time don’t look canine.

The complaint is minor.

Notice it’s a “minor” and not a “miner” complaint. The story is based on the gold rush in the Yukon in the late1890s and it is a pretty good family adventure film. London’s novel — written just a few years after the gold rush began — is a look at the event from the dog’s point of view. Buck interacts with a couple who deliver mail and packages to miners, with a group of greenhorns who are ill-equipped to hunt for gold and with a kind man named John Thornton.

He’s done by Harrison Ford.

Ford doesn’t do a lot of movies these days. It’s been a few years since Blade Runner 2049 in 2017 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Most of us wish we’d see him more. Even at 77, Ford has a natural swagger that attracts you and holds you like a magnet. He gives you all those mannerisms, and the Indiana Jones and Hans Solo ticks and twitches you’ve grown to love, and a delivery style that makes you think he’s just a little bit guilty of something.

Though he’s gotten an Oscar and a couple of Golden Globe nominations for serious roles, he’s not really all that good in a straight dramatic role. This isn’t a complaint. The Call of the Wild is more drama than comedy and Ford holds his own. He’s just better in other types of movies.

I’m not saying he’s bad here. Ford is superb but he’s always Harrison Ford and these days it’s hard to get past that and think he’s really Thornton or whatever character he’s playing.

The Call of the Wild is directed by Chris Sanders who co-wrote and co-directed the first How to Train Your Dragon. It’s written by Michael Green who got an Oscar nomination for co-writing Logan and who also co-wrote Blade Runner 2049.

Hollywood sometimes tends to leave important stuff on the cutting room floor or out of the screenplay altogether. The version done by Sanders and Green kind of follows the book, or at least it follows the basic structure. Some key parts are left out, and some parts are changed. That will have London purists howling.

Ignore them. Their bark will be worse than their bite. It’s heavy enough as it is and because it is watered down a bit The Call of the Wild may encourage younger viewers to delve into London’s book and maybe a few of his others.

All told — at least according to Wikipedia — there have been eight movies based on London’s classic adventure story. I haven’t seen any of them but did like this one. You will, too.

Oh, and take the kids.

Directors: Chris Sanders
Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Gillan, Cara Gee, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Bradley Whitford

Rated PG for mature themes. The film leaves out huge and heavy chunks of Jack London’s novel. That makes it more kid and family friendly and while changed a bit, The Call of the Wild is a pretty good movie.

Click here for theaters and show times.

Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.

He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.


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