By: Ashley de Sampaio Ferraz, Staff Writer
What makes a good adventure story? Is it the fast-paced action sequences, the uncharted territories to be explored, the breathtaking risks and dangers involved, or the fearless hero that manages to survive every obstacle? “The Call of the Wild,” a 2020 film adaptation of Jack London’s 1903 novel of the same name, aims to satisfy all of these demands, and more. While it occasionally falls short of the excitement one may expect, the movie provides something to its audience that’s almost just as endearing; it has heart.
“The Call of the Wild” tells the tale of Buck, a strong, mischievous dog living in California with his wealthy owners who is stolen and sold to be a sled dog in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. During his journey, he experiences violence for the first time and encounters John Thornton, a kind, older man living in the Yukon.
As time goes on, Buck becomes more accustomed to the harsh environment and eventually becomes a very talented sled dog, even going so far as becoming the leader of his team. Traded from master to master, Buck embarks on a journey of self-discovery, and slowly learns that he must search within to find who he’s truly meant to be.
This version of “The Call of the Wild” takes a story that is often known for its main character’s brutal quest for domination, and filters it until it is an emotional family film, perfectly suited for almost all ages. Some may say that this takes away from the potency of the original story, but I enjoyed the emotional scenes that presented themselves between the action and adventure. It was interesting to see Buck and John’s relationship flourish, and truly showed how smart and determined a dog can be when faced with endless challenges.
“The Call of the Wild” is a story that is familiar to adaptations. This is actually the seventh version to be developed into a movie, with the first being a silent film that came only 20 years after the original novel was published. Every version of the story has been very different, however, with different themes and ideals portrayed through how each production decides to tell Buck’s story. One choice that the developers made was completely different than all of the adaptations that came before it: Buck, and all of the other dogs, were completely rendered by CGI, or computer-generated imagery.
The choice to use CGI for such a big part of the film was a daring one. Recently, CGI has undergone a lot of scrutiny in the movie world, with big films such as “Cats” and “The Lion King” being criticized for their overuse of the style. “Cats,” in particular, was cited for creating creepy, surreal characters that sit right in the uncanny valley, which is the emotional response humans have when viewing an object that’s almost human, but not quite.
“The Call of the Wild” suffers from such issues, but its issues aren’t nearly as distracting as other movies’ have been. Buck is animated in a way that showcases his emotions through intricate facial expressions, and there’s an endearing effect to seeing his pain so clearly. There are points where it is very clear that Buck is not a real dog, but the fact that CGI was used also means that the creators had the freedom to play with his physicality, leading to intense running sequences where Buck slides across the ground and tosses his body into walls, a stunt that wouldn’t be achievable with a real dog playing the character.
Harrison Ford plays John Thornton and does an excellent job at assisting the story and portraying John’s suffering over his son’s death. Ford, however, takes the backseat as a supporting character in a role that has so often been the main focus in adaptations of the story. Screenwriter Michael Green is quoted in a USA Today article as saying, “Other films have told a version of John Thorton’s story with a dog at his side. We were able to make Buck’s journey something we could all experience.”
The story of Buck is a great one, and is one that displays to its audience that sometimes the journey to finding yourself is just as important as the destination. “The Call of the Wild” is in theaters now and I encourage those who enjoy a classic family-friendly adventure film to go see it. You might just be inspired.