The Call of the Wild (2020)
The Call of the Wild (2020) movie review
Based on the 1903 novel by Jack London, Call of the Wild follows Buck, a CGI St. Bernard in the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890s. The film sees Buck pass from owner to owner as he struggles to survive the hardships of the Yukon wilderness. Among these owners is John Thornton, a man looking for his own adventure in life. Call of the Wild opens this weekend, however the film faces mixed reviews overall, as well as heavy competition from last weekend’s Sonic the Record-breaking Hedgehog. I hear that’s what Sega wanted to call it anyway…
So once I saw the trailer for Call of the Wild and the kid-friendly aim the film was bringing with it, I knew that I wasn’t going to like it. However that alone doesn’t make for a bad film, and I was willing to get past the CGI dog. Now that I’ve seen the film, yeah I really didn’t like it. And everything I am about to say probably isn’t fair since this film wants to be a silly, PG adaptation of a rather intense novel that explores serious themes and highlights a period of history not often brought into the spotlight. But hey, silly doggos, and kids will like that! (And the couple a few seats down. They were eating it up! But you, yes you unlucky reader, got stuck with the guy who hates dog movies! And Rachel didn’t like it either, so there was no winning.)
Okay real quick, let me talk about a few things I didn’t hate. Some of the performances weren’t too bad. All of them were a bit cartoon-ish, but I thought Omar Sy was solid, and Harrison Ford was pretty good for most of the movie. There were a few moments where I realized he didn’t care too much, but I don’t really blame him. The North of course is very pretty, but that’s not the movie’s doing. I did like the lighting, especially at night. There’s a fin line between unrealistically lit and realistically too dark, and this film does a very good job playing their source lighting off as ambient. And when the film gets to the heart of the story, this broken man and this broken dog bonding, yeah it’s not too bad. There were a few moments I started to enjoy the movie, right before something dumb happened and I stopped again. But the rare moments this movie takes its time to breath and not montage through something significant, it’s enjoyable. And because it’s me, I really liked the music. Sure John Powell’s score is a bit too How to Train Your Dragon here and there, but hey, it’s something to cling to!
So now I am going to get on this movie for all the things it wants to be. If you don’t care about those things and you are up for a silly adaptation of this movie because you just want to have an okay time, but you’ve already seen Sonic, hey you don’t need to hear all my complaints. But if you rolled your eyes in disappointment at the CGI from The Thing (2011), this one goes out to you! I really really hate the CGI animals. One doesn’t look bad, but Buck especially looked bad. Sure PETA and yada yada don’t care. If you are going to have moments of tension where we are supposed to get emotionally invested in our protagonist, we need to have something real to grasp on to. I never believed this movie would hurt the CGI dogs because it’s so obviously designed to be kid-friendly. Yet the film’s tone would have you believe differently, constantly giving you intense situations. Honestly though, the film glosses through those too. Oh rapids! What are they going to do- and it’s over. All of this just led me to ask what the point was?
All that is to say that this film doesn’t know what it wants to be. Sure I guess it could be just for kids. It would explain the minimal inclusion of key factors to the story like the gold rush they mostly gloss over, or all of Thornton’s character depth, and it would explain why the dogs all look and act way too human, or why the humor is so silly, or why the super evil bad guys are in this movie; but why would you want all of that? I don’t! Balto (1995) does twice as well telling kids a fun dog movie while including stakes and historical significance (even if inaccurate), so why the heck do we spend some of this movie’s runtime with Buck hilariously disapproving of Harrison Ford drinking as if he were a comical AA buddy of Harrison? Sorry I just really hated the choices that spawned this watered down version of a great novel. But you know what, if they people who made this aren’t going to have their dogs even act like dogs, I get to complain about it, because there’s a fight between two dogs, and goodness it was funny! At one point one dog picks the other up and slams him to the ground, and I just pictured it with John Cena, since that’s not how dogs work. Trust me, I’ve seen husky’s fight.
Okay want to know my theory? Somebody watched How to Train Your Dragon 3 (2019) and said, “Man that was good AND it resonated with kids well! Lets toss some of that into our upcoming Call of the Wild movie!” And then somebody pointed out the feedback from Disney’s reanimated corpse of The Lion King (2019) and said, “We have to make sure our animals are super silly and expressive! Otherwise people won’t like it!” Well sir, one of these movies is a fun musical remade from an animated film, and the other is a rather intense survival story about two broken spirits finding their way in the wild. But hey, why not! Let’s make silly dog jokes throughout the entire movie, add zero stakes aside from one very forced villain from an old 1930s cartoon, and just have that be enough! Plus the first two thirds of this film that already feels thirty minutes longer than it is features the second most pointless narration that I’ve seen. And yeah there are a few things I didn’t hate, but boy I did not like this movie. Make it animated, make it serious, make it something! Just, not this. 4/10.
So The Call of the Wild? Did you see it? What did you think? Be sure to leave a like or a comment letting us know! And if you liked this review and want to read more, let us know in the comments what you would like us to review next!
-review by Ryan Prince