The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Mild

It’s a constant source of puzzlement to me why filmmakers will take a classic story that’s been enthralling readers, sometimes for centuries, and make “improvements” (read: dumb it down). And though this latest adaptation of the Jack London tale is nowhere near as bad an offender in this regard as, say, 2011’s The Three Musketeers, it would have had London loading up his six-shooter and goin’ gunnin’ for a few Disney execs. 

It is of course London’s 1903 story about Buck, a very large pet ranch dog (here played by an apparent Saint Bernard/CGI mix) dognapped from California to be sold to Yukon sled dog dealers. With a fraction of the book’s brutality and violence, Buck winds up as part of a team pulling a mail sled, eventually fighting for and winning the alpha spot.  Lastly, he bonds with a grizzled frontiersman (Harrison Ford) before heeding (see title) and finding his inner wolf.

Disney’s defanged version follows the main story arc, but sanitizes it significantly, and adds pointless action bits that were never in the book. An avalanche escape, an icy lake rescue, a sneering villain (so cartoonishly overplayed by Dan Stevens I expected him to start twirling his moustache). Though Ford appears mainly in the final third of the movie, he grounds all this fakery for a while.

The CGI is impressive but never seamless, and the tonal shifts are jarring. Bottom line, this is a disappointment. Little kids (with the price of a ticket) may like it, which may be an answer to the puzzlement in the first paragraph.

(100 min)