Director Chris Sanders, a man who has made his bones on animated features like Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon and The Croods, might not seem like the first choice to adapt a novel originally published in 1903 with a story that follows a dog named Buck and contains a sentence that is described in as frank a nature as, “They closed in upon her, snarling and yelping, and she was buried, screaming with agony, beneath the bristling mass of bodies,” and yet that’s exactly where we find ourselves with this latest adaptation of the Jack London novel in 20th Century Studios’ The Call of the Wild. Though I’d never read the relatively short novel the film is based on nor had I seen either of the previous film incarnations (Clark Gable starred in a 1935 version while Rutger Hauer starred in a 1997 version) given the marketing campaign and the PG-rating I hadn’t anticipated that the source material was as brutal and unflinching as it apparently is especially when considering the fact that it’s immediately apparent that Sanders’ version of this story is one for families to enjoy and for dog/animal lovers to find the purest of entertainment in. Of course, this is mostly what I did expect from this version and so it more or less went without saying that despite much of the fuss in the run up to the release centering on the animated lead and the inherent comedy in picturing Harrison Ford acting opposite a tennis ball the fact Sanders’ background is in animation and the fact the project rung with a sense of commitment and passion for Ford more or less led to a more rewarding experience than a ridiculous one. Yes, there are still moments in which the CGI is heavily relied on and the animals look about as real as a stuffed animal, but more times than not the CGI-renderings of these wild creatures look and feel exceptionally real. This brings us to what 2020’s The Call of the Wild does well in that, despite our lead character-Buck-being a CG creation (with the help of Terry Notary), the film genuinely allows its audience to invest in Buck as a character and chart his journey as we are not only endeared to his personality, but we root for him in the sense that wherever his passions lie, we hope his strength takes him there. This, of course, is why Sanders and co. would want the freedom a CG Buck might afford them and, while likely not faithful to its source material in any true way, this Michael Green-penned adaptation conveys more a journey of growth and catharsis than it does a simple, three-act piece of family entertainment which, unlike almost everything else about the film, was completely unexpected.

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