Now with The Call Of The Wild hitting cinemas this week we see the inclusion of a CGI dog because of threats made by animal welfare groups when the film was in preproduction and it was expected that a real dog would be used in the film. It was a drastic step by the producers and one that does ultimately affect the film.
Based on Jack London’s classic novel, the film follows Buck, a young dog who in the 1890s was kidnapped from his pampered home and sold in the Yukon as a sled dog.
It is here where Buck first crosses paths with a grizzled old prospector named John Thornton (Harrison Ford) who has turned his back on his family while on his own personal journey.
Buck soon finds himself purchased by Perrault (Omar Sy – Jurassic World) and his wife Francoise (Cara Gee – Red Rover) who use their Sled dogs to deliver mail on one of the world’s most notorious routes. It is during these dangerous treks that Buck soon starts to find himself hearing the call of his ancestors.
As a film, The Call Of The Wild is solid.
But while it is listed as a family film it does have some scenes that may be distressing for some of the younger members of the audience. There are several fights between the canine characters and a scene which depicts a semi-violent bar fight involving John. But of course, the question on everybody’s lips is ‘what does the CGI dog look like?’
If you follow film news closely you will remember that when the first trailer for The Call Of The Wild was released, the CGI dog was laughable. The good news is that there have been some obvious re-edits made since then because the Buck that appears in the film is very different from the one that appeared in the trailer. But if you are expecting Buck to look as smooth and as realistic as the animals from The Lion King, then think again.
Early on the CGI Buck looks very awkward, awkward and awful if I’m really being honest. While interacting with Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford – Get Out) Buck is often put through a series of slapstick moments. As director Chris Sanders (How To Train Your Dragon) tries to enhance the comedy of those moments he uses close-ups on Buck’s face. That ends up being a big mistake as the CGI dog seems to permanently look goofy and at no time does it ever look real.
Luckily, the CGI work does seem to get better as the film goes on and after Buck arrives in the Yukon it does get easier to accept him as a ‘real’ dog. It is strange that the CGI looks so bad early on in the film especially when the other dogs and wolves that we meet in the film look so natural, it almost feels like various artists have been involved with the animation and some do not have the experience of the others.
CGI dogs aside though this is a powerful story that allows some of the humans to really shine through in their roles. Omar Sy is brilliant as the determined Perrault. As an actor, he seems to relish a role where the black and white sides of Perrault are not always clear. However, even Sy’s performance seems to pale into significance when you compare it to the work of the legendary Harrison Ford here.
Over the past few years, Ford has been given a lot of softer roles so it is good to see him get a chance to deliver some great character acting as he does here. Ironically it is while playing John Thornton that we get to see the softer side of Ford as he portrays a damaged character in a way is searching for his own redemption.
Ford puts in a real rounded performance as his anger flares in scenes where he is forced to protect Buck while there are other more touching scenes that see him share some sentimental moments with his canine companion.
The best part of The Call Of The Wild though is the way that director Chris Sanders and screenwriter Michael Green (Logan) have captured the magic of Jack London’s original novel. The film looks at some powerful story-lines involving redemption and how no matter how hard we try we never can really tame anything that still has a wild streak at heart.
It is not an over-exaggeration to say that this is a film that will see its audience go through a range of emotions starting with laughter and going right through to tears.
Sadly the damage done by that early trailer is going to continue to hamper The Call of The Wild at the box office. Yes, there are moments during the film where you will look at the CGI and wonder how in 2020 that kind of standard can make it to the big screen but there are also moments of true beauty and wonder as well.
The film is also damaged by a severely weak and stereotypical bad guy played by Dan Stevens (Beauty And The Beast) yet, just like the dogged determination of Buck, finds a way to even overcome that. Yes, a great script and one of the best acting performances of Harrison Ford in years is just enough to save a film that was very nearly sunk by threats of protest before it even left preproduction.