Call of the Wild Review

Review: The Call of the Wild

Score: C-

Director: Chris Sanders

Cast: Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Cara Gee

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rated: PG

Chris Sanders has made three solid animated films in his career: Lilo & Stitch for Disney, and How to Train Your Dragon and The Croods for DreamWorks. He returns to the Disney fold to make his live-action debut, but that was a crucial error. With an abundance of CGI, the film is mostly animated already. And the few human actors and real locations only serve to underscore how phony the sets and effects look. Every time I saw a shot of the Northern Lights or an underwater rescue – and there were many – I couldn't help but be struck how much better it would look as a fully animated movie. (Better yet, a hand-drawn animated movie.)

The Call of the Wild is aimed squarely at kids ages 4 to 10. It's an extremely simple story, and if for some reason you can't follow it, Harrison Ford is here with narration even more lifeless than the original cut of Blade Runner. Our hero is Buck, a rambunctious, spoiled St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix, who is only as big as the scene calls for. In his early life of domestic bliss, he literally causes the walls of his master's house to shake. Later on, he doesn't look any larger than a fully grown dog you might see at the park.

Buck is kidnapped and sold as a sled dog in Alaska, where he ruins the first few days of travel. He quickly transitions from being a lazy pup to a strong runner, and eventually overtakes the lead position, because he, uh, is nice to the other dogs? There's a decent sense of adventure here, but then the story abruptly comes to a halt, as the mail route Buck led his masters (Omar Sy and Cara Lee) on shuts down, and the team is sold to a greedy prospector (Dan Stevens, practically twirling his mustache), then almost immediately rescued by John (Harrison Ford). The pair set out on a journey of their own, with Buck venturing further and further away from the comforts of home.

The Call of the Wild corrects an issue many had with Disney's remake of The Lion King: the animals are more expressive, but the animators over-corrected. Now the dogs don't even react like normal dogs. Their actions are so exaggerated, I kept waiting for them to talk. Their cartoonish eyes make them feel less real, decreasing our connection with the animals. Yes, the dogs are cute. But that's not enough to carry a whole movie.

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About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.