The Call of the Wild (3 stars)

The Call of the Wild

Sublime animal effects and a tear-jerking Harrison Ford power this Jack London adaptation

Jack London's classic 1903 novella gets a modern makeover in this effects-heavy effort from Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon, The Croods). Narrated by and featuring Harrison Ford, the real star of the show is Buck, a beautiful, sizeable canine played, remarkably, by Terry Notary, via motion-capture. Set in the Gold Rush era, it starts as this domesticated dog is kidnapped in California. So begins a wild, picaresque adventure as Buck is sold off, initially becoming part of a team of dogs pulling mail across Yukon.

As he finds food for his fellow mutts, Buck must assert his dominance against the mean pack leader, Spitz, and rescues one of his owners (Cara Gee) after an accident on the ice in a thrilling sequence. More than once he encounters Ford's big-bearded loner John Thornton, who's grief-stricken over the loss of his son. You just know Thornton will find solace in man's best friend.

Blending live-action photography with CGI, the sublime skill used to create Buck and various other animals (bears, rabbits, wolves), alongside the snow-covered landscapes, is right up there with Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book and the recent reimagining of The Lion King. Still, it takes Ford at his grizzled best to provide the emotional ballast, in one of his most tear-jerking turns in years, as the story (scripted by Logan's Michael Green) explores the age-old theme of man versus nature.

Issues do arise, though. Dan Stevens' performance as a gun-toting idiot out to get gold whatever the cost is hammy, and really needed pruning. There's also an ill-fitting cameo from Karen Gillan. And Jack London purists will doubtless flinch at some of the more outlandish moments that require Buck to turn super-dog. But this big-hearted film is filled with warmth and humour, and acts as a welcome reminder that the environment should be respected.

General release from Wed 19 Feb.

The Call of the Wild

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 40min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Chris Sanders
  • Cast: Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Colin Woodell

Buck is a dog who is kidnapped in California and then has adventures all over the north, including with loner John Thornton (Ford). Big-hearted adaptation of Jack London’s classic 1903 novella, with skilful CGI and fine action sequences and a tear-jerking turn from Ford as both actor and narrator.