MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
When folks disagree about a certain film, invariably much of the discussion can be focused on whether or not the movie fulfilled expectations, exceeded expectations, or failed to live up to expectations. In other words, what did you expect to see?
I had read that this new version of Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” featured computer-generated dogs. Although the trailer looked fairly cheesy, Director Chris Sanders was previously involved with some decent animated films including 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon and 2002’s Lilo and Stich.
I decided to approach The Call of the Wild as a cartoon-with-humans hybrid and thoroughly enjoyed it. Like Walt Disney’s Bambi, The Jungle Book, and 101 Dalmatians, there is violence galore and some dark material, but animation has a way of smoothing rough edges.
When we first meet Buck (the St. Bernard/Scotch Shepherd mix who is the central character), he is a large, lumbering Marmaduke-type house pet who slips and slides his way around a judge’s (Bradley Whitford) house, wreaking havoc on a large scale, but loved by his supportive family. Once Buck is dognapped, beaten and shipped to the Yukon, other adventures take place involving a couple who deliver the mail to far-flung locales (Omar Sy and Cara Gee) and Jack Thornton (Ford), a grieving widower who is struggling to decide what to do with an uncertain future. When Jack and Buck finally forge a bond with one another, they are two loners who are at transitional points in their life.
Things could either get very serious or very silly at this point. Fortunately, this movie decides to do both! The entire sled dog pack is made up of characters right out of Lady and the Tramp. Even though no words are spoken, the animals muster up as much human-like characteristics as the animators can create, including eye and mouth movement that has to be seen to be appreciated. These are not real dogs! There is also a bad guy (Stevens) as over-the-top as Snidely Whiplash (look it up, kids!).
We also discover that Buck has the ability to help Jack deal not only with his grief but also with alcoholism. Although there is much action involving saloons, drinking and gunplay, it is similar to the stuff found in old western movies and television shows. It helps to have The Call of the Wild written as a buddy movie, with friendship and loyalty as supreme values. Even the discovery of gold is treated as “unrighteous mammon” (look that up, too!)
This is really a fun movie, helped immensely by beautiful nature photography and the Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Harrison Ford is the perfect choice in the dual roles of Jack Thornton and the film’s narrator.
Younger kids will find this film a bit scary, but if parents sit alongside and laugh at the silly stuff, this is a good choice for family viewing. Critics who complain that this version of The Call of Wild is watered-down literature are right, but they are expecting the wrong movie. There are at least eight other versions, but this is the one that I will likely watch with my grandson in years to come.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A wholesome family-friendly adventure that – doggone it! – isn’t afraid of anthropomorphism.
Two pitchforks: Drinking and alcoholism, animal violence, dognapping, one mild curse word.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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