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February 27, 2020

Call of the Wild (2020) --- "He Leaves One World Behind For The Vast Beauty Of Another."


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Hello, Movie Buffs!
     Set during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s when strong sled dogs were in high demand, Buck - a 140-pound big-hearted St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix - becomes the prime target for big cash. Dognapped from his blissful and domestic life in California, Buck soon finds himself in the exotic wilds of the Alaskan Yukon. As the newest rookie on a mail-delivery dog sled team, Buck experiences a life-altering adventure as he finds his true place in the world, befriends an old man (Harrison Ford), and ultimately becomes his own master. Director Chris Sanders (Croods 2) and writer Michael Green (Murder on the Orient Express, Jungle Cruise) brings to life a heartwarming and vivid adaptation of Jack London’s beloved 1903 literary classic The Call of the Wild.
     London’s short and gripping adventure novel tells a brutal tale that film-wise is not exactly suitable for young viewers. Fortunately, director Sanders and writer Green have softened the tale and made some suitable changes in order to better appeal to a more modern audience. Now don’t get me wrong Green adheres to the source material reasonably well. It still tells a tale about a pampered pooch who triumphs over abuse to find purpose and community and then later drawn to the limitless world beyond civilization, but it's less heavy-handed about strong issues and more heartwarming. The story utilizes symbolism and emotion to tell an empowering tale about how perseverance can make anyone stronger, giving one the strength to take on bigger challenges. Buck’s evolution throughout the film is almost like a feral devolution where he learns to be more attentive to his instincts then what the humans around him are trying to say, and it was understanding his truest instincts that led to nobility and accepting duty. It is this theme that has made this film an enduring and beloved classic for more than a century. 
"He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time."
- Jack London -
     Thanks to motion capture technology, Terry Notary (Planet of the Apes, Avengers: Infinity War & Endgame) is able to play Buck. At first, he was going to just do Buck’s facial performance, using his eyes and expression to convey different types of emotions, but he soon convinced the filmmakers that he could also perform Buck’s body movements too. The timing of animal actors unpredictable and not only was Notary able to use that unpredictability to all kinds of things but he was also able to overcome his human physiology in order to do it. In addition, the use of combining CGI animation with motion capture technology gave the filmmakers the liberty to do whatever they wanted but still providing a way for the human actors to connect with Buck both emotionally and physically. In other words, we didn’t have to grimace when the actors hugged a ‘non-existent animated dog’ but for all intents and purposes, he looked real.
          The human actors do a surprisingly good job as well. Harrison Ford (Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker), who has spent a career acting opposite creatures who aren’t there, is comfortable in the role of Jack Thornton, who also serves as the film’s narrator. He gives a dignified performance and brings a relatable world-weariness to the part of a man who lives a nomadic existence after the death of his son and the disintegration of his marriage. There is true love and friendship at the heart of his and Buck’s relationship. In the novel, Buck's first owners in Alaska are Perrault (a “little weazened man”) and Francois (a “black-faced giant”), a couple of rough but kindly mail couriers for the Canadian government. He feels no affection for them but grows to respect them with time. In this film, Perrault and Francois (now Françoise) are played by Omar Sy (Jurassic World: Dominion), a French-African and Cara Gee (The Expanse), a Canadian-Ojibwe Indian. Perrault loves the dogs to a fault and gives them several sentimental speeches about the importance of mail delivery in the Klondike. Françoise is prickly and standoffish but eventually warms up to Buck after he proves that he is more than just a cumbersome oaf of a dog. Dan Stevens (Lucy in the Sky, Legion) as the cruel would-be prospector in a three-piece houndstooth suit is painfully over-the-top in a cartoonish villain kind of way that is uncomfortable to watch at times. There are other notable actors in the movie – Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Colin Woodell, and Scott MacDonald – but none have much screen time. 
     Overall, The Call of the Wild (2020) is a vibrant and beautifully crafted film that is sure to entertain the whole family. The source material is incredible but it’s also brutal and carries some out-dated racial views so the filmmakers made some necessary changes and omissions in order to be a more heartwarming family-friendly film specifically targeted at families with young kids. The motion capture technology and the CGI are balanced beautifully and human performances are relatable. All in all, this is not a perfect film but it is beautifully heartwarming and touching in its message about trusting your true self, courage, and strength.

Final Vote --- 7.3 of 10 stars

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