The Call of the Wild (2020)

The Call of the Wild (2020) Cover

For a generally competently made film, I just don’t see why Call of the Wild exists in 2020. All of the major flaws with the film are due to the source material, so they don’t feel fair to hold against the film. Unfortunately, though, if you ignore them then what’s left lacks any compelling positives. The only thing that justifies its existence is in how director Chris Sanders composes the film to feel like a cartoon. I could easily imagine each and every shot in the classic 2d style of an 80s animated feature.

Buck, a larger than life dog, is living the life at his large urban home with a family who loves him despite his unrestrained nature. One day he’s captured by thieves who want to sell him off in the wilds of Alaska, shipping him up north to be sold off to a sledding team. After being purchased, Buck discovers the voice of the wilderness calling out from inside him and beckoning him to live the life he was born to.

While the themes are dated and the action is cliche at best, these issues are not meaningful criticisms. Jack London’s Call of the Wild has been adapted so many times from as far back as the early roots of cinema that it is responsible for helping create the very standards that feel antiquated. A more valid critique would be to call out how the story structure struggles to maintain an engaging pace. Plot threads are left trailing in and out of the story in ways that break the tension while trying to establish the setting and location as the film shifts from narrative to action sequences that feel out of place in the story they’re trying to tell.

The result is a film that lacks tonal consistency, which highlights the stilted pacing which doesn’t know when to move the story forward vs. when to let us breathe.

Despite the flaws with structure and plot, there’s a lot that Call of the Wild gets right. Chris Sanders uses compeling imagery to engage with audience. Scenes of the aurora borealis, the Alaskan wilderness, and the beautiful shifting seasons of the outdoors are moving to receptive viewers despite the heavily animated feel of the environment. Though the acting wasn’t as solid as I’d like, it’s never distractingly bad.

This is one of those films where I hate to be overly negative because I reasonably enjoyed it. For all of my minor gripes, the biggest crime of Call of the Wild is simply being completely forgettable. It’s a shame, because I believe that there’s a reason why this book keeps getting remade and I feel like whatever that is has been completely lost in translation.

Final Verdict:A reasonably enjoyable if flawed and forgettable ride.