Monday, March 09, 2020

Movie Monday: The Call of the Wild

In desperate need of a night out, my husband and I met up with good friends on Saturday for dinner and to go see The Call of the Wild, the latest film adaptation of the classic wilderness novel by Jack London. Of the four of us, my husband just read the novel last year, I read it in middle school so only remember it vaguely, and our friends hadn't ever read it. All of us enjoyed this entertaining story about a man and a dog who save each other in the wilderness of the Yukon and Alaska.

Buck is a lovable but unintentionally destructive dog, living a happy life with a family in California, when he is stolen one night and sent to Alaska, where there is an urgent (and profitable) need for sled dogs for the 1890's gold rush. Buck, a very large--though wholly untrained--dog is soon brought onto a team of mixed breeds who pull the mail sled through the remote Yukon territory. Perrault, played by Omar Sy, is a kind sled master who takes his responsibilities with the mail very seriously, accompanied by Francoise, played by Cara Gee. Although not used to discipline or hard work, Buck soon learns how to be a part of the team and eventually becomes the lead dog, earning the respect of both the other dogs and his masters through his brave and diligent efforts. When the mail is no longer carried by sled, though, and Perrault is sent home to Quebec, Buck is purchased by a cruel, wealthy man intent on finding gold. He works Buck and the other dogs relentlessly and pushes them way past their limits, also putting them in danger through his ignorance of the spring melt season and his greedy pursuit of gold at all costs. A man named John Thornton, played by Harrison Ford, finds Buck when he has been left behind, almost dead, and brings him back to his remote cabin. John has encountered Buck before and kindly nurses him back to health, though John's normal life is filled with nothing but sorrow and alcohol, having lost his young son to a fever years earlier. John and Buck take off into the wilderness together, in pursuit of what John's son would have called an adventure.

While the very basic outlines of the movie are based on the novel, the story has been seriously Disney-fied. In the novel, Buck endured far more abuse (and from far crueler men) before finally finding John. This is a kinder, happier version of Buck's story, clearly meant for families and to be appropriate for children (it is rated PG). But we all agreed that we really wouldn't have wanted to watch Buck be mistreated more, and we were all entertained by this 100-minute cinematic escape. This version has humorous escapades to counter the darker themes, but the essential relationship between John and Buck remains, along with the theme of Buck gradually shedding his domestic upbringing to listen to "the call of the wild." Ford is, as always, wonderful in his role, and the scenes of the Alaskan and Yukon wilderness are breathtakingly beautiful, making me yearn for camping season to start. It's an enjoyable diversion and a heartwarming story of a man and a dog finding healing and redemption with each other.

The Call of the Wild is currently playing in theaters (we saw it in a comfy recliner theater!). DVD and streaming release dates have not yet been determined.

Check your local theaters for dates and times:

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