(The Disneycember logo is shown, before showing clips from The Call of the Wild)
Doug (vo): Well, I've discovered a few things watching Call of the Wild. I'd argue not many of them good, but still interesting. One is, despite having not read the book Call of the Wild, I discovered I actually read more Jack London books than I thought growing up; White Fang, To Build a Fire, The White Silence. Okay, that's not a ton, but for me to remember these stories and not know they were written by the same guy was actually kind of interesting. I mention this to let you know I have at least somewhat of an understanding of what this guy's writing style is like, and this movie...yeah, this is literally the PG version of it. Like I said, though, that's not the only thing I've learned watching this film. The other thing I learned: if you have the option to use a real dog instead of a CG dog, always choose the real dog, 'cause, man...oh, man. Okay, okay, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here.
Story[edit | edit source]
Doug (vo): The film is about a domesticated but still very rambunctious dog named Buck. One day, he's kidnapped from his home, though, and sold for money, and embarks on an adventure, being captured and sold, escape, captured and sold, ultimately leading to a friendship with a prospector, played by Harrison Ford. The prospector lost his son and has become an alcoholic, but to remember the good old days and maybe get a little money as well...yeah, it's kind of confusing why exactly he goes on this trip...he decides to go looking for this cabin that his son used to talk about, one they're not exactly sure exists, but there's a ton of gold to be found there. Along the way, Buck must find his place, discovering whether or not he's man's best friend or an animal of the wild.
Review[edit | edit source]
Doug (vo): I'll admit, I did look up the story after watching this film to see just how close it did follow it, and...it has the very basic bullet points. It's roughly the same plot, though they do change some things, and some I understand, some are just kind of mind-boggling.
(Several clips focusing on the film's antagonist, Hal, are shown)
Doug (vo): For example, there's this really prissy guy who's gonna be looking for gold, and he's told, "You can't go that way, you're gonna die." Well, in the book, he does. He's from the city, doesn't know what he's doing, and he disappears very quickly. But in this, not only does he somehow still survive, but with his clear lack of understanding how to survive in the wild, he somehow follows the prospector like miles behind, through the mountains, and catches up to him, locates him! It makes no sense! This guy can't figure out he's not supposed to take a certain number of dogs, yet he just locates this guy with a dotted line he drew on a map? It's not even on a map! It goes on to a floor, and it's like, that's not to scale! He was just guessing, yet somehow, he located him? He located this place that nobody could find, it was supposed to be stuff of legend because nobody could find...? It's so stupid!
(Various clips focusing on the main character, Buck, are shown)
Doug (vo): A lot of bad stuff happens to this dog in the book, but all that's either done off-camera or they just write it out, and I don't know. A lot of Jack London stories are about the harshness of nature and the respect you have to have for it, 'cause it is just so cutthroat. It just didn't seem right changing that much, especially a story about a dog discovering he's part of this harsh, harsh world, beaten down to a point where he realizes what he really is and where he belongs. And, yeah, let's talk about clearly the biggest problem of them all: the dog is CG, and he looks...awful! When I saw the trailer to this, I didn't think it was real. I was saying to myself, "No, no, no. That-that's...that's gotta be, like, they're not done yet, you know, like, when you see the movie, it's gonna look amazing, it's gonna blow your mind", 'cause that's such a stupid idea to replace a real dog with a CG dog. It's like The Room making a back alley set or a top of a building set, when you can just go to a back alley or a top of a building! I don't think the makers of this really understood the importance of having a real dog there. I guess there was a guy in a motion capture suit doing it, and I'm sure he was acting his head off, but none of this performance is like how a dog would react. It's like how a human imitating a dog would react. Yes, dogs can be very goofy and funny, but they can also be very dignified, the way they can be trained, the way they hold themselves, the way they hunt, the way they track, the way they observe, the way they react to things. They're amazing animals that are incredibly hard to duplicate authentically. (An image of Dug from Up is shown) Yeah, we can all do impressions, and we can look at animated movies and laugh how over-the-top they are and such, but if you're gonna tell us we're supposed to believe that looks like an actual dog is there, you straight-up don't understand the animal. And this is a story all about understanding the animal.
(Various clips resume showing)
Doug (vo): The real irony is, I was watching this, just saying to myself, "Why didn't they just animate this?" Not just the dog and half the backgrounds, I mean the entire movie. Not everybody has to look like Spies in Disguise, you could've done some more realistic animation, maybe even some motion capture, like Polar Express. Seeing this dog in that world would've worked. So much of it is artificial anyway, why didn't you just go all-out? That way, I can watch it, and when he does look realistic, which is very rare, but when he does, I can be like, "Wow! Man, that looks so convincing!", instead of, "Oh, wow, that one or two times it looked convincing", like it's supposed to throughout the entire film. No, if it's animated, we give you the benefit of the doubt, we go, "Wow, okay. This is a different art form, it's supposed to be more expressive. We'll give you that leeway." But here, it fails hard, man.
(Several clips focusing on the human characters are shown)
Doug (vo): Half the characters already act like cartoons. Dan Stevens plays the guy from the city, and even though he played a CG-animated beast, he seems much more cartoony here than in anything else he's been in. It's a shame seeing Harrison Ford really acting his heart out, I mean, doing a pretty good job in this role against an effect that just can't give him the same support back.
(As various clips resume showing, we are briefly shown the film's end credits, revealing the director of the movie)
Doug (vo): But perhaps the most interesting thing I've found out about this film was at the very end when I saw who directed it: Chris Sanders. Now, if you know anything about animation, you know that's a big name. The director of Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon, The Croods, he was even the voice of Stitch. This is a guy who took stories that have been done over and over again and redid them in a way so that they felt fresh and new, which is why it's so strange that he's taking on a classic story that clearly should've been animated all the way through, and it doesn't work. I guess I could be really disappointed in that, but honestly, looking at his track record, this is the first thing he's done that hasn't been good. That's pretty impressive.
Final thought[edit | edit source]
Doug (vo): And honestly, the film isn't awful. It does have some dramatic scenes, mostly from Harrison Ford, it is visually stunning, it does keep just enough bullet points to the story that I can say it's faithful enough, again, just based on what I've heard. I think this was just a major miscalculation. It either had to be live-action with a real dog, or the entire thing had to be animated. And either way, the story had to be a lot harsher. I'm not sure why they took this Andy Serkis motion capture approach. Maybe they thought the technology was caught up by then. And for all I know, maybe it is, but they clearly didn't have the budget or the time to bring that technology to this movie. So, as a guy who really likes dogs, Jack London, and Chris Sanders, this was kind of a triple disappointment. But I will say, the effort is there. There's never any point where I was like, "Oh, my God, they're not trying or they're slacking off or whatever." I think they were trying to be faithful to the story with the limitations they had, trying to break new technological ground, again, with what they had, and make their main character as expressive as possible. This just wasn't the right way. I'll give this film thanks it does make me want to read a lot more Jack London stories, but this was simply a misstep that didn't pan out.
(A scene showing Buck and John Thornton looking at an open wilderness in the middle of a beautiful sunrise is shown)