The Call of the Wild


            Disney and a dog movie and Harrison Ford---what can go wrong?  And yet somehow, with all the high-tech wizardry in developing a virtual canine, and all the spectacular scenery of turn-of-the-20th-century Alaska wildnerss, the movie plays more like a popcorn-throwing melodrama.

            Buck begins his life as a family pet of a local judge (Bradley Whitford). Buck brazenly eats from the table while the whole family's outside posing for a photograph.  He's big, spoiled, and undisciplined, but soon the gravy travy train is over, as Buck is kidnapped by some cruel dudes who beat him with a club, then sell him to a Frenchman named Perrault (Omar Sy), who with his partner Francoise (Cara Gee) delivers the mail by dogsled.  On the dogsled, Buck learns teamwork and self-discipline, as well as accomplishing a daring rescue under a frozen ice pond.  His size and strength dictate that he would one day be the lead dog, but then the dogsled team is abruptly de-commissioned----by the advent of the telegraph.

            Now Buck is sold once more, this time to the villain of our melodrama, the mustachioed Hal (Dan Stevens), who's only interested in discovering gold in the Klondike region.  So he overloads his sled and literally whips the dogs through the mud of the spring thaw, until they are virtually dead on their feet.  Now ambles in our gruff and grizzled hero, John Thornton (Harrison Ford, who also narrates), who saves Buck from certain destruction, as well as managing to win the permanent emnity of the greedy, selfish investor Hal.  But Buck manages to withold the whiskey from the self-pitying John, who's still drowning his sorrows over the loss of his boy to the fever (and the subsequent demise of his marriage).  Suddenly sober, John decides it's high time to get out of the cabin and go exploring.

            Now comes the bucolic part, when Buck and John go off on an adventure into the unchartered wild country, first by canoe, and when that's damaged by white-water rafting, by foot.  They stumble on an old prospector's cabin, where they happily set up camp.  Buck finds the wilds most enjoyable, and happily brings game and fish to John for them both to eat.  John even stumbles on some gold nuggets in the nearby creek.  But Buck, in his wildnerness wanderings, finds a greater treasure----a female white wolf, who introduces him to life in the wolfpack.  Buck's visits to John's adopted cabin start getting less frequent, as Buck answers “The Call of the Wild.”

            So what's a “happily ever after” ending to this imaginative yarn?  Probably not what the scriptwriters decided upon.  The screenplay's unevenness manages to drag down the positive vibes of man and dog redeeming each other.  There are some good moments, but overall, it's an emotional disappointment.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association