The Call of the Wild (2020)
Director: Chris Sanders
Writer: Michael Green
Starring: Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, and Colin Woodell
Plot: A spoiled, house dog learns to embrace more and more of his wild side as his environment keeps changing.
Review: For the second time this month, I’m going to throw out the more traditional review. You see, I have a theory about this movie. I’m not going to spoil anything this time. I just want to throw something out there. It’ll still kind of be a review. Just not your typical “this is what I liked and this is what I didn’t” style. Got it? Ok. So, what’s my theory? The Call of the Wild was supposed to be an animated movie.
Ok. So, let’s start with the most obvious clue. That freaking dog. In live action, he is terrifying. His face doesn’t move in the way that a real dog’s does. He’s massive. And, it just doesn’t feel like he’s really there. He shouldn’t be in this movie. They should’ve used a real dog and just dealt with the fact that he wasn’t going to be that expressive. Or, create a realistic CGI dog, like they did with almost every other canine character in the movie! Seriously, he’s the only one who looks like this! It’s freaking weird, man. The visual effects here make the live action Lady and the Tramp movie look like a masterpiece.
Speaking of the Lady and the Tramp remake, that comparison is what originally got this idea into my head. After thinking that, I thought “This feels like a Disney live action remake.” And that led to “Why didn’t they just animate this?” If The Call of the Wild were a hand drawn, animated movie it would be soooooo much better. It might even be great. The plot is very Disney-eque. It’s about a dog constantly overcoming the odds! He inspires a sled team. He fights off another dog (in a scene that’s very reminiscent of The Lion King, by the way). He’s evading an over the top villain played by Dan Stevens (from the live action Beauty and the Beast!) who is chewing every bit of scenery he can in a role that feels pulled straight out of The Fox and the Hound. And he’s finding his place in the world. Plus, the dog is ALREADY basically a cartoon character.
The real kicker too? The Call of the Wild is directed by Chris Sanders, a.k.a. the guy who directed Lilo & Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon. Once you watch this movie with that in mind, it’s really not surprising. The dog, Buck, is definitely in the same character family as Stitch and Toothless. And appreciation of nature and man’s relationship for it feels reminiscent of HTTYD.
So, you have a story perfectly suited for animation. Characters that feel like cartoon characters. And, a director who has directed two of the most beloved animated movies. Why the heck isn’t this movie animated? I will ask that question for the rest of my life. But, I also have a theory and it goes back to the source material. I think Fox was hesitant to make a “kids” movie based on the work of Jack London like it was “above” that in some way. That’s just my theory though. I don’t really want to dunk of Fox without knowing the full truth. Maybe the thought of this being animated never even crossed their mind.
As it is, The Call of the Wild is perfectly average. The dog is weird and the tone is off, but it’s serviceable. The audience I saw it with seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. Like I said, I think it would’ve been a lot better as an animated flick though. Make the dogs talk. Have it be hand drawn. I think you’ve got at least a good movie there. Maybe an instant classic. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got. Instead, we got this weird hybrid that feels like a live action version of the best Disney film I’ve never seen.
TL;DR: The Call of the Wild feels like it should’ve been animated but, instead, is an average adventure film with a weird cartoon dog at the center of it.
Score: 6/10 (Okay)