Just Around The Riverbend

There comes a time in every man’s and woman’s life that they wonder what the hell they’re doing and if people even care about them. I myself wonder that all the time; I don’t know a soul who doesn’t, and we all have ways of dealing with that. I take sanctuary in the nearest movie theater, and this week’s new release, an adaptation of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, proved refreshing and cathartic — just the right thing at the right time.

The film chronicles the story of Buck, a large St. Bernard belonging to a California judge at his wit’s end of how to deal with him — until Buck is stolen, shipped off and sold as a work dog in Skagway, Alaska. There, a series of events that take place shape his life, and after a chance encounter with lonely traveler John Thornton (Harrison Ford, The Age of Adaline), they plot a trail to finish a long-forgotten journey.

Having not read the classic novel on which it is based, I had to judge Call on what I saw, and to me, it brings to mind the best of the Disney Renaissance, and that is in great part due to its director, Chris Sanders — noted animator and story collaborator on Disney films beginning with Beauty and the Beast [1991], he takes to this film his love for human-animal relationships that he experimented with in Lilo & Stitch and expanded in DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon and now perfects with his live-action debut under the newly-reminted 20th Century Studios. Plus, his animation background doubtless helped in the creation of Buck as a digital character, which, while it seems a big pill to swallow based on the film’s trailers, he quickly grew on me as a living creature, while still maintaining an animated nature, but in the best sense — think not Robert Zemeckis, but Don Bluth.

As for the film’s actors, in particular Harrison Ford, this is unlike any film I’ve seen him be a part of — it must have been very close to his heart, as he’s truly in his element, among the vast landscapes, mountains and trees of British Columbia (standing in for Alaska and the Yukon Territory). He’s in as fine a form as I’ve seen him, bringing to mind the best of Robert Redford in Jeremiah Johnson — plus, his portrayal of Thornton, a man broken by loss who finds joy in man’s best friend, brings to the film a charming and a welcome change of pace from the almost guaranteed schlock that releases in the first quarter of the year. Supporting cast members include Omar Sy (Jurassic World) as the kindly mail carrier Perrault, who provides Buck with friendship of his kind and of humans at the first. Surprising me with his entrance was Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast [2017]), going full creepy as the film’s villain, and it’s a welcome, continued change of pace for himself and us viewers.

I was feeling jaded and rather uncaring when I went to the theater, fully prepared to despise The Call of the Wild, expecting a discount Togo (I had even planned to title this review “Nogo” in that event), but it’s a long time since I’ve been proven wrong at the cinema, and for that, I’m so very glad. It’s more than the usual man-and-his-dog movie; it’s a heartwarmer that comes at the right time of year, and from my point of view, it’s just what I needed at this moment, and you might, too — a life-affirming tale of finding your place in the world.

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