Harrison Ford has plenty of experience working with big, furry co-stars, but in ‘The Call of the Wild’, his hairy companion is a little more down to earth than Chewbacca. A St Bernard-Scotch collie, Buck is the protagonist of this latest adaptation of Jack London’s 1903 novella. If you’re familiar with the story or you’ve seen any of the other umpteen adaptations, you’ll know the dognapped hero goes through a series of human-sidekicking adventures in the Yukon – pulling sleds, dodging avalanches and facing down grizzly bears, before tussling with his wolf ‘ancestor’ wild side.
The curveball in this version is that it’s not entirely live action. Bar a couple of goats, all of the animal cast is rendered in CGI, while our pooch hero is performed by motion-capture expert Terry Notary (‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’). The results are, at best, mixed. While director Chris Sanders (‘How to Train Your Dragon’) is able to pull off action set pieces and human-dog interactions that would be a big ask for even the most versatile canine performer, Buck has a slightly fake look and lacks the tangible reach-out-and-pat charm of an actual dog. It’s the uncanny (or uncanine-y?) valley writ large.
Fortunately, Ford is his usual charismatic (and entirely non-CG) self as a kindly-grouchy frontiersman. Janusz Kaminski’s lush cinematography is a sizeable compensation too. Although it gets a bit mushy at times – with a vision of nature that is frankly fantastical (the animals don’t talk, but they clearly think like humans) – the movie’s unashamed warm-heartedness makes it likeable enough. It should win over its half-term audience.