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The Call of the Wild review: A dog’s guide to humanity

Perrault and Buck look at each other in the film The Call of the Wild

The Call of The Wild is a highly emotional adventure that delivers a message of loyalty, courage and resilience and teaches us a lesson in humanity.

How can we define the concept of home? Is it the place we come from or is it a destination? Is it where our family and friends live? Or could it be that home is something else entirely, something that is not even really a place? Perhaps it’s simply a feeling we find within ourselves – a special kind of memory that we always carry with us, one that is forged out of the bonds we make on our journey, whether it’s the people we come to love or those we lose on the way.

The nature of home is a complex idea to explore, and it certainly is the case for Buck, a strong-willed dog whose physical size (as a cross between a St. Bernard and a sheepdog) matches the size of his heart. The protagonist of Jack London’s acclaimed novel, which director Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon) adapted to the screen, is a dog who “grew up in the world of men”, and who’s had to say goodbye to too many homes in too little time. At the beginning of his journey, he is an affectionate (and hilariously clumsy) house pet whose life consists in photobombing family pictures, chasing rabbits and strolling through a Californian town where everyone knows his name.

But his normal life as a loving (and beloved) dog is soon turned upside down, when he is abducted from his home and forcefully transported to the “edge of nowhere” – that is, the Canadian Yukon during the Gold Rush of the 1890s. In this unfamiliar, inhospitable environment, he is mistreated by violent men and finds himself completely on his own, having to adjust to a new kind of life – a life of physical exertion, unwanted loneliness and emotional uncertainty.

Loud and Clear Reviews The Call of the Wild Buck
The Call of The Wild (Walt Disney Studios)

As hard and dangerous as it is, life as a sledge dog has its ups and downs. As Buck makes new human acquaintances – such as good-hearted French Canadian mailman Perrault (Omar Sy) and his wife Françoise (Cara Gee), he also has to learn how to behave with his own kind, as part of a mail-delivery dogsled team. Not only that, but his path will take him even further away, both in distance and in familiarity, in a journey of growth and self-discovery that will ultimately lead him to finding his place in the world.

Buck is not so different from The Call of The Wild‘s other protagonist, John Thornton (Harrison Ford), a father whose grief for the loss of his son has made him give up on life altogether. Both characters are survivors looking for peace in a world that robbed them of their dreams: often victims of their own good heart, they live by reacting to circumstances, trying their best to stay afloat while trying to find a place they can belong to. Both grow a huge deal throughout the movie, having to learn how to stop dwelling on the past and finding a way to live in the present. But it’s from the least human character that the most important message of the film is delivered – a message that comes in the form of a lesson in humanity.

The Call of The Wild is not an easy film to watch. There is a whole lot of pain in this Disney movie, and the endearing moments of Buck being his adorable self are not enough to make you forget about all the violence and loss. A familiar bittersweet feeling accompanies us throughout the film – a film that also features plenty of corageous, selfless acts, poetic moments of reflection and even incredibly epic, badass scenes. Above all, there is a very important lesson to be learned from this brave canine protagonist.

The Call of The Wild is a story of growth, discovery and self-acceptance. It’s about learning how to be a team player and a leader, and staying true to yourself even when fate tries to turn you into someone you’re not meant to be. It’s a story of loyalty, strength, resilience and, above all, courage, one that invites us to believe in impossible things but that brutally forces us to acknowledge our own limits. As highly emotional as it is extremely real, it puts us face to face with that kind of grief that never goes away, one that can only be made bearable by carrying it with us, wherever our journey takes us. It also delivers a beautiful message about the beauty of companionship, no matter what form it takes, teaching us that, no matter how much we’ve lost in the past, we can still find a way to feel and live the present.

If there’s anything The Call of The Wild could have done better is its representation of its villain, American gold seeker Hal (Dan Stevens), who often comes across as too superficial a character, and therefore lacks the necessary depth to become a real villain with real motivations. But this emotional adventure is not really about heroes and villains: it’s more about resiliance and humanity, and it sends its message across in a meaningful way while also taking us on a breathtaking adventure. In a film where the stunning photography matches the epic score and impressive CGI effects, it’s the journey that matters – a journey that has all the feel of life at its most real.

The Call of the Wild is now available to watch on Disney Plus.

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