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Ruff guide to cute

20 February, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Harrison Ford and four-legged friend in The Call of the Wild

Directed by Chris Sanders
Certificate PG

STEP aside Lassie, roll over Littlest Hobo – there’s a new dog in town.

This film is pure Disney: a clever doggie and his human chum, cartoon baddies, lots of easy-to-overcome obstacles and adventures, and a big fat moral about doing good at its heart.

It is based on the book by Jack London. He wrote it as a short story after he travelled north from California, lured by the Gold Rush in the Yukon area of Canada.

It was a breakthrough story for him and set him up as a hard-living, fierce writer. His works would become precursors to the likes of Hemingway and Steinbeck, and encapsulate a frontier spirit that was being slowly crushed by Victorian industrialisation.

Buck (a cleverly created CGI creature “acted” by Terry Notary) is a large collie/St Bernard cross, living a pampered life as the pet of Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford) in a Californian town. As the gold rush up north gathers pace, there is good money paid for hardy dogs to pull sleds as prospectors head into the wilds to find their fortunes.

Buck is kidnapped and sold, taken up to Alaska and into the wilderness.

He starts by working for two postal workers who deliver their mail using a sled team. When the Canadian government scraps the service, as the advent of the age of the telegraph renders it unprofitable, he is bought by gold-worshipping dandy Charles (Colin Woodell). He has already met loner Thornton (Harrison Ford) on his travels and after a series of misadventures, Thornton offers the mutt a home and off they set into the wilds to find some peace.

This has the Disney stamp running like a seam of gold right through it. Ford’s character is a homely old-timer, full of wisdom and kindness, while the baddies are comic-book creations that are cut from the same cloth as Cruella De Ville. Buck has every attribute a Disney animal lead needs: brave, faithful, clever.

The film has all the elements of a children’s tale that surely will become much-loved by pre-teens.

What works best are the beautiful backdrops, the relationship between man and dog, and of course the morals at the heart of this tale.

Expect no surprises. This is a gentle, family film well told.


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