Tales of man’s best friend are as old as time itself. There is just this inherent nature of love and bonding between humans and dogs. It seems to always be the case that humans go into this quad-pawed situation thinking that they are the ones taking care of these magnificent furry creatures, but it ends up being that these majestic beings end up taking care of us. Such is the story of The Call of The Wild.
The recent film adaptation stars Harrison Ford, Dan Stevens, Omar Sy, Karen Gilan, Bradley Whitford and Colin Woodell, but the real star of the show is the one and only Buck. Buck is a large St. Bernard and Scotch Collie mix, who is equal parts kind and mischievous.
Buck’s journey begins in Santa Clara, California, where he lives a life of luxury as the family pet to the wealthy and powerful Judge Miller. But Buck’s world is quickly turned upside down when he is kidnaped by Judge Miller’s gardener and shipped to the Yukon aboard a freighter.
When Buck arrives at the Yukon, it is here that he meets John Thornton for the first time. In no time at all, Buck is sold to Perrault and his assistant Francoise, where he becomes part of their dogsled team. The team’s job is to deliver mail across the Yukon, and they must do so before their deadline.
Buck quickly gains the loyalty and trust of Perrault. Francoise isn’t taken with him at first, but that quickly changes. The other sled dogs are initially frustrated with Buck’s lack of skills and training in pulling a sled, but quickly warm to him as he shows his kindness and vigor. The pack leader is a husky named Spitz, who initially asserts his dominance over Buck and the rest of the pack. Inevitably, a showdown between Buck and Spitz takes place as to who will be the alpha. A hard-fought duel commences with Buck proving to be the victor.
With Buck now being the head of the pack, his inherent leadership begins to emerge. His speed and strength also prove to be significant assets in making the mail arrive on time. In fact, due to Buck’s diligence and sheer determination, not only do they meet their deadline, but they exceed it in record time. After this miraculous achievement, Buck crosses paths with John Thorton a second time when he needs a letter delivered to his wife. We also discover that the mail route will be replaced by the telegraph. Heartbroken and with deep regret, Perrault realizes he has no choice but to sell the dogs.
A mean-spirited and inexperienced gold prospector by the name of Hal quickly buys up the pack, working them to exhaustion. Hal makes them carry heavy loads in weather that is totally unsuitable for sledding. When the exhausted dogs need to stop to rest, Hal refuses and tries to force them across an unstable frozen lake. Buck knows the danger of the situation and refuses to move the pack. Incensed, Hal threatens to shoot him. But just as a showdown is about to happen, John Thornton thankfully reappears and rescues Buck, severing Buck’s ties to Hal immediately. Under Thornton’s care, Buck can recover and is given the love and care he deserves.
Later, at a saloon, Thornton is once again involved in a confrontation with Hal. Buck quickly attacks Hal, who is subsequently thrown out of the establishment. After this incident, Thorton decides to travel the Yukon beyond his map and live freely in the wild with Buck. They soon find an abandoned cabin in an open valley and settle in. However, unbeknownst to them, Hal is hot on their trail, believing that John is hiding gold and looking to get his revenge.
I found The Call of The Wild (2020) to be a very poignant movie. Its charm and power lay in its directness and simplicity. It was a marvel to see Buck’s journey and transformation from a pampered, fun-loving house dog to a tough sled dog. By the end, Buck came into his own through strength and leadership and ultimately realized his destiny to answer the call and become one with the Wild.
I liked that all the characters in the film could stand on their own and be a part of an ensemble. Each character has their own colorful personalities, strengths and weaknesses. I found Harrison Ford’s character, John Thorton, to be well-rounded and very believable. While he was kind and generous to Buck, he was less so to himself. Thorton could never quite gain control over his inner demons, but Buck entered his life and guided him to a transform that coincided nicely with Buck’s own. As a tale of the bond and companionship between man and dog, it did not disappoint. If that speaks to you, I would highly recommend this film.