If you enjoyed having your heart wrenched out by Jack London’s 1903 classic book, Call of the Wild, then you will enjoy the emotional roller coaster that comes with watching this 2020 film rendition.
Call of the Wild (2020) follows the ups and downs of a big, burly dog, Buck. Buck lives the high-life in a rich judge’s house, but when large dogs are being recruited and sold for labor, Buck is stolen and sold to an evil, abusive master. However, as the narrator tells us, “…[Buck] could not be broken.” He escapes from his evil master and is picked up by an Alaskan sled team that delivers mail, but when the telegraph replaces the need for hand-delivered mail, Buck is sold to greedy gold-miners. Buck is a slave to the whip again, until a washed-up nomad, John Thornton (Harrison Ford), rescues him.
The rest of the story follows Buck and John’s wild Alaskan adventures, but the integrity of the film isn’t lost in between the grizzly bears and rushing rapids. Decades ago, John and his wife lost their son, and since John couldn’t deal with the grief, he left his wife and found solitude in the mountains. Unfortunately, he found the bottle too. Buck, being the insightful, intelligent dog he is, understands that the whiskey isn’t good for his companion, and Buck is seen constantly burying whiskey bottles and dumping liquor onto the floor to keep it away from John.
In addition, Buck is a natural-born leader that willingly taps into his wolf-like leadership, even when it’s tough. When he is hungry after a long day of sledding, he gives up his dinner for another dog who lost her food to the sled leader, Spritz. He dives into freezing water to rescue a drowning sled driver. He fights off the greedy gold-miner, Hal, when Hal tries to kill John. And he isn’t afraid to back bears out of the river to keep his wolf friends safe.
John sees this leadership in Buck, but he sees the wild calling for him too. Buck must find his place between his human companion and the natural instinct he has to join his wolf friends. But through it all, Buck never loses his heart for protecting and loving others.
John’s alcoholism isn’t violent, but he is pretty washed-up and ornery while he is drinking, so parents need to be prepared to have a discussion with their children about what alcohol is and how it can be misused. As far as language goes, John says, “Son of a … ” — never saying the cuss word, but later, he lets the d-word slip up under his breath. A few scary nature scenes are scattered throughout the film, including a sad instance when Spritz kills a bunny. The greedy gold-miner, Hal, chases down John with a rifle, shooting him in the side, but little blood is seen.
Alcoholism, money-hungry villains, and the nature of the wild seem heavy for younger audiences, but the script does a beautiful job of opening the floor for conversation about these elements, rather than pushing them as heavy themes to praise. Instead of weighing down the beautiful themes of friendship and sacrifice, these milder negative elements are presentable at the family dinner table. Because of this, we award Call of the Wild (2020) Dove-approval for All Ages.
The Dove Take:
After watching this beautiful, family-friendly 2020 adaptation of the classic Call of the Wild, you’ll either buy a plane ticket to Alaska or name your next pet Buck — or both.