The dog is computer-generated, and Harrison Ford is not — or is it vice versa? The new version of “The Call of the Wild” is so glossy, you can hardly tell.
Not that it makes much difference in this once-over-lightly version of the classic Jack London story. Except for an interesting turn in the late going, this adaptation doesn’t leave much of an impression.
It does intersect with some of the novel’s storyline. Our main character is Buck, a brawny dog leading a cushy life in the late 19th century. But not for long.
Kidnapped and sold as a sled dog during the Klondike Gold Rush, Buck bounces around the north. Enlisted on a dog team for a pair of Canadian mail-runners (Omar Sy and Cara Gee), Buck learns a lesson in leadership by facing down the team’s nasty alpha.
The true villains of the piece arrive in a trio of overconfident prospectors (led by Dan Stevens and a barely-there Karen Gillan), who take Buck along on an ill-prepared venture to find a lost cabin that supposedly sits on a fabulous gold strike.
Harrison Ford’s character, a reclusive widower, pops up occasionally during the early reels. Eventually he and Buck will take a journey of their own, a trek that, although Ford’s leathery old coot insists he is not interested in gold, might involve a lot of shiny nuggets.
Up to this point, “The Call of the Wild” has been barely more than a cartoon, with good guys and bad guys and a very cutesy canine. Buck is “performed” by the motion-capture acrobat Terry Notary (if you saw “The Square,” you will remember him as the apelike performance artist), whose image is digitally pooch-ified.
Banish all thoughts of the awkward feline-human hybrids of “Cats.” This is a seamless dog, although some of Buck’s facial expressions and double-takes look suspiciously human.
In its final section, “Call of the Wild” director Chris Sanders (an animation veteran, including “The Croods”) reaches for something grander. In the spirit of London’s story, the film looks at how Buck is tugged by his genetic ancestry, and the possibility of rejecting human society in favor of hanging out with the local wolf pack.
Put this together with Ford’s back-to-nature philosophy and a lot of gorgeous shots of the Northern Lights, and the film’s finale finds its groove.
Some of this has to do with Ford’s grizzled presence. He actually looks engaged by the material, sort of dazed but grateful, as though awakened from the slumber of doing another “Star Wars” or “Blade Runner” picture.
The movie overall is still kiddie fare, and not especially distinguished as that. But it does come to life when Ford and the other old wolves get their due.
“The Call of the Wild” (2½ stars)
A mostly superficial adaptation of the Jack London novel, with a computer-generated dog making his way through the Klondike Gold Rush, and meeting Harrison Ford along the way. Thanks in part of Ford’s back-to-nature sentiments, the movie picks up toward the end.
Rating: PG, for violence
Opening Friday: Alderwood, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Pacific Place, Seattle 1o, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza
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