Ford takes a back seat in "The Call of the Wild"

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Your enjoyment of the new “The Call of the Wild” movie will depend on how much you enjoy watching silly dog antics, and on how much you can ignore that the dog is entirely computer animated.

The audience I saw the film with at Rome Cinemas 8 didn’t seem to have a problem connecting with Buck’s adventures in the Klondike, but I couldn’t help but notice the journey into both the Uncanny Valley as well as the Great White North. Still, “The Call of the Wild” was an enjoyable flick, especially if you’re looking for a safe adaptation of the famous novel.

Harrison Ford does a fine job as John Thornton, but he’s definitely not the star of the show.

“The Call of the Wild” is about Buck the dog, a big beast who gets kidnapped and shipped up to the Yukon during the gold rush in the 1890s. Once a pampered house pet, Buck gets in touch with his animal side as both a sled dog and the eventual companion of a lonely frontiersman, played by Ford.

First and foremost, this is a movie about Buck the dog going on adventures and getting up to mischief. The original 1903 short story by Jack London is a little more gruesome with the details, but “The Call of the Wild” the movie plays up the idea that people like watching an entertaining dog having fun and being a hero. To that end, Buck is indeed a pleasure to watch on screen.

The movie also goes the extra step to give Buck human characteristics and facial expressions. Buck does everything short of talk. This makes his adventures even more fulfilling for the audience,

making it easier and more fun to connect with Buck and his companions.

If you’re a dog person, this is your kind of movie.

The human actors do a fine job, for the most part. Ford is great as the grizzled Thornton, but he really only shows up in the second half of the film, despite his prominence on the movie posters. Actors Omar Sy and Cara Gee are even more entertaining as the dog sledders who put Buck to work on a mail route. They are a lot of fun. Dan Stevens has a thankless villain role that I think could have been largely cut out of the film.

As entertaining as the movie may be, I couldn’t help but focus on the quality of the animal animation, and how it was just slightly off-putting. “The Call of the Wild” takes the photo-realistic animation developed in last year’s live action “Lion King” movie, but then gives Buck a more expressive face. This is meant to make him more appealing, but the animation is never so good as to trick you into thinking you’re watching a real dog.

“The Call of the Wild” is an odd juggle between enjoying the dog’s story and seeing a scene or two that reminds you he’s just a cartoon.

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