The Call of the Wild is a 2020 family adventure film directed by Chris Sanders and written by Michael Green. It is based on the Jack London novel of the same name and Sanders's live-action and solo directorial debut.
A domesticated St. Bernard/Scotch Collie dog named Buck is stolen from his home in Santa Clara, California, and sold to freight haulers in the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush. After being mistreated, he ends up in the care of a lone outdoorsman named John Thornton.
The film stars Harrison Ford as John Thornton, Dan Stevens as Hal, Omar Sy as Perrault, Karen Gillan as Mercedes and Bradley Whitford as Judge Miller. Buck the dog is a CGI character (reference acted by Terry Notary and animated by Moving Picture Company) to render him more expressive and have him do elaborate stunts.
It released on February 21, 2020 as the first film under the 20th Century Studios banner, after Disney declared in January that year that "Fox" is to be dropped from the name of 20th Century Fox. Coincidentally, the 1935 film adaptation was the last film released under 20th Century Pictures before they merged with Fox.
The Call of the Wild contains examples of:
- Adapted Out: Thornton's companions Jack and Hans (which makes sense, given how he is The Hermit instead of a Prospector here) and other dogs, Skeet and Nig. Teek and the other dogs that Hal, Mercedes and Charles have in addition to Hal's team. The Yeehat Indian tribe doesn't exist in the film either.
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Charles is described as having constantly weak and watery eyes, a poor groomed mustache and and a drooping lower lip in the book, but in the film is more trim and handsome.
- Adaptational Nice Guy:
- In the book Charles and Mercedes consistently mistreat the dogs (with Charles clubbing them several times along with Hal) and ignore Thornton's attempts to help them, and Mercedes constantly rides in the sled, adding to the heavy weight even as there's fewer dogs to pull, and they get weaker. In the film, Mercedes does get out of the sled to lighten the load, and she and Charles even help pull the sled up a hill. Charles was prepared to hit Buck once when the sled didn't move but seems chagrined after Thornton reveals to them that the problem was their rudders were frozen, and later disagrees with Hal's decision to not feed the dogs. Both of them also give Thornton and his warning more respect and consideration (while showing frustration towards Hal's anger and cruelty), although they still ultimately follow Hal across the creek but end up spared from their original fate.
- Francois and Perrault were better masters than Hal, Charles and Mercedes in the book, but were still willing to discipline the dogs with clubs, allowed the fight between Buck and Spitz instead of remaining oblivious to it, and lacked the charming altruism and idealism that their film counterparts have about delivering the mail.
- Spitz is still a harsh Alpha, but he's less murderous than in the book, and much of his initial feud with Buck is driven by some genuine, and irritating mistakes that Buck makes during his first day on the team (although Spitz still bullies the rest of the team).
- Some of the dogs in Buck's team, notably Pike, who in the book is constantly stealing food and cleverly getting Dub blamed for it.
- Adaptational Villainy: Hal is a nasty piece of work in the book, but his gold fever doesn't lead to him posing a threat to Thornton there.
- Adaptational Wimp: Buck. In the book he put up a substantial fight after being captured, whereas in the film he submits after being clubbed a single time. Likewise, he pretty much killed Spitz himself (book), rather than letting him wander off in defeat (film).
- Adaptation Expansion: In the book, John Thornton was a bit character who just happened to be the last decent person to own Buck before his transition into the wild. In the film, he has the backstory of a divorcee who split from his wife after their sons death.
- Advertised Extra: Of sorts. The trailers advertised the film as an adventure with Buck and John Thornton together. While John is a recurring character before then, its not until halfway through the movie that he comes into possession of Buck and their journey actually begins.
- Age Lift:
- Thornton is several decades older than his novel counterpart.
- In the book, Hal is described as about nineteen while Charles is middle-aged, but in the film Hal appears to be in his late thirties and Charles' actor is 28.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Spitz. Sure, he tried to kill Buck and is an abusive leader. But after all, he is driven by envy since Buck is a much better and charismatic leader than him, and after losing to Buck in a fight, he just walks away shamefully to God-knows-where while the rest of the gang just carry on without him. Even Buck looks like he feels for Spitz in that moment.
- Artistic License Geography: Night scenes taking place in darkness during the Alaskan summer.
- Bears Are Bad News: Subverted. Buck crosses paths with one more than once while transitioning between John Thorntons care and the wolf pack into which hes integrated, but it never does anything more than snarl and roar at him.
- Big Damn Heroes: Buck leaping into the river to save Francoise.
- Big Friendly Dog: For the first time, Buck's breed is accurate, a big St. Bernard/Scotch Collie. And he's certainly amicable and helpful, saving a woman from drowning in a frozen river and bonds with John.
- Bittersweet Ending: As in the book, Buck assimilates into a wolf pack and eventually becomes alpha, but it comes at the cost of John Thorntons life. Whats more, John Thornton dies without getting the chance to reconcile with his wife, who will likely never know what happened to him.
- Cute Clumsy Creature: Before being shipped to the Yukon, Buck is shown to be a very destructive dog, creating chaos in the manor house where he lives.
- Demoted to Extra: Charles and Mercedes. Combined, the two of them don't have nearly as many lines as Hal does, their ownership of the dogs take up perhaps ten minutes of the movie, and it's never even mentioned whether they died or just gave up and went home, although it's presumably the latter since Hal never mentions them dying in the final version of the film.
- Dies Differently in Adaptation:
- While the lead-up to his death is the same in both, in the book Buck kills the lead dog Spitz personally in a fight between the two. In the film, after being beaten, Spitz wanders off into the wilderness on his own and is never seen again.
- In the book, Hal, his incompetent comrades, and their sled dogs, sans Buck, end up falling through the river ice and drowning, exactly as they were warned would happen. In the film, Hal survives the trip, becomes Axe-Crazy, and seeks vengeance on John, only to be thrown into the blaze of a burning cabin by Buck. He also mentions that the other dogs at least escaped into the wilderness, but doesnt acknowledge the fates of his two human companions.
- By extension of the above, John Thornton. Killed in the book by a band of Yeehat warriors (a fictional Native American tribe), killed in the film by a delusional Hal, who assumes John has been holding out with regard to a secret stash of Yukon gold and tried to sabotage his trip to keep others from finding it.
- Disneyfication: The book did not hesitate to describe the harsh realities of the wild, sometimes in graphic detail, but the movie softens or removes several events. Most notably, the book has Buck defeat Spitz by breaking two of his legs with crushing bites and then killing him by ripping his throat open. In the movie, Buck just pins Spitz, who submits to Buck and then wanders off to disappear into the wilderness. Charles, Mercedes, and the rest of their sled team are also spared in the film—in the book, Hal and Charles end up shooting some of the dogs after they drop from starvation and are unable to get up, and the rest of the dogs, along with the three humans, drown in the river after the ice falls out from under them.
- Face Death with Dignity: Thornton is very much aware that his chances of survival after getting shot are slim thanks to being in the middle of the wilderness days away from medical aid. But he assures Buck that its okay and quietly passes away with Buck and the picture of his son at his side.
- Gender Flip: Françoise is a man, Francois, in the book.
- The Hermit: The reason John came to the Yukon was to find solitude and peace following the death of his son.
- Hollywood Density: The pure gold nugget Buck picks up from the creek would only weigh about 10 pounds, but having to use his jaws to carry it would make it harder to hold, and John is neither surprised by its weight nor fumbles it when Buck drops it in his hand.
- Nature Is Not Nice: The cold and snowy Yukon is described as "a dangerous place" in the trailer.
- Race Lift: Perrault is white in the novel and most adaptations, and he's portrayed by the African-French Omar Sy here.
- Scenery Porn: The frozen wilderness of the Yukon is portrayed in all its glory, with even some night scenes for the aurora borealis.
- Schrödinger's Canon: In the novel, Mercedes is Hal's sister and Charles's wife, in the film, it isn't mentioned how the three of them are related (or if they even are at all).
- Serkis Folk: Played with in that Buck the dog is fully CG, though they apparently used real St. Bernards as reference points and human actor Terry Notary as the mocap. Most animals in fact are computer-generated because the filmmakers thought making fake animals was safer than making real ones endure the weather and stunts.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Hal's sled dogs desert him instead of falling through the river ice and drowning like in the book, also sparing Mercedes and Charles in the process. Hal is also spared from his original fate, only to perish under different circumstances in the climax.
- Starring Special Effects: Given Buck is the central character, no matter if his Thornton is the narrator.
- The Watson: The dogs serve as this for Perrault to talk to about the mail runs. Francoise expresses amusement at the notion that they understand this at first but later she starts doing it herself.
- Uncertain Doom / What Happened to the Mouse?: The film leaves out the fates of Spitz, Hal's human companions, and his remaining sled dogs, all of whom were explicitly killed off in the book. In the case of Hal's companions, it's outright suggested (although not confirmed) that they live since his sled team makes it past the froze lake in this version and just escape from him later on. It's worth noting that the originally filmed version did have Hal confirming the demise of his sister, her husband and their sled dogs, but this was altered for the final product.