This fascinating adaptation of Jack London's classic 1903 novel, set in Canadian Yukon territory in the 1890s, is a must-see.
The film begins in a well-appointed house in suburban California where lives Judge Miller, the hapless, frustrated owner of the way-too-lively dog, Buck, whom he simply cannot control. The lavish garden party meal which he organises is utterly ruined by Buck's wild antics, with all the dishes upended and destroyed.
Buck is subsequently stolen by a crook who has learned that dogs like Buck can fetch a handsome price. He is sold into a canine slavery ring, locked up in a confined space and roughed up in a sadistic training routine. However, he manages to defy his captors and escape. Ultimately he finds himself on board a ship headed for Canadian Yukon territory where the Gold Rush is in full swing.
In the Yukon, he becomes one of the pack of dogs who pull the postal service sled. Cue at this point some classic Disney adventures. In one particularly thrilling scene, Buck frantically steers his two minders or masters (played by John Sy and Cara Gee) out of the path of a crushing avalanche.
In time the postal route is closed down and Buck and his fellow sled dogs are sold to a heartless ne'er do well - pure stage villain in fact. He is played by Dan Stevens who applies harsh treatment to the pack as he and two accomplices head into the Yukon wilderness searching for gold.
Harrison Ford, at 77, is the perfect fit for John Thornton, the disenchanted loner who is lamenting the death of his young son and the subsequent end of his marriage. Thornton is living in a remote cabin, drinking too much whiskey and feeling desperately sorry for himself.
Ultimately, dog and man rescue each other from neglect and despair and look out for each other thereafter. But there are many turns on the snowy, tree-lined path and many twists in the tale. Thankfully the visual effects and animation technology do not ruin the organic, wholesome spirit of the film.
As novel, The Call of the Wild was first serialised in the Saturday Evening Post in the summer of 1903 and was an instant success. Its author Jack London had sold the rights to the novel for $2,000, money he intended to spend on an old sloop for sailing. Not sure about the fortunes of the sloop, but this hugely-talented writer died from drink and drugs aged just 40. He had written in the space of two decades, some 50 books, the second best-known of which is White Fang.
Critic Robert McCrum placed The Call of the Wild at number 35 in his 100 Best Books in The Guardian newspaper.
"London found his literary voice writing about a dog that learns to live at the limit of civilisation," wrote the critic. "He was inspired to embark on his dog story as a means to explore what he saw as the essence of human nature in response to a wave of calls to American youth urging a new start for the turn-of-the-century generation. London's mythical creature became his answer to the complex challenges of modernity."
The Call of the Wild is a warm and engaging treat for all the family. Maybe White Fang, that other classic London novel, deserves the same loving treatment.