Not something on the top of my watchlist, but after hearing bad reviews of Fantasy Island, I decided to give this one a try. I’m glad I did…
Starring Harrison Ford (as I’m sure you know) this film is based on a novel by Jack London, and is an adventure movie, generally family friendly, with breathtaking visuals, engaging story, and an overall satisfying conclusion. Yes, the dogs are CGI…I think people either like it or hate it. I didn’t mind it, because I honestly think it made the movie more engaging. Because the dog is the central character, and we are following, for lack of a better term, the character development of an animal, we did need some more characterization, expressions, and personality. It keeps kids engaged too, who otherwise may wonder why they aren’t seeing Sonic the Hedgehog instead.
The premise follows the life of the main dog, Buck, as he’s kidnapped from his home and sold to be a sled dog up in Alaska, during the Gold Rush. He is bought by Perrault, who needs a sled team to deliver mail (Omar Sy), but they eventually are ordered to cease their work, due to the invention of the telegram (from what I understood from a very brief explanation). Afterwards, Buck is bought by a prospector (Dan Stevens) who mistreats the team of dogs. Harrison Ford sort of rescues Buck, and from there he and Buck travel, eventually finding a place to settle down. However, Buck is constantly called away by wolves (this happens throughout the film), and he discovers he truly belongs out in the wild, among his wolf cousins, or ancestors or…you know. He finds his true home.
I am not familiar with the novel, so I have no idea if the original story actually had a villain. Dan Stevens shows up because I guess we really needed an antagonist, with Nebula as his wife or girlfriend or…I’m not actually sure (that’s Karen Gillan). Honestly I wish the story had been centered around Buck and his first sled team for the whole duration. Perrault also has a significant other who was an ok character (Cara Gee). I am not familiar with Omar Sy in other films, but I really liked him. I think the movie was strongest during Buck’s introduction to sledding and the great outdoors, beyond the comfort of his home back in California. It definitely faltered during Dan Steven’s time. I like him as an actor fine, but it felt unnecessary.
Overall, the film does pull you in, and it does tug at the heartstrings. I think it did that just enough- not too much sap, and certainly not void of feelings. There is a harshness about it that makes it real enough for adults to appreciate the reality of the historical and brutal aspect of history, life in general, and loss…and it is toned down a bit for children, but not so much that it’s dumbed down. Some of the scenes may bother, even shock kids, but they are lessons and things that can’t be ignored (such as depictions of animal abuse). Overall, a very good quality film, one that I don’t need to watch again, but won’t be forgotten easily, either.