19 February 2020 13:38

Things improve for Buck when he’s adopted by soft-spoken, grief-stricken, semi-alcoholic John (Ford).

You've probably seen the posters. In this Disney action adventure, Harrison Ford and his dog, Buck, whizz down a river, in a canoe. But look closely. That's not a dog. It's a CGI clone.

The Call of the Wild review: Harrison Ford and his dead-eyed CGI dog take a walk on the mild side

On the plus side, that means no animals suffered for director Chris Sanders' art. On the down side, shouldn't we be wary of this dead-eyed simulation and his Stepford Woof? Ach, it's easier to go with the flow, even if the script, inspired by Jack London's 1903 novel, is flagrantly sappy and frequently ridiculous. It's the 1890s and Buck (a St Bernard/Scotch Shepherd Cross) is dog-napped so he can aid and abet those seeking gold in the Yukon and Alaska. Buck, in case you're wondering, is the quickest dog in the room. And the smartest. And the strongest. He's also self-abnegating and merciful (both with rivals and rabbits). No wonder adorable mail-man, Perrault (Omar Sy), loves him. Buck's fortunes plunge when he's passed on to dastardly, foolish Hal (Dan Stevens), and flaky Mercedes (Karen Gillan), who gets so few lines that it's hard to tell how she fits into the story (she's actually Hal's sister). I'm flirting with understatement when I say this is neither her nor Stevens' finest hour. Things improve for Buck when he's adopted by soft-spoken, grief-stricken, semi-alcoholic John (Ford). At this point, Buck basically becomes John's therapist and AA sponsor. But our hero also has his own guardian angel, in the form of a powerful wolf who hovers in the air and has laser-beam-bright eyes. This shaggy spirit in the sky stages two interventions that save Buck's life. For Buck, you see, is some sort of Chosen One. The Call of the Wild: In pictures 18 show all The Call of the Wild: In pictures 1/18 2/18 3/18 4/18 5/18 6/18 7/18 8/18 9/18 10/18 11/18 12/18 13/18 14/18 15/18 16/18 17/18 18/18 1/18 2/18 3/18 4/18 5/18 6/18 7/18 8/18 9/18 10/18 11/18 12/18 13/18 14/18 15/18 16/18 17/18 18/18 This is a walk on the mild side. The clue's in the PG rating. London's novel offers a far more gritty take on mutts and men. Indeed, the many tweaks made by Sanders' team will probably leave die-hard fans, who view the book as a kind of bible for manly thrill-seekers, frothing at the mouth. They'll be thinking, "John Thornton didn't have a little son called Timmy! He had two rugged mates, called Hans and Pete! And he swore ALL THE TIME! And what's happened to the fun bit where Buck rips out the throats of a bunch of Native Americans?" Sometimes change is a good thing. London's novel is racist. But the film isn't much better. In the book, Buck savages the Yeehats who kill John. In the film, Buck's nemesis is a white man and the only Native American we meet lives in a town. Sanders solves the tricky issue of indigenous tribes by making them magically disappear. That, in turn, allows John to play the pioneer. When he and Buck head to the hills, he tells Buck they're going where no one has gone before. What keeps you on side is Ford. His grey hair is greasy. His bulbous cheeks and nose resemble freshly-whittled wood. His cautiously avuncular smile is irresistible. Embracing old age, Ford is more beautiful and involving than ever. Sy, too, is authentically warm, and there are some neat visual gags. A night-time land-grab, involving Perrault's wife, Francoise (Cara Gee) is amusing, as is Buck and John's stint at panning for gold and their team spirit when making home improvements. Kids will adore the playful humour, the sledge rides, the Edenic landscapes, maybe even the cod-Celtic music and the thread of doggy romance. Ever noticed how "sexy" female beasties, in movies aimed at the young, often have white fur? Anyway, there's a wolf, just like that, who takes a shine to Buck. And there's definitely an emotional kick. The impact of one bullet will cause sensitive little'uns to howl. Buck is as artificial as Sonic the Hedgehog. He's outdoorsy, inc. Chances are though, that if you take children to see this, you'll all leave the cinema smiling.