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WORDSLINGERS REVIEW: ‘The Call of the Wild’ is a worthy adaptation (and mostly family-friendly)

‘The Call of the Wild’ opens this weekend, telling the classic story of a dog who is shipped to Alaska and discovers wild instincts he never knew he had.

Buck is a big, energetic dog who rarely has a problem in life. He eats the best foods. He sleeps whenever he wishes. He’s pampered throughout the day.

But that’s about to change.

Buck is stolen off his owner’s California ranch and shipped to Alaska, where he’s sold to the highest bidder and forced to join a dog sled.

The Klondike Gold Rush is in full swing, and Buck is now part of a mail carrier service to deliver letters to prospectors. It’s grueling work, and Buck—who has never worked a day in his life—must adjust quickly in order to survive.

Can he learn before it’s too late?

The Call of the Wild (PG) opens this weekend, telling the classic story of a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mixed breed canine who discovers the wild instincts he never knew he had. He then befriends a lonely man, John Thornton, who had fled to Alaska to find solace after his son died.

It stars Harrison Ford as Thornton and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as a gold prospector who becomes Thornton’s nemesis.

It also stars a CGI dog who mostly looks like the real thing.

The film is largely family-friendly, although it includes a few violent elements that might be too much for young children. It follows the general outline of the book and delivers several positive lessons for parents and children.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal/moderate. Violence against animals is a major theme, although it stays within PG territory. Buck is placed in a box and shipped to Alaska; we’re told he can’t “eat, drink or sleep” in it. We see shadow images of a man hitting Buck with a club. A woman falls through an ice-covered river; Buck rescues her. Buck and another dog, Spitz, engage in an intense fight. (They bite one another, although neither dies.) A cruel gold prospector whips his dogs, including Buck. He then grabs a gun and threatens to shoot them. Later, this same man punches Thornton in a saloon. We see a man shoot another man at point-blank range. (The man eventually dies.)

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None. Thornton bathes in a river without his shirt.

Coarse Language

Minimal. D–nit (1), h-ll (1). We also hear an unfinished “son of a ….”

Other Positive Elements

Outside of the cruel gold prospector, the film’s major characters treat the dogs well and seem to relish their time with the animals. This includes Thornton and Perrault, a mail carrier.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Thornton drinks whiskey to cover his emotional pain, although Buck shames him into stopping. In one instance, Buck puts the bottle in his mouth and hides it in the snow. We also see people drinking in a saloon.

Thornton is estranged from his wife—they separated after their son’s death—although we see him mailing her a letter of apology.

Life Lessons

Nature is a gift: Thornton rediscovers joy in life thanks to his time in Alaska (and his companionship with Buck). Buck discovers wild instincts he never knew.

Pets are a blessing: Thornton is a loner in need of a companion when Buck shows up in his life.

Life is all about adapting to change: Buck has four owners within the story, but learns to adapt each time. Thornton, too, experiences major change in his life. They learn to survive by relying on one another.

Worldview/Application

The Call of the Wild has many themes, but at its core is a celebration of nature. A dog that grew up living a sheltered, pampered life discovers his “true self” by going to Alaska. A man who is grieving his son’s death flees to an untamed wild land.

The story isn’t a faith-based film, but it nevertheless spotlights one of God’s great gifts: Creation. It also urges us to find joy in the outdoors, and not in man-made things that often cause stress.

In doing so, we’re following the example of King David, who often meditated and worshipped while enjoying God’s handiwork. Creation, after all, testifies to God’s glory.

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy,” David wrote in Psalm 96.

The movie points us in the right direction, even if its answer to life’s trials isn’t complete.

Final Verdict

The Call of the Wild may not keep the attention of a child—the final third of the film is slow—but it’s nevertheless a worthy adaptation of a classic novel.

Discussion Questions

  1. Where did Thornton find joy and the answers to life’s problems?
  2. What does the Bible teach us about nature—and about enjoying it?
  3. How can pets help bring comfort to those who are lonely?
  4. What is the film’s answer about overcoming adversity? Are the film’s themes biblical?

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language.

PHOTO CREDIT: 2oth Century Fox

Author: Michael Foust

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and entertainment more than 15 years. He is the husband of a wife, Julie, and the father of four small children.

View more articles by Michael Foust.

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