The Call of the Wild Parent Guide
Thoughtful messages, stunning natural settings, and some deeply weird CGI animals...
Parent Movie Review
“Is there any house big enough to hold him?”
Buck is massive St. Bernard/Scotch Collie with a loyal heart, expressive eyes, and prodigious amounts of energy that can’t be contained in his sedate California home. His mischief-making career comes to an abrupt end one night when he is dog-napped, sealed in a wooden crate, and shipped thousands of miles without food or water. Upon arrival in the far North, Buck is brutalized, subdued, and sold as a sled dog to deliver the mail to prospectors in Yukon Territory. Buck’s heart is as resilient as he is strong, and he soon embarks with gusto on this second phase of his life. And, then, on the third…
The Call of the Wild carries a number of themes that will interest parents, and resilience is doubtless one of them. Buck is a poster boy for emotional resilience, bouncing back from everything life throws at him. But John Thornton (a scraggly, bearded Harrison Ford), running from the demons of his past and trying to drown them in alcohol, demonstrates that for some of us, resilience is more of a journey than a hardwired personality trait.
The primary messages of this film, not surprisingly, relate to man’s relationship to nature. The most obvious is our responsibility to animals. There are scenes where Buck (and sometimes other dogs) are beaten, whipped, starved, or have guns pointed at them. The bigger theme is never articulated but is embedded in the location of the film. Set in Canada’s Yukon Territory, this movie is shot in the Yukon and British Columbia. Soaring, snow-capped mountains, meadows filled with wildflowers, sparkling rivers…this movie is a dream come true for anyone promoting tourism in the far North. It’s also a reminder of how beautiful and fragile our world is. Harrison Ford has publicly stated that The Call of the Wild is a warning about environmental stewardship. In his words: “We’re in danger of losing the support of nature for our lives, for our economies, for our societies. Because nature doesn’t need people, people need nature.”
Despite its powerful messages, The Call of the Wild comes with some negatives, none more glaring than the CGI dogs. I’m not sure why director Chris Sanders chose to use a computer generated canine; perhaps he didn’t want the trouble of using live animals on set, maybe he thought it was kinder to animals. Whatever the reason, the result is uncomfortable to watch. Real dogs look and act like dogs, even when they’ve been trained to do tricks. Animated dogs are obviously not real and can believably talk, emote, or act like humans. But the CGI dogs in this movie try to mix and match, combining realistic looking canine bodies with eerily human facial expressions. It’s a full-on uncanny valley experience and makes it difficult to get fully immersed in the story.
For parents who aren’t troubled by the movie’s CGI, the only real areas of concern are alcohol use and violence. John Thornton is a problem drinker, using liquor to numb the pain of his past.. The bigger content problem is related to violence – human on animal, animal on animal, and human on human. None of the violence is gratuitous or gory and all of it advances the plot, but there are scenes of animal abuse or fistfights and moments of extreme peril that might be distressing to some. The death of a character could upset sensitive viewers, like the little girl a few seats away from me who was audibly sobbing in the theater. But for most family viewers, Buck’s adventures will help deepen our appreciation of the beautiful planet we call home and might even help us hear the call of the wild places that still remain.Directed by Chris Sanders. Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Gillan, and Omar Sy. Running time: 105 minutes. Theatrical release February 21, 2020. Updated February 20, 2020
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The Call of the Wild
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Call of the Wild rated PG? The Call of the Wild is rated PG by the MPAA for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language.
Violence: A dog is kidnapped, locked in a crate without food and water, and shipped thousands of miles. There are multiple scenes of animal abuse: a dog is beaten with a club, dogs are whipped and treated with cruelty. Dogs chase and catch a rabbit; they let it go but another dog kills it. There is an extended dogfight scene, involving dogs biting and throwing one another. There are moments of extreme peril, including a scene where a person and dog fall through the ice and one where dogs race to evade an avalanche. A secondary character points a gun at several dogs in one scene. It is implied that these dogs later died. A man walks up to another man and punches and kicks him. A person insists that a dog be put down. A man is thrown out the door and into the snow. A character breaks into someone else’s cabin and damages objects. A bear roars at a dog on several occasions. A wolf snaps at a dog but does not harm him. A wolf falls into a fast-flowing river but is rescued. A man is shot at, upsets his lantern, and accidentally starts a fire. Two men have a fistfight. A man is shot and killed; small amount of blood shown.
Sexual Content: None noted.
Profanity: One mild curse word is heard in one scene.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A main character drinks frequently and heavily in order to cope with bereavement. The alcohol use is not portrayed in a positive light.
Page last updated February 20, 2020
The Call of the Wild Parents' Guide
The scenes of Buck and other dogs being beaten and whipped are very upsetting. Are you interested in helping protect animals from abuse? What kind of groups exist in your area to help animals?
Animal Charities of America: Protecting Pets, Wildlife, and Endangered Species
Four Paws International: Ways to Prevent Cruelty to Animals
The Call of the Wild was filmed in Canada’s far North. The Arctic region is more vulnerable than most parts of the world to the effects of climate change. Are you familiar with the dangers the changing climate poses to these vulnerable areas? What can you do to ameliorate the effects of climate change?
Nunavut Climate Change Centre: Climate Change Impacts
The Climate Reality Project: How Is Climate Change Affecting Canda?
NASA Climate Kids: What can we do to help?
Worldwildlife.org: What You Can Do to Fight Climate Change
Greenamerica.org: Top 10 Solutions to Reverse Climate Change
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you enjoyed this movie, you’ll want to read the original The Call of the Wild by Jack London. His novel about a boy and his dog, White Fang, will likely appeal to you too.
For a dramatic tale in the rugged beauty of the far north, look for a copy of Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee.
Sled dogs star in a novel of courage written by Gay and Laney Salisbury: The Cruelest Miles and the Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic.
Curious about Yukon Territory? If you want to know more about one of the last truly wild places on earth, check out The Yukon Fact Book: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Yukon by Mark Zuehlke. Fritz Mueller’s stunning photos of this remote Canadian territory can be found in Yukon: A Wilder Place.
Related home video titles:
For another film based on a Jack London novel, check out White Fang. In this story, a boy befriends a wolf dog who helps him with his quest to find gold in the Yukon. Alpha features another bond between a boy and his dog (or wolf), but this one is set in prehistoric times.
Sled dogs star in a tale of adventure and courage in The Great Alaskan Race. In this tale, sled dogs carry mushers across the frozen wilderness to bring medicine to children suffering from diphtheria. Eight Below also features sled dogs, but this pack has been abandoned when their human owner leaves them in a medical emergency.