Chris Sanders has made some tremendous family movies at Disney and Dreamworks. Clearly brought up on the great Disney movies of his childhood and preceding it, he has made a career of pairing together unlikely friendships, with unique tools to realise it.
I have never read the book, and from what I've heard it's clear he has taken the spirit and produced an adaptation something like what Walt Disney would have done. Here is where the film really resonated with me - what would Walt have done?
Sanders has, perhaps for the very first time, realised what you have to do to make a live action film with a CG animal as your protagonist truly work. We all sat there wondering why Disney's astonishing Lion King remake felt quite so soulless last summer. The reason - there's zero point in making your animals so realistic, to the degree that you can't relate to them. Sanders understood this when taking on Call of the Wild. Buck is a fully realised CG Disney animated animal. Everything bar talking. We relate, empathise, laugh and are moved with what he does because of the character that they've brought to life. It might look real, but then so did Lady, Tramp, Nana, Pongo, Perdita etc in the hand drawn classics within the environments they were in. Imagine if we'd watched those characters without, well, the character. This was the mistake much of The Lion King remake made, and what Sanders knew and steered well away from.
Buck is fully believable in inhabiting the adventure he takes with a spirited Harrison Ford performance. The film feels like a throwback to the sort of Disney films the studio used to make in both live action, and animation - and at least to this viewer, felt like a revelation, 'penny has dropped' kind of moment for how to animate animals if you want to put them front and centre of a live action movie. Don't let them talk, as that's pulling us out of buying their presence. Yet absolutely make them characters.
Anthropomorphism people. you have to make them a little bit like us for us to care. Walt knew it. Sanders has learnt all the lessons from the master.
For the first time in a long while, this felt to me like a film Walt would have made if he was around to oversee the technology advances in animation. This is a proper Disney family adventure movie. Technically groundbreaking, but full of heart and spirit. I suspect it will be considered a classic in years to come.
How ironic it took a Fox film to do what Disney's live action remake movies have failed to do at this point. Perhaps the studio was destined to become part of their portfolio. Just like Pixar was. Pictures made my filmmakers that want to make the films Disney used to make.
Don't miss this.
Throwback family entertainment and a landmark film....