Reviews are out for the latest big-budget adaptation of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, and a definite critical consensus appears to be emerging: Buck, the large dog who is entirely rendered with computer graphics, is not very convincing. Here’s a smattering of observations from critics:
- USA Today: “The movie doesn’t use actual dogs and relies completely on photorealistic depictions, so while not risking putting real animals in potential danger, there’s potential for everything to look a little fake.”
- Hollywood Reporter: “The results are visually disorienting . . . Buck never quite looks real. And you keep expecting him and the rest of the animals to burst into song.”
- IndieWire: “Unfortunately, Buck’s eyes tell a different story. There’s a haunting, hyperreal quality to Buck’s expressive features, a queasy tension between accuracy and embellishment that . . . simply doesn’t add up, and only grows more unstable as Buck’s story takes flight.”
- The Guardian: “The director here is Chris Sanders, who moves (partly) away from animation into the world of live action mixed with CGI animals from the uncanny valley.”
The movie is Disney’s first release under the 20th Century Fox banner (now 20th Century Studios) since it acquired the company last year, so the stakes are pretty high. But it comes at a time when audiences appear to be tiring of gratuitous CGI effects, particularly when they are not well-rendered, enter uncanny-valley territory, or simply don’t serve the story. Universal’s Cats was a disaster over the holidays, while Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog might have suffered the same fate had it not been for a last-minute touchup job on the title character.
All the same, Buck has at least one fan singing his praises. PETA, the animal rights group that has long argued against using real animals on movie sets, tweeted in support of the CGI effects in The Call of the Wild back in November, calling them “stunning.”
Harrison Ford’s new film #CallOfTheWild uses 100% CGI animals. The beautiful visuals prove that you can make a film all about animals without exploiting a single one!
From a bear to Buck ????, the CGI is absolutely breathtaking.pic.twitter.com/tgLYqQ8JvN
— PETA (@peta) November 20, 2019
From an ethical standpoint, PETA’s argument is a compelling one, especially when we’re talking about endangered wild animals like apes or tigers that clearly don’t belong on a movie set. And in fact, the use of certain kinds of animals on sets has been on the decline for a while.
Of course, dogs are in a class all their own, and humans will always tune in to watch real ones—as evidenced by last week’s Westminster Dog Show. As CGI effects become even cheaper and more commonplace, it’ll be interesting to see what balance moviemakers strike in the great pups-versus-pixels debate. Can a CGI Benji be that far off?