At the end of the 19th century, Buck, a spoilt St Bernard/Scotch shepherd mix, is living a comfortable life at a Californian estate. His loving master, Judge Miller, turns a blind eye to Buck’s mischief.
Buck’s life takes an abrupt turn when he’s snatched by dog smugglers and finds himself in the Yukon in north-western Canada. The Klondike goldrush is in full swing, and there’s a high demand for strong work dogs to pull sleds. After some traumatising experiences with the cruel smugglers, Buck finds new, kind masters – Perrault (Omar Sy) and Françoise (Cara Gee), who transport mail between the settlements. For the first time in his life, Buck needs to work, obey, find his place in a team, and claim his position in the pack led by alpha male Spitz. To his own surprise, Buck begins to feel a sense of purpose and gradually reconnects with his canine instincts.
When the mail line is terminated, Buck falls into the hands of nasty and goldfever-ridden Hal (Dan Stevens), who pushes Buck and his team beyond breaking point. Eventually, Buck is saved by John Thornton (Harrison Ford), a grief-stricken loner and drunkard.
Together, Buck and John set out on a journey exploring the uncivilised vastness of the Yukon. Thornton must come to terms with his son’s death, and Buck is torn between his loyalty for his master and the call of the wild.
Bravery; perseverance; good and bad; friendship; loss and grief; animal instincts.
The Call of the Wild has some violence. For example:
- Buck is struck violently with a club.
- Spitz kills an innocent rabbit out of spite.
- Spitz challenges Buck. The two have a violent fight. They bite and wrestle each other.
- Hal verbally threatens, abuses and whips the dog team.
- Hal threatens Buck and John with a pistol.
- Hal forces the team to pull the sled until the dogs are completely exhausted.
- Hal attacks John in the saloon and punches him.
- Hal gets thrown out of the saloon and lands roughly on the ground.
- Hal attempts to hit Buck with a club.
- Hal fires gunshots at a defenceless and cooperative John, inflicting a fatal wound on him.
- Defending John, Buck pushes Hal into a burning cabin where Hal perishes.
It’s important for children to know that although the movie shows violence towards animals, no real animals were harmed in the making of the movie. The animals are all computer generated.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
The Call of the Wild shows some use of substances. For example:
- John goes to the saloon and orders a bottle of whiskey.
- John drinks to the point of getting drink. He slurs his speech, and his reactions slow down.
- Buck pushes John’s whiskey glass onto the floor, steals the bottle and buries it in the snow.
- At first John is upset when Buck takes away his alcohol, but then John finds solace in Buck’s company.
- John eventually tips out his remaining alcohol.
- There is frequent use of alcohol in this movie, but it’s portrayed in a negative way. Also, John eventually stops drinking alcohol, with Buck’s help.
Nudity and sexual activity
The Call of the Wild has some mild coarse language, including ‘Goddammit’, ‘son of a’ and ‘stupid’.
Ideas to discuss with your children
The Call of the Wild is the latest adaptation of Jack London’s classic novel, first published in 1903.
If you’re familiar with the original story, it might help you to know that a lot of the gruesome and culturally insensitive content has been adapted or removed. Therefore, while some violent and upsetting themes remain and warrant parental guidance for children aged 7-9 years, this Walt Disney production is suitable for families with children aged over 9 years.
The movie’s main themes and values include:
- never giving up
- making the most of your circumstances and opportunities
- believing in yourself
- listening to your instincts
- being a good friend
- being brave
- making difficult choices
- making peace with the past
- searching for your place and destiny.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like:
- cruelty towards humans and animals
- unhelpful coping strategies like drinking alcohol and withdrawing from the world.