I need to make a few things perfectly clear before getting into this particular review. For starters, I have never read the book that this is based on, so accuracy for the story's adaptation here isn't something I'd pick up on. On top of that, I haven't seen any of the previous makes of this. Starting with Charlton Heston in '72, it was also done in '76 with John Beck, and another was made for TV with Richard Dreyfuss in '97 ('The Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon'). So this is reviewed here as a first-timer to this story, and thankfully, it's a generally positive review.
We start out with narration from our lead, John Thornton (Harrison Ford) as he introduces us to Buck- a big, loyal, rough and tumble dog. One day, left outside for punishment, Buck is picked up by someone looking to fetch good money for strong dogs who can be on sled teams, leading them through the Yukon in search for gold, during the Klondike Gold Rush era of the late 1890's. He's picked up by a couple of friendly mail deliverers, Perrault and Françoise (Omar Sy and Cara Dee, respectively), and soon learns the hard way about what it takes to not only pull a sled, but be on a team, especially with a bully for a pack leader named Spitz - a vicious and almost wolfish husky.
Through this whole process, Buck's character develops, and he becomes a fiercely loyal and strong character who eventually bonds with John (our narrator) while in the town, between mail deliveries. Without spoiling too much, John and Buck eventually discover that each other is exactly what they need in their lives, and the bond between them grows strong enough that the film's main adventure we see in the trailer finally does take place. It takes a while to get there, but it's not wasted time, either, as we see how both characters get to know and like one another over a steady period of time. That, and while they last, Perrault and Françoise are likable characters we can spend some time with while Buck's character develops.
Now, to be perfectly clear, I really liked this movie. It's got a great story, and it's easy to fall in love with the relationship John and Buck develop. I also found myself routing for Buck fairly often, and it took me back to being a kid, reminding me of movies like 'White Fang' (which is not a far cry from this). We see all the turmoil Buck has to go through, and while at times hard to watch, it's super easy to get on this dog's side and cheer him on. It's a good underdog story (pun intended), relating both to Buck and John, who are both very easy to empathize with.
My only real criticisms include the utter disappearance of a few characters (I won't say who, but you'll realize who they are very quickly if you watch it), and the fact that for some, the completely CG dogs might seem to lean a bit towards Disney cartoonish. Seeing this so much in the trailer, I didn't let it bug me, but I'm also not blind to the fact that there seems to be an overabundance of films recently, meant to show off what CG can do now (mainly Disney films). This was most abundant with 'The Lion King' from last year. While impressive, it's kinda gotten to the point where I feel this needs to be used to touch up older films (seriously, go revisit 'Rogue One' with this technology) and bring in new, creative material, instead of just taking an old story and remaking it just to show off what CG can do. A lot of these stories aren't broken and don't need any fixing. I still say for as beautiful as 'The Lion King' was, it has nothing on the original '94 animated film.
A lot of people seem to be coming out of this one a little underwhelmed, or disappointed in the quality of the adaptation. I haven't found anyone mad about it yet, 'cause it's still a great story with a couple of really likable characters, but people seem to wish the execution was different, and "closer to the book" (as you get with literally any movie based on a book). Personally, I have to give Ford some strong credit for acting alongside a fully CG dog, which I can't imagine he's used to (but someone else might know better). I also give the film full credit for managing to take my breath away with a lot of gorgeous scenery that helps bring you into the cold, harsh, but beautiful climate of the Yukon.
You might not have as good a time as I did if you know the story already, but for me, this was a great family adventure (albeit kind of intense at times), the likes of which I have seen before, but haven't seen in so long that I realized how much I missed this kind of adventure story. It's another fine example of bringing a nostalgia to the screen for me in a roundabout way, so while going against the grain here, I simply can't deny the good time it provided me, and how much it made me miss the dogs in my life I previously cared for. I think if you're a dog lover who's a little more unfamiliar with the story, it's a good time. But purists of the book might wanna turn to one of the previous adaptations, or even just back to the book instead.