Those who know me well know that my favorite animal on this planet is the wolf. I find them hauntingly fascinating, seemingly very neutral creatures. Hell, I've even got one inked on my right arm. So naturally, when I came across this title, it wasn't hard to add to the list. I wanted to do something involving wolves that didn't vilify them in any way, and lo and behold, I came across this apparent Disney classic that I had no idea existed.
This one is an adaptation of researcher Farley Mowat's autobiography of the same name. The book has been credited for dramatically shifting the worldview of wolves from a vicious and almost monstrous one to a much more positive one. This is a book I just learned about, and I am totally intrigued to see how well this matches up. The film does the same thing, and does so in a way where it doesn't exactly sugarcoat them either. Wolves are animals living the circle of life just like everything else, and certainly do not have a profile that could be matched with that of a murder hornet.
The film opens with an effort to find out why the caribou population is dying off in the Canadian Arctic. A young biologist named Tyler (Charles Martin Smith) is sent to study the area, as well as the wolves who live nearby. He's brought to the icy climate by way of a trashy bush plane, piloted by "Rosie" Little (Brian Dennehy), and left to his own devices with whatever research gear he was given. He is soon helped by an Inuit man named Ootek (Zachary Ittimangnaq) who helps him with his shelter, but then he disappears, leaving Tyler to face the elements and nature alone.
This is where the movie gets pretty fascinating, as Tyler soon encounters two wolves and their cubs. Approaching them little by little, he eventually establishes a relationship and names the two George and Angeline. The bond itself isn't quite as fascinating as how it develops though. We see Tyler adapting to the wild in such a way that his social exchanges with the wolves involve "marking their territories", creating trust and respect. As Tyler continues his research, and develops his relationship with these animals, he soon uncovers the truth behind the loss of caribou. And although one may sit, reading this saying they know the big reveal due to its obviousness, I've gotta say it's still a great movie.
Perhaps I am a bit bias due to my love for wolves, but I enjoy that this is a movie that doesn't paint wolves in an evil light. I've always kind of felt that wolves get a bad rap in storytelling for the most part - especially if your story involves a dog. What I like about this is that it starts out claiming things like fear and mystery behind these animals, but soon the veil is pushed aside and we are able to see wolves here in a positive light that isn't really force-fed to us. We just see nature happening here, and a lot of it is quite beautiful. But I will say, a lot of it can get kind of gross too - although this is Disney, 1983, so it's certainly not nightmare fuel.
I'll be honest, I hadn't heard of this title until I started looking for "Man vs Nature" films for this list. That's sort of surprising to me at this point considering it's highly regarded among critics, has cast members I recognize, involves wolves, and even got nominated for an Oscar - it was for Best Sound, but still. It comes from Carroll Ballard; director of 'Fly Away Home' and 'The Black Stallion'. Between those two titles alone, you know this is a man who can capture nature in a very captivating way. This film is no exception to that. The camerawork and imagery can be pretty breathtaking a lot of the time, and he does a good job at making you feel like a part of things.
It's not without a few bumps, but for me they would be minor nitpicks. There's a bit of gross out stuff one can let slide, as it does add to the story, and I think my biggest complaint is how predictable it is. But this was also 1983, and I don't know if a lot of this kind of thing was really covered by then. Regardless of any of that, there's a certain comfortable Canadian beauty this movie carries with it, and there's oddly something about it that feels a bit like home. It's the kind of thing to cozy up to a nice warm fire to with a cup of hot chocolate and just relax and enjoy.