The Call of the Wild (PG)****

Director: Chris Sanders

Stars: Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Dan Stevens

Runtime: 100 mins

If the sheer volume of them is anything to go by, the movie-going public would certainly seem to love a dog movie. Quality may be another matter, but if we keep lining up to pet them, they’ll keep bringing old bones into the house.

We can probably blame the entire subgenre on The Call of the Wild, Jack London’s classic novel from 1903, which offers us several story points that have become familiar over the decades. The star of the show is an enormous, lovable but uncontrollable St Bernard named Buck. He’s hugely intelligent but also thunderously dumb, so while he’ll put out a fire or rescue your kid from a well no problem, he’ll also destroy anything and everything in his way for a bit of turkey leg. You may remember something similar from 1992’s Beethoven.

Buck doesn’t get too much of a chance to wreak havoc in his comfortable California home in this stirring new adaptation before he’s dognapped and whisked to the Yukon during the gold rush to be sold as a working dog. A good chunk of the first half takes place while Buck is seconded to a husky sled driven by Sy’s postman, hauling mail across the frozen north. This makes for some epic adventuring, taking in cracked ice, avalanches and battles to be the alpha, all done on a grand scale through stunning scenery.

Not that all the scenery exists for real, mind you, because where this version deviates from anything that has gone before is that Buck is entirely a computer generated creation.This could have been a ruinous decision, but not only does it end up being completely necessary, given the physical tasks Buck is put through and the emotional range he has to show, but it in no way prevents us from falling for him as though he were a real dog.

Another who can’t help falling for him is Ford’s grieving prospector, whom we folllow for a more reflective second half. It’s still every bit as strong, digging deeper into the story’s themes as Buck learns his true nature, and allowing the film to achieve what many a family adventure fails to, which is be exciting, funny, and emotionally impactful without being saccharine, a rare trick indeed.