Searching for your calling in life doesn’t just apply to humans. Adapted from the classic book, The Call of the Wild follows the story of Buck, a domesticated pet turned wilderness adventurer, who is suddenly uprooted from the lap of luxury in California and has to learn to adapt to the rugged wilds of the Yukon during the gold rush of the 1890s. Oh My Disney sat down with director Chris Sanders and actor Cara Gee (Françoise) to discuss bringing the legendary novel to life and how they follow their own call of the wild.
A live-action/animation hybrid, The Call of the Wild uses amazing visual effects to create life-like animals in the film. An acclaimed animation director and storyboard artist, Sanders took his first foray into live-action with this movie, but he felt well-prepared to take on Buck’s journey. “He’s an animated character in the best sense. That’s one of the reasons I was interested in doing this, and felt that I could. It’s my first live-action thing I’ve ever done, but there’s such a tremendously large animated element to it, that I felt comfortable.”
Sanders is known for being the creator and voice of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ beloved Stitch from Lilo and Stitch. This insight was key to bringing animated animals to life on the big screen: “He has to look real. But the trick and the fun of this whole thing was that for the first time, our dog can act, and he’s gonna be the lead. All these other versions of The Call of the Wild that have been done, the dogs are there to varying degrees, but there’s only so much you can do with them.”
“So with this Buck, we had a chance to have him act and be a real character from start to finish, and see his growth,” described Sanders. “And he’s definitely sort of a bouncy, irresponsible, silly guy at the beginning, and at the end, you can see he’s really grown up — but we wanted to make sure that he grew up and got in touch with the things inside him, these gifts that he didn’t know he had — and yet we wanted to have his gentle nature unchanged.”
As a West Coast pooch, Buck had never experienced the cold before, let alone miles of snow banks. Once transplanted into the Northwest, he takes on a new adventure as a sled dog for mail carriers Perrault and Françoise. In the original book, the character of Françoise was a man, but Gee embraced the update, which was especially meaningful to her as an indigenous person. “It was really important to me to honor the novel, because it is so iconic and has such a place in American literary history,” Gee said. “I am an indigenous woman. I’m Ojibwe. And the character is Tlingit — the people who are indigenous to that geography. So I worked with a cultural advisor from that region, which is something that I advocated for in the process. It was really important to me that we honor and respect the Tlingit people — they invented dog sledding — so that was really important to me to build those layers into the character.”
“This is a really special moment. To be a lead woman in this film and to be a native woman is very meaningful and very powerful,” shared Gee. “And I hope that inspires the next generation. I feel very proud to be a part of this.”
In regards to a personal calling or inspiration, it all comes down to tales about family. “Stories. I always have stories in my head that I’m working on, that I’m putting together,” revealed Sanders. “And I think my call of the wild would be to get as many of those out as possible while I can. I’m drawn to the gray tones of things — things aren’t black and white in real life. Family stuff is complicated, but there’s magic in that and there’s surprise, and some great rewards, and I love those kinds of stories.”
For Gee, being nine months pregnant while promoting the movie has changed how meaningful family is in relation to the film. “I wasn’t pregnant when we shot the movie, and now, of course, that it’s coming out and I’m about to give birth, it’s taken on a whole new meaning. I am so excited to share this film with the next generation. It’s a beautiful coming of age story, there’s reverence for nature, there’s a sense of awe and wonder, and magic and possibility, that is just so beautiful,” she mused. “This film feels like such a beautiful story to offer the world.”
Ready for an adventure of a lifetime? Get your tickets to see The Call of the Wild, now in theaters.