Why Didn’t They Use a Real Dog?

Leo Cookman
9 min readFeb 19, 2020
Call of the Wild (2020)

The Harrison Ford vehicle ‘Call of the Wild’ is out in cinemas this month. It is based on a novel of the same name which apparently is an American household staple. Being British, I had never heard of the book so have no preconceptions about the movie. What I do know is that it is about a dog. So, one assumes, the filmmakers must have gone to some trouble to find some similar looking dogs and train them so that th- oh, no, they just CGI-ed it. And they didn’t just CGI it, they made a guy dress up in a motion capture suit and crawl around on all fours. While it’s funny to watch Benedict Cucumberpants do it, that was at least justified by there being no live Dragons around to cast as Smaug. So an adaptation of this famous, beloved, Yukon-set, century-old story about a dog losing the shackles of his enforced domesticity… doesn’t have a dog in it. Oh and it wasn’t shot in the Yukon either. In fact it wasn’t even shot on location. What few location shots there are were shot in Santa Clarita California, the rest were against green screen. When the Yukon still exists (though for how long is now up for debate) and so do Dogs, yet a film that is largely about those two things features neither, we are left to wonder: why?

It was the same question most audience members had when leaving the theatre after watching, or even after seeing the trailer for, Cats. Why were they all CGI? Understandably they did not use real cats for it — there’s a reason we use the phrase ‘herding cats’ after all — but the stage show got by with representing the felines with costume and make up. Not satisfied with this however, the filmmakers decided blurring the lines betwixt man and beast further was needed and it resulted in a motion picture produced in the depths of the uncanny valley. The list goes on. Why did we need a digital version of Peter Cushing in Rogue One? Why did we need a ‘photo real reimagining’ of The Lion King? We have accepted different actors playing the same character at different ages before, why did we need the de-ageing of The Irishman? Everyone knew 1917 was not done in one shot and many of the supposed ‘hidden’ cuts really aren’t that well hidden, so why not just have a few conspicuous but less noticeable cuts instead of digitally stitching together the movie’s 10 or 12 long takes? This is not to say any of these movies are bad because of these factors (though the world seems…

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Leo Cookman

Peripatetic Writer. “Time’s Lie” out now from Zero Books.