There’s a famous question that film critic Gene Siskel used to ask, when presented with a movie that had bored or disappointed him: “Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?” We would now like to offer up a modern corollary to that cutting and trenchant query: “Would this CGI-animated animal movie be more interesting if we took all that expensive animation out, and just left in all the people in mo-cap suits running around acting like they were dogs?”
The answer, as far as we can glean from behind-the-scenes footage of Chris Sanders’ new robo-dog adventure film The Call Of The Wild, is a pretty unambiguous “Almost certainly, yes, please, put it on the DVD.” Because while critical reception to the film has been somewhat muted, nothing has made people lose their minds online quite like the few shots that have been released showing performer Terry Notary (the motion capture artist performing in place of Uncanny Valley best-in-show contender Buck) interacting with Harrison Ford and the rest of the film’s cast, crawling around on all fours, and just generally being a human being pretending very hard that he is a dog.
To be clear, we don’t want to dump on the film’s animation team, especially given how frequently visual effects artists have been used as scapegoats by troubled productions of late. It’s just that there’s far more entertainment value for us in thinking about Ford staring down a grown-ass man on arm stilts, or watching him curl up around a fire, or pretty much any of the other dog things Notary spent the movie performing, than there is in watching a computer-animated dog kind of uncomfortably tilt his head at stuff. And we know that a full Dog Man version of Wild is almost certainly an impossibility. Just…give us a little more, Disney? Please? For us?
For his part, Notary is a total veteran at this sort of thing; a former Cirque du Soleil gymnast, he’s an industry experts in motion choreography, especially for animals—including serving as one of the primary ape actors in Rise Of and War For The Planet Of The Apes. He also has one extremely notable non-covered-in-dots performance, playing bizarre and aggressive ape-like performance artist Oleg in Ruben Östlund’s 2017 art-world satire The Square. (He also played the briefly-glimpsed murder clown in The Cabin In The Woods, in case your Nightmare Meter wasn’t already full.)
For what it’s worth, all of the Call Of The Wild performers have been effusive about how nice working with Notary was—not least of which because it meant they were looking into actual eyes when they had stare-downs with Buck, rather than just a tennis ball on a stick. And so we plead once more: Give us in the audience a chance to feel that connection, too, Disney. Release the Notary Cut.