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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that White Fang is an animated film based on Jack London's classic 1906 adventure, which is known for its rugged realism and respect for the natural world. The story follows a young wolf-dog pup through a series of encounters involving both other animals and humans in the Yukon Territory during the 1890s Gold Rush. It tones down the book's intrinsic violence, keeping extensive brutality off-camera in most cases. The action scenes are often very short, and then the camera moves away, suggesting additional violence with sound effects and music. Still, it's not for young or very sensitive kids, since there are many fierce encounters involving animals vs. animals, men vs. animals, and men vs. men. In one scene, a young woman is held captive and threatened with a knife. Some characters (both animal and human) are injured, but no blood is shown. Recommended for older kids and teens and as a shared family experience.
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What's the story?
WHITE FANG takes place during the Yukon Territory's Gold Rush near the end of the 19th century. Speculators and miners from the U.S. have disrupted the natural beauty and the native people. When a wolf-dog is born to Kichi, who has been known as the native tribe's fastest sled dog, the magnificent animal nurtures him and teaches him to survive in the wild. Winter finds Kichi taking her pup to Grey Beaver (voiced by Eddie Spears) and his people, where they will find warmth and food. There, White Fang, as Grey Beaver names him, grows into a powerful animal, as smart and resourceful as he is strong. Unfortunately, dogfight promoter Beauty Smith (Paul Giamatti) sees White Fang's potential in the ring. Dogfights provide "entertainment" and gambling opportunities for the towns filled with men hopeful to strike gold. Smith manages to stealthily gain custody of the wolf-dog. White Fang is mistreated and turned into a dominant competitor, fearful of humans and desolate. Only with the arrival of a heroic lawman and his wife (Nick Offerman and Rashida Jones) will it be possible to save White Fang and help him find his way back to the noble life he deserves.
Is it any good?
The beautiful animation, unhurried pace, and strong appeal of the two central animal characters make this film a wonderful introduction to Jack London's classic writing and spirit of adventure. Dogs and animals don't talk in White Fang; they're painted to express their emotions, motivations, and hearts. It works. Audiences will be engaged by and fervently root for White Fang as he moves through one adventure after another. And though the human characters do speak, they do so just enough to make the story clear. Filmmaker Espigares attempts to soften some of the more savage beats in London's tale and seems to have a firm handle on just how much of the book's brutality must be retained to stay true to the author's intent.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in White Fang (2018). Some of it happens in the natural world, where species fight for survival. Does that make the violence easier to accept? Why or why not? Do the scenes in which the predators and villains are human make it more difficult to watch? Why or why not?
Though White Fang is an animal, he exhibits important character strengths and life skills. Perseverance and courage are two of them. What additional strengths did White Fang demonstrate? Think about how animals' behavior can somehow inspire humans. Give some examples.
Animator Alexander Espigares' work has been described as "painterly" or looking very much like oil paintings. How is this different from most of the U.S. animation, like Pixar's, which relies upon cartoon-like, funny characters and sets? Why is Espigares' style appropriate for a story like White Fang (2018)?
- On DVD or streaming: July 6, 2018
- Cast: Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones, Eddie Spears, Paul Giamatti
- Director: Alexander Espigares
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Wild Animals
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Perseverance
- Run time: 87 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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