Director: Ash Brannon
Rating: PG (for action and language.)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Mandoo Pictures, Huayi Tencent Entertainment Company, Eracme Entertainment, Dream Factory Group, and Summit Entertainment.
Written by: Ash Brannon and Kurt Voelker (screenplay); Denise Bradley, Vicente DiSanti, Will Finn, Carolyn Gair, Nicole McMath, and Josh Zinman (additional story material); adapted from the graphic novel “Rock Dog” by Zheng Jun.
Hello and welcome! Thanks for coming by today. So, I have an idea for an animated movie that will be unlike anything you have ever heard of. I got the idea from a Chinese graphic novel someone showed me and I have lined up Chinese investors to bring the idea to the screen. So, like, are you ready? Sweet…take a seat. And one more thing: I call it ROCK DOG!
Okay…we open in Tibet at a remote location known as Snow Mountain. There are flocks of sheep who roam the countryside, protected by a team of Tibetan Mastiff dogs. Worried about the potential for enemy attack, they form a bond, learn martial arts, and all the species co-exist in harmony.
Did I mention the animals all walk upright like human beings and speak perfect English? No no no, stay with me here.
Snow Mountain’s Mastiffs are led by Khampa (I hear we can get J.K. Simmons), and he’s like a father-figure for the community. He is strict and has removed some of the more fun and cultural aspects from their society, for fear of it keeping everyone too relaxed and susceptible to attack. He’s stubborn but loves his village.
And he has a son. I like the name Bodi, and Bodi loves music. Luke Wilson is on board with the role. Dad won’t let him have music in his life, so he snoops around and finds a hidden guitar, which he secretly plays when no one is around.
Did I mention that a radio falls from the sky and Bodi finds it, fueling his desire to play contemporary music?
No, I mean, I don’t really know why the radio falls from the sky. It just does. And it survives the fall and alright, alright – I concede that we have to believe that an English radio station can be heard in Tibet with crystal clear quality on a radio that just fell 20,000 feet from the sky…just nevermind all that.
So Bodi hears this song, and it inspires him to stand up to his Dad and show him that there is nothing wrong with rock-and-roll music. The song is performed by a singing cat…
(DOORS SLAM SHUT)
Wait! Did I tell you the animals walk upright and…and…Sam Elliott is going to voice a character named Fleetwood Yak who talks to the camera and… (voice trails off…).
Rock Dog is all of this and more. A strange, odd, family film that walks thousands and thousands of storyline miles to tell a very basic lesson about loving people for who they are and the unique gifts they can offer the world.
Graphic novel or not, the story, originally written in Chinese by author Zhang Jun, is flat-out wacky and director Ash Brannon tries to make it seem like not that big of a deal. Especially when anachronistic errors are constant throughout the entire film and the tale cannot hold up to the slightest round of questions regarding plot, character decisions, and all the conversations that routinely go when people chat about movies.
And yet, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Rock Dog is entertaining enough to occupy your attention. The ragtag assembly of voiceover performances helps, with Simmons, Wilson, and a pretty terrific Eddie Izzard stealing the show. Izzard gives life to Angus Scattergood, the struggling, washed up feline rock star whose new record label is demanding his new single by 6pm on Friday.
Scattergood lives in “the city”, which geography tells me should be Lhasa, which would logically be the location referenced since it is the second-most populated city in Tibet and has an elevation of more than 11,000 feet. However, Lhasa is not exactly modern, so maybe Lhasa is Snow Mountain? So then, is he in Beijing? And why would Angus live in a palatial, Paisley Park-style mansion in Beijing? Also, why does he record all of his music on cassette tapes and mail them via manila envelope?
And, like, is his song due by 6pm Beijing time or 6pm wherever his label is located? Also, why are giant 1990s-era cellular phones used and furthermore, why do some people pull them out of their pockets like smartphones?
Rock Dog is nonsensical, but at the same time, there is something kind of endearing about its foolishness. You see, the film has no pretense about the absurdity on display and Brannon directs his cast to sell this stuff with confidence. Quite honestly, there is something a bit refreshing about all of this that makes me physically unable to dismiss this as some throwaway studio write-off.
(Though that is precisely what this is, as it opened in China in July 2016 and tanked at the domestic box office.)
At a crisp and clean 80 minutes, with enthusiasm and confidence seeping out of every frame, I have to admit Rock Dog almost wins you over. Plus, they somehow got the licensing rights for music from the Foo Fighters and Radiohead (wait…what?!?!), so I kind of have to stand and applaud them for that success.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Rock Dog is far from good, but it is entertaining, despite its own bonkers storyline and nonsensical plot.
- Eddie Izzard…where have you been? With this work as Angus and his turn as Lord Voldemort in The LEGO Batman Movie can we please find him more to do?
- It has energy. And the kids at our screening all kind of loved it.
- This movie makes no sense and has no less than EIGHT people credited as contributing to the story. What in the world? EIGHT?!?!
- More amusing than funny, the film relies on energy and rambunctiousness to carry the water, as opposed to building consistent jokes.
- Rock Dog. Come on. Were you really expecting Disney here?