If you have a hankering to watch a film about a guitar-playing Mastiff who accidentally writes a smash hit for a feline ex-Rolling Stone while saving a bunch of Tibetan sheep from some pin-suited wolves, you could do far worse than this one.
As the most expensive exclusively Chinese financed animated feature to date – albeit an outlay of $60m against a return of only $20m worldwide – Rock Dog is no This is Spinal Tap. And maybe that’s its problem. By attempting to appeal to a cross-section of audiences, from the very young to the grizzled rocker, Ash Brannon’s film never really settles on a tone or demographic of its own – and never manages to find that crucial golden middle ground so well mined by the likes of Pixar. As a result the comedy and characters are rather hit and miss, only landing sporadically for any but the broadest of tastes.
It’s the story of an adolescent dog raised to follow in his father’s footsteps, protecting the sheep of Snow Mountain from the wolves that would prey on them. Bodi, however, has a taste for rock music and leaves for the nearby city in order to pursue his dreams. But the lupine gangsters follow Bodi into town, hoping to use the chief guard’s son as a means of getting their way on Snow Mountain. Meanwhile Bodi takes up with rock legend Angus Scattergood, suffering songwriter’s block on the eve of what was supposed to be his big comeback. Cue enough crossed wires and crossing paths to ensure a happy ending for everyone, and some lovely scenes set on a double-decker bus.
Based on a graphic novel by Chinese rock star Zheng Jun, Rock Dog combines nursery rhyme imagery with record industry satire to often-great effect. The sight of half a dozen sheep wearing crayon Mastiff masks bulking up the protective guard on Snow Mountain is tremendously funny, while Eddie Izzard’s turn as a sort of semi-retired Jagger-meets-Bowie character is hilarious. But there is also a fair amount of awkward slapstick, and the scenes set in Rock and Roll Park won’t really mean anything to younger audiences – or even many older ones. If Luke Wilson (Bodi) is always an engaging presence, the appearance by Sam Elliott reprising his narrator from The Big Lebowski will go over the heads of most.
This is no Toy Story or Monsters Inc, the comedy and plot beats aimed at mostly only specific targets rather than ones general enough to hit home with mainstream cinemagoers. That’s a huge shame, because in spite of some fairly middling song writing and relatively average animation, if you’re in the right frame of mind Rock Dog is actually rather a blast.
Special Feature: trailer
ROCK DOG / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: ASH BRANNON / SCREENPLAY: ASH BRANNON, ZHENG JUN, VARIOUS / STARRING: LUKE WILSON, EDDIE IZZARD, J.K. SIMMONS, MATT DILLON, SAM ELLIOTT / RELEASE DATE: 16TH OCTOBER