Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
Take one immediate look at one of Rock Dog's bland theatrical posters - which features a 75% white background with a guitar-playing dog donning a wool-cap and a sweater suspended in mid-air above a pathetic and truly uninspiring font/color-choice for the title - and you are likely to remember it about as long as you'll remember the eighty-five minute film itself.
Rock Dog isn't awful, as I'm sure you can probably discern, but some would say it's worse than awful due to how forgettable it is. The film is a collaborative effort between Chinese and American studios, funded entirely by Chinese financiers, who apparently found the project potential-ridden enough to funnel $60 million into it. It's based on a graphic novel by Chinese musician Zheng Jun and helmed by former Pixar-animator Ash Brannon (co-director of Toy Story 2). The film has been a colossal financial failure in China, being that Wanda Cinema Line, the largest theater chain in the country, has given it a paltry number of screens due to the fact that the film's production company, Huayi Bros., fired one of the current executives at Wanda. Talk about backstory and developments behind the scenes that are vastly more interesting than anything Rock Dog manages to vomit on-screen.
The film revolves around Bodi (voiced by Luke Wilson), a Tibetan Mastiff with a strict father (J. K. Simmons) who wants him to become the next village guard in case of an attack on the neighborhood by wolves. Bodi has never been too interested in assuming the role of a guard, and his attention-span for the job dissipates even faster when a radio falls out of an airplane and lands in Bodi's yard. It is then he hears a song by British rock-star feline Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), who offers motivating words to all those aspiring to rock and roll.
Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons
24 February 2017
Steve's Grade: C-
Bodi winds up darting for an animal metropolis to meet Scattergood with hopes that he'll become his music teacher. Scattergood, on the other hand, is frustrated and disillusioned with his work as he tries to crank out a new single but can't find the right melody nor motivation to make it work. The persistent and antsy Bodi can't wait to try and attract the attention of Scattergood and eventually pesters the cat enough so that he agrees to teach him a few things.
Interrupting the story on various occasions is the wise and hilariously named Fleetwood Yak (Sam Elliott), a staple of Bodi's neighborhood, who tells us of Bodi's motivations and struggles as if they're too ambiguous to pinpoint as they're occurring before us. He's also the one that ultimately convinces his father to let him forge his own path, make his own mistakes, and be who he ultimately wants to be.
Rock Dog's candy-colored animation seems to do everything in its power to distract from how it's not only bland but lacking in detail. Look closely and you'll see no animal here really has any fur, characters are rendered in stunningly simple polygons, there's no imagination behind the visual creativity, and moments where characters are lost in some unexplainable kaleidoscopic trance where space and time seem irrelevant. I suppose that's the screenwriters' visual interpretation of "feeling the music," and as you'd expect, it comes off as hokey.
Every year we get films like Rock Dog. Sometimes they come in the form of films like Norm of the Northand Ratchet & Clank that continue the never-ending solicitation of noise garbage to the American public, and on-occasion, they come in the form of a movie like Escape from Planet Earth, in that they're fun where they need to be and forgivable in their narrative simplicity. Rock Dog is another one of these third-rate animated works that show how large of a divide there is between top-tier animated films (Pixar, Disney) and low-tier films (Rainmaker Entertainment, Splash Entertainment).
There is a scene in the film rather late in the second act that has Scattergood permitting Bodi to grab one of his hundreds of guitars in order to play a few chords and try it out for himself. This whole time, Bodi has been clinging to a fairly makeshift guitar and is floored at the opportunity to finally grab an electric guitar, nonetheless one possessed by one of the greatest musicians in history. Scattergood, however, doesn't permit Bodi to use any of them until he digs out a mangy old acoustic and dusts it off for the poor Mastiff to play. For a film called "Rock Dog," Bodi does little rocking, unless you consider bumming around a metropolitan area strumming a five-string acoustic is your definition of "rocking." There's one moment in the film where Bodi succeeds in bringing the entire house down, but until that point, there's little in the way of musical relevance.
The inoffensiveness of Rock Dog might not bother you, but with The Lego Batman Movie likely playing in the same multiplex just a few theaters down, and the likelihood of this film being on Netflix Watch Instant before you even finish catching up with your favorite TV show, it's almost foolish to spend money on a film that's no more than an electronic babysitter.