Friday, February 24, 2017
A Tibetan Mastiff seeks rock n' roll glory in a visually appealing but forgettable kids flick.
Review by Matt CummingsIf the seemingly recent and large wave of animated films has made you feel a bit burned out, you're not alone. They seem to happen every month now, with many failing to establish themselves as anything more than excuses to get the kids out of the house. Rock Dog is one of these middle-of-the-road, non-offensive flicks, gorgeously rendered but failing entirely to capture our hearts with its paper-thin, almost corporate storyline of big dreams and plug-and-play rock anthems. The Tibetan Mastiff Bodi (Luke Wilson) lives in the pretty mountain village of Snow Mountain, where sheep wool dominates the economy. For a period though, music also set the stage, until an attack by wolves forced Bodi's gruff father and defender Khampa (J.K. Simmons) to stop the tunes and focus on defense. Using those same shorn sheep, Khampa builds fake mastiffs with mean snarls to keep the ever-watching wolves at bay. But the scatter-brained Bodi won't have any of it, especially when one day a small plane loses its load near Snow Mountain, depositing among other things a radio. Fixated on the rock music pouring out of it, Bodi instantly idolizes hero Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), hoping to one day play just like the cool kitty. Determined to find his own path, Bodi leaves for the big city but endures failures and mockery until a chance meeting with Angus sends the two on a journey that will see Bodi realize his dream while putting his village at risk of invasion. Rock Dog is not a terrible movie. It features stunning animation - on par with Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks - and its unique opening is straight up Samurai Jack. It features good-to-excellent voice casting, including Wilson and Izzard who deliver moments of pure mayhem that resonate with my inner Bugs Bunny. Had it fashioned these elements into something more meaningful, I might have had a better reaction. But soon it devolves into a standard vanilla story with no real stakes for our heroes and a series of entirely predictable story beats. There's never a true cost exacted upon Bodi when he leaves his mountain home, nor does the backstory of his incredible power make any sense; additionally, the idea that it hasn't been attacked for years by wolves who aren't smart or cunning enough to try makes little sense. And when it gets attacked, we check off yet another moment we saw coming a mile away. Moreover, its unique ending - that's the only way I can describe it - plays out in a completely new and uncharacteristic way; but it's an odd moment that's not quite explained and whose background should have been repeated more throughout the film. The idea that Bodi has a magical musical power that can unite people is a really great idea, on par with Bill and Ted using rock n' roll to achieve the same thing. But these and other chances to win our hearts are constantly ignored for moments of slapstick - some of which are truly funny - that take away from the script by Director/Writer Ash Bannon and Writer Denise Bradley. What doesn't fail is the good-to-great voice acting, including Sam Elliot as a wise Yak and SNL-er Keenan Thompson as a gangster wolf. Rock Dog suffered in the Chinese market before arriving here, and its flaws are as evident as those statues atop the mountain. And yet, it's enjoyable, mindless fun that kids under 10 will probably like a lot. And it will work for parents who've already taken their kids to see LEGO Batman multiple times and need something new to keep their children happy. But it will in few ways separate itself from a growing list of animated releases, many of whose plotlines and paper-thin characters have begun to bleed into each other. Beautifully rendered with a Samurai Jack-style opening, Rock Dog is stronger in its parts than in its whole. The idea that music can unite us all is a nice message for kids, but it's missing so much in its narrative that I can only recommend it as a rental. It's possible that future viewings might help my appreciation for it, but that assumes I will make an effort that is highly unlikely. Rock Dog is rated PG for action and language and has a runtime of 80 minutes. Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.