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As the internet becomes bigger and louder, there is a concern that when it comes to game and film reviews, people are going to blow up a bad or good game even more than they should. I mean, people on the internet are already known to over-react to everything, without taking a moment to think about it and see if there is more to something than what is there at face value. I mean, yeah, sometimes, the issue at hand with a game or movie deserves the flack it gets, but sometimes, you get something like Rock Dog. Released recently near the tail end of February, Rock Dog was an American/Chinese animation collaboration, and cost $60 mil. It was interesting since the Chinese part of this co-production went to the states to find an animation studio to do the bulk of the work at Reel FX Entertainment, the team behind The Book of Life. It was released in China first, and was meant to be part of this big push for the American and Chinese film industry to start collaborating more. Unfortunately, petty business politics forced Rock Dog to flop in theaters, due to a lack of theatrical distribution in Chinese theaters. It was a little concerning when there was no real talk to bring it over, even though there was English voice work done. For better or for worse, Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate picked up the American distribution rights, and, well, the film isn’t doing well here either. Kind of a shame, since if you know anything about the Chinese animation industry, it’s like the late 80s early 90s anime scene, utter chaos and nightmarishly terrible schlock. So, how is it? Well, let’s find out.
The story revolves around Bodi, voiced by Luke Wilson. He lives in a village where he’s training to be a guard, but after obtaining a radio that fell from a plane, would rather be a musician. After convincing his dad, voiced by J.K. Simmons that he should go to the big city to become a rock star, Bodi ventures forth to find a famous rock star named Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddy Izzard. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to him, a group of wolves led by a leader voiced by Lewis Black plan to take over the village and eat its sheep civilians. Can Bodi save the day and become a glorious rock star?
Let’s get the bad out of the way, since while this is in no way near the raging cesspool that is Norm of the North, it still has a hefty amount of problems. The biggest issue comes in the form of the story. It’s a huge mess. It has way too many elements that are too similar to recent offerings. It has elements of Kubo and the Two Strings, Kung Fu Panda, a pinch of Zootopia with the animals, and any music-based film you can think of. Rock Dog is like the fattiest piece of meat you can think of, and it needed about 80% of that fat trimmed right off to make it a better movie. There was no reason to have mystical kung fu elements, or the wolves to want to eat the bi-pedal sheep people of this one town. Heck, the wolf mafia seems to be making money and doing fine without having to deal with this one town. I also find the fact they want to eat the living and breathing sheep people kind of creepy. It’s why you don’t want to have these types of thoughts come up in worlds with bi-pedal animals, since it would be like me wanting to take over a town in the middle of nowhere Texas and wanting to chop up the animals and eat them. I would care more about the characters involved, but you could also cut a lot of them from the film and not lose anything. Luke Wilson does a decent job as Bodi, but the father is your stereotypical father character who doesn’t fully understand his son’s passion for something. The creepy Sam Elliot yak doesn’t do much, Eddie Izzard is okay as a cynical rock star, for some reason Matt Dillon is here as a jerk character, and the two friends that Bodi meets in the city, a fox and goat, are just nothing. They have no personality or any real character. They are just there to fill out some kind of story quota, when they don’t give us any reason to care about them. I also find it distracting that you have all these big names like Luke Wilson, J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliot, Kenan Thompson, Jorge Garcia, and Matt Dillon, when they could have cut some of them, and hired proper voice actors. I’m sure they were brought on because China found these actors appealing, but I don’t see the characters they play as; I see them simply as actors getting paychecks, but without the effort for said paychecks. Okay, that may be a bit harsh, since the script isn’t all that inspiring either. Granted, the script isn’t horrible, and it does stay away from a lot of kid film tropes, but I don’t remember a lot of lines, and the jokes weren’t funny. The only time I did chuckle was when Lewis Black or Kenan Thompson was onscreen, and even then, it’s more in how they deliver their lines than the lines themselves. I know this happens more often than not, but I’m always very disappointed when you get such good or funny actors, and then pair them with a weak script.
The animation is also underdeveloped. While not super horrible and cheap-looking as, say, a lot of the straight-to-video animated films from China, it’s not high enough quality to be theater-worthy. It’s definitely better-looking than Norm of the North and The Wild Life by miles, but you still see awkward animation and lack of any memorable designs. It feels cheap in the sense that there are only 5 or so animal types in the films. It makes you respect and admire how much effort was put into Zootopia’s living, breathing world, how many animals they had, and how many variations of them were in the film. No two animals felt similar in Zootopia. In Rock Dog, a lot of the animals look very copy-and-paste. It really needed $10 mil or $20 mil more to make the animation look better. Sure, not everyone has Illumination, Pixar, or Disney money to throw around, but if you are going to be shoved into theaters with the other big films, you are going to get criticized for not being as high quality as the big releases. And no, cheap or clunky animation isn’t always an artistic choice.
So, it sounds like I don’t really like this movie. I mean, I don’t think it’s the worst, but I do have some positives to say about it. While it is a mess in terms of story and character, to me, the film never felt cynical or manipulative like in Norm of the North or Ice Age: Collision Course. It felt like the writers and directors were being as earnest as they possibly could with the story and characters. It’s a very basic script and story, but I never felt like I was being insulted for watching it, like a lot of bad animated films do to the audience. I also found the main song from the film, Glorious by Adam Friedman enjoyable. I know it sounds like a lot of indie rock bands right now, but hey, I like this type of music. Granted, it’s distracting hearing Adam’s voice coming out of a character voiced by Luke Wilson, and it is yet another musical concert-style ending, but still, I could think of much worse songs on which to end a film.
So, yeah, Rock Dog is not a good movie. In terms of animation from 2017 so far, Rock Dog is not going to be the worst of the worst either. In the end, it’s a very harmless movie. It doesn’t feel super-cynical or soulless, like Norm of the North, but it doesn’t have that charm that something like The Book of Life had. Still, I can’t say that it would be the worst thing to show off to a kid. I can see families renting it for a night and then returning it. It’s too early in the year for reviewers and critics to say Rock Dog is going to be the worst of the year. I have already seen one film that was worse, Nerdland, and there are plenty of upcoming films that look like pure trainwrecks and pessimistic cash grabs more so than Rock Dog. Rent it if you are curious, but don’t feel badly if you decide to skip out on it. Well, that was fun, so how about we celebrate April with another Japanese Animation Month, and take a look at one of the most recent GKids offerings with Welcome to the Space Show. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!