Reviewed by: Nicky M. VanValkenburgh
|Featuring:|| Luke Wilson … Bodi, a young Tibetan Mastiff (voice)
Eddie Izzard … Angus Scattergood, a British cat (voice)
J.K. Simmons … Khampa, Bodi's father (voice)
Lewis Black … Linnux, CEO of Linnux Industries (voice)
Kenan Thompson … Riff, the smallest henchman with the biggest ego in the wolf pack (voice)
Mae Whitman … Darma, a fox (voice)
Jorge Garcia … Germur, a mellow goat and drummer (voice)
Matt Dillon … Trey, a snow leopard (voice)
Sam Elliott … Fleetwood Yak (voice)
|Director:||Ash Brannon—“Surf's Up” (2007), “Toy Story” 1-2|
|Producer:||Mandoo Pictures [China]
Huayi Tencent Entertainment Company [China]
|Distributor:||Summit Entertainment, a division of Lionsgate Films|
Kid-friendly cartoon about sheep dog-turned-rocker
“Rock Dog” is a 3D animated comedy about a dog who wants to be a rock-n-roll musician, despite his father, who wants him to be a sheep herding dog.
The story begins with two Tibetan Mastiff dogs who live on Snow Mountain and protect a herd of sheep. Like “Zootopia,” this movie is an anthropomorphic tale about dogs, sheep and other animals that talk and act like humans.
Evidently, the dog’s job is to guard the village’s sheep from ravenous wolves. The dog leader is Khampa (voiced by J.K. Simmons), and he is grooming his son Bodi (Luke Wilson) to become the next in command. Of course, Bodi wants to do his own thing, and he isn’t sure if that includes protecting sheep.
One day, an airplane flies over Snow Mountain, and some debris falls from the plane. The debris includes some nuts and bolts, and an old radio. Bodi has never seen a radio before, and he thinks it is a magic box. He turns the knobs and stumbles upon a radio station that plays rock music. Bodi loves how the music makes him feel. He runs to the storage barn, and grabs an old guitar from his childhood. In no time, Bodi learns to play the guitar, and he dreams of being a rock ‘n’ roll star.
Pappa Khampa is not happy that Bodi wants to play his guitar instead of guarding sheep. He tries a “scared straight” technique to stop Bodi. When that doesn’t work, Khampa bans all music from Snow Mountain.
To keep the peace, Khampa allows Bodi to take a bus to the city, so that he can follow his dream. However, Khampa warns, “If you fail, you must never speak of music again.”
In the city, Bodi meets other wannabe musicians. They teasingly encourage him to visit a local rock star, Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard, ) and ask for music lessons. Angus is a British cat who wears black skinny jeans and dark sunglasses. He lives in a huge mansion and has no time for novice musicians. However, Angus is suffering from a serious case of songwriter’s block. With enormous pressure from his record label to release a new hit single, he hides away in his grandiose mansion with Ozzie, his robot butler, as his only companion. Angus’s mansion is also booby-trapped, which makes for very funny scenes, as Bodi tries to get his attention.
Eventually, Bodi befriends Angus, and they write a blockbuster song called “Glorious.” We don’t hear the complete song until the end of the movie, and then it is fun hearing how it all comes together.
As a subplot, a gang of wolves aim to attack Bodi’s family village of sheep, back on Snow Mountain. Bodi feels conflicted between pursing his dreams in the city, and his sense of duty back home. Bodi also wants to show his Dad that becoming a sheep dog was his Dad’s dream, not his, and that he has a new destiny as a rock dog.
You might be wondering if this is a good movie for the kids. There is some peril, as Bodi is chased down, captured and kidnapped by wolves. At one point, Bodi finds himself inside a boxing ring and must fight against a huge wolf. There are also some scenes of Bodi and his sheep friends being tied up, as wolves plan to barbecue them or eat them alive. Of course, all of this is slapstick violence and not meant to be taken too seriously.
Obviously, “Rock Dog” is not a Christian film, but it could be said that it reflects the virtue of gratitude. Bodi initially butted heads with his father, and wanted to rebel against authority. However, when Angus Scattergood asks Bodi to summarize his feelings about his home back at Stone Mountain, in one word, Bodi says his community is “glorious.” Bodi lovingly remembers how his Dad cared for him and the sheep. There were many good times back home. Yes, Pappa Khampa was strict sometimes, but he deeply cared for his son. And Bodi realizes that he loves his Dad too.
This film is a good choice for elementary schoolers, from kindergarten to sixth grade. Teens may like the movie, as well. Overall, it is fairly wholesome and entertaining, and could easily have been rated G.
The ending of the movie is a climatic scene of Bodi coming to the rescue of his community, and battling the wolves. It is definitely a “kid’s scale” ending. It reminded me of “Spot the Dog” or even “Maisy Mouse”—as the ending has an innocent, almost preschool quality to it. Certainly not a dramatic showdown that we see in Disney movies, where all manner of evil is unleashed against the main characters.
Personally, I liked the movie a lot more than I thought I would. It reminded me of a getting on a ride at Disneyworld, and not knowing what would happen next. The the animation is superb, with eye-popping set design, special effects and colorful characters. I liked the Asian influences in the film. For instance, when Bodi goes to the city, all the street signs are written in Chinese characters. When the characters are hungry, they go out and eat noodles. One character eats french fries with chopsticks. The movie almost gives us an opportunity to step into Asian culture.
Evidently, the movie is loosely autobiographical. The Chinese musician who created the film, Zheng Jun, says his parents were pushing him to go into International Finance, but he wanted to be a rock star. Everything changed when he heard a Bruce Springsteen song. That’s when he decided to go to the city and pursue his dream of becoming a musician.
“Rock Dog” is based on a “graphic novel” written and illustrated by Chinese rock star Zheng Jun. He isn’t well-known in America, but Zheng Jun is one of China’s major rock stars from the mid-1990s. In 2002, Zheng Jen won the MTV China award (International Viewer’s Choice Award) for his hit, “1/3 Dream.”
Sometimes animated movies get “lost in translation” when they’re made overseas and later translated into English. However, “Rock Dog” was produced in America to ensure that Western audiences could relate to the film, and cultural differences would be minimized.
“Rock Dog” originated in China and has Chinese backers, but the film has an American director—Ash Brannon—and was animated by an American studio—Reel FX—the studio responsible for “The Book of Life” (2014) and “Free Birds” (2013). Filmmaker Brannon, who also worked on the “Toy Story” films from Pixar, initially joined the film as a story consultant, and later became the film’s director.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.