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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Rock Dog

Rock Dog is a somewhat disorganized, but genial and pleasant animated film that never offends.  It should delight kids of the 6 to 10 age group, and their accompanying parents will find it watchable.  There are some cute moments, and a very energetic voice cast.  However, I can't see very many kids choosing to see this over The Lego Batman Movie.  In fact, the studio would have been smart to launch this sometime in January, before that film hit.

Just like last weekend's The Great Wall, this is a joint effort between Hollywood and Chinese talent, and is also based on a graphic novel called Tibetan Rock Dog.  It tells the story of a peaceful village up in the snowy mountains which is mostly made up of largely mindless sheep (who do get a couple funny gags here), and the dogs that are supposed to protect them from the evil wolves that live nearby, and would love to snatch the sheep away.  The lead dog, Khampa (voice by J.K. Simmons), is so strict in his mission to protect the village that he has banned all music, as he feels its a distraction from his duty.  Khampa's young son, Bodi (Luke Wilson), is expected to follow in his father's footsteps, but Bodi is aimless in his life.  He knows he doesn't want to follow his father in protecting the village, but he also doesn't seem to have a path in life.  Then, one day, a plane flies by overhead, and happens to drop a radio on the ground directly in front of Bodi.  It's at this very moment that Bodi discovers his passion for playing rock and roll guitar.

With rock music now dominating the young dog's life, he knows it's his mission to go to the big city down below the mountains, and find his destiny as a musician.  Khampa is against the idea at first, but after some sagely advice from the village elder named (I kid you not) Fleetwood Yak (Sam Elliott), he decides to let Bodi go to the city to find his way in life.  Bodi heads for the city, determined to track down his music idol, a reclusive rock legend named Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard, very funny here).  Angus is supposed to be working on a new song that's due to be released any day now, but he is completely dry on ideas.  He meets up with the determined Bodi, sees the guy has talent, and decides there might be a way to use him to help boost his sagging album sales.  Meanwhile, in a completely separate and somewhat unnecessary subplot, the evil wolves led by Linnux (Lewis Black) learn that Bodi has left the village, and plot to kidnap him so that they can use him to get to his father. 

No, Rock Dog does not completely work.  Its plot is a messy jumble of ideas that almost seem to have been grabbed at random by the various writers and story people credited.  There's the fact that Bodi has to learn some kind of mystical martial art that will allow him to shoot bursts of energy from his hands.  There's the relationship between Bodi and his father.  There's Bodi going on a journey of self discovery.  There are some struggling musicians, led by the cute fox Darma (Mae Whitman), who befriend him.  There's the plot about Angus trying to write a new song.  There are the evil wolves trying to kidnap Bodi so that they can gain access to his village.  All of these plots, ideas and characters seem to have been stitched together somewhat haphazardly.  I have not read the graphic novel the film is based on, so I can't tell, but it seems to me like the writers were trying to cram too many ideas of the original story into a movie that runs under 90 minutes.

And yet, I can't write the movie off as a failure, because there are some moments I actually enjoyed.  The scenes involving Angus Scattergood do hold some genuine laughs, thanks largely to Eddie Izzard's line readings, which sound largely improvised.  The whole cast is actually giving this their all, and are not simply cashing a paycheck like you might expect.  There are some cute moments involving the stupid sheep that the dogs must watch over, and some spirited songs on the soundtrack.  I even found the look of the film pleasant, even if it isn't as nice to look at as some other recent CG films.  Really, this is just a small and basically sweet little film that I didn't really mind watching at all, despite its story problems.  It's not exactly a well thought out film, but it has a few laughs, and it goes down easy enough.

I imagine Rock Dog will find a majority of its audience on DVD, which is really where it belongs instead of up on the big screen.  I certainly didn't mind it, and even enjoyed parts of the film.  But with the big competition that's currently out there as well as what's coming later this year, the movie will be lucky if it makes more than a blip on anyone's radar. 

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