Rock Dog and all the images you see in this review are owned by Huayi Brothers and Summit Premiere
Directed by Ash Brannon
Okay, so maybe saying The Great Wall is some bold new step in Hollywood/China co-productions was overselling it a bit as stuff like this movie, which was animated in the US but made for the Chinese film market, have been happening for quite some time now. Still, The Great Wall is unique in how hard it was pushed to try and make an impact on the US film market instead of just making all its money in China which usually isn’t the case; including with this movie that barely got any promotion leading up to its release. That said there’s still some really solid talent behind this, including an all-star cast of voice actors, the studio that animated The Book of Life, and even the co-director of Toy Story 2! Okay, he’s not the co-director everyone remembers (that would be John Lasseter), but still! Is there enough talent in this internationally minded animated film to be of some appeal on this side of the globe, or was this all just a cynical cash grab from everyone involved. You know, like when celebrities do those insane Japanese commercials and hope no one in the US will see them? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins in the town of Snowville… I mean the Village of Snow Mountain, where the local sheep population is protected from wolves by Tibetan Mastiffs which is a breed of dog. Well okay, it’s just ONE dude named Khampa (JK Simmons) who has mastered the Kamehameha and used it to fend off a wolf raid several years ago. Yes, you read that right. Motherfucking dog shoots energy beams from his hands because reasons. This would be AMAZING if it wasn’t for the fact that he did all that in the past and hasn’t had to for some time now because the wolves know better than to attack while he’s on watch, so he doesn’t have much cause to use it nowadays. Still, he’s kept the sheep safe and even managed to raise a son named Bodi (Luke Wilson) who will one day take his place as the town protector, even if he needs a bit more practice before he can ACTUALY do a Kamehameha of his own. It’s too bad that the writers of this have seen The Gods Must Be Crazy as one day a plane drops civilization right in front of Bodi in the form of a wireless radio that’s fully charged and able to catch a signal. How about that!? On the radio he hears a sick track from the one and only Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard) which inspires him to pursue his dreams, and with just the right amount of buttering up of his old man, he manages to get a bus ticket to the big city which is… actually pretty close by. How has Bodi never been to the city before? WHY IS THERE A BUS STOP NEXT TO SNOW MOUNTAIN IF NO ONE IS USING IT!? Anyway, his leaving manages to catch the attention of the wolves who are gangsters in that big city, and so the big bad one named Linnux (Lewis Black) sends his slapstick prone henchmen to kidnap him and… I guess get information about Snow Mountain so they can finally kill all those sheep. Will Bodi be able to live his dreams of a rock star, or will he ultimately get lost in the cruel and uncaring world of professional music? Will the wolves finally get what they want, or will Body manage to outsmart them… somehow? For a movie called Rock Dog, he’s not much of a rock star… so why aren’t we following Angus Scattergood instead?
I’m surprised that I didn’t actually HATE this movie, but there’s still almost nothing here worth seeing. The plot is perfunctory and our main character is so lifeless and cliché that I can only imagine this being as cynically crafted as Poochie the Dog was all those years ago. Where Poochie was a comedic exaggeration of what studio executives thought would connect to the youth in the nineties, this is the real fucking deal that is cynically aimed at millennials and our favorite topics; namely daddy issues and trying to make a living wage off of our art. Watching this movie is like chewing air or calling a lukewarm bowl of water a rich and hearty soup. It’s empty, lifeless, and is almost entirely unsatisfying. And yet, there were elements just on the outskirts of the main story that held my attention and kept me going. The most obvious example of this is Eddie Izzard’s Angus Scattergood who is a shining beacon of quality writing and comedy in a sea of mediocrity and Pablum, but there are other little pieces here and there such as the two wolves chasing Bodi and a few of the blink and you miss them bands who are milling around Rock Park (my favorite were the heavy metal pigs); all of which is definitely gonna keep this from being one of the worst movies of the year, but can’t save it from being one of the most forgettable.
The movie has a strange dichotomy where about two thirds of this movie is completely unambitious and overly safe, yet it has another third that manages to have some solid material and even some effective risqué moments such as when Angus uses the word fuck. Okay, it’s bleeped out (basically the same trick they used in that one episode of Spongebob), but it’s a huge shock that it happens at all right in the middle of the movie after seeing forty minutes of the blandest form of corporate sanitized CHILDREN APPROVEDTM humor you can imagine. Hell, this movie is so unimaginative that they have Minions knock offs to ride that obnoxious bandwagon. Seriously, has that EVER worked for one of these movies? Is there an animated feature out there that shamelessly lifts from Illumination’s flagship series that HASN’T ended up being desperate and derivative crap? When this movie is not working, it’s to an astonishing degree that… actually I was pretty much expecting when walking in. Every joke and pratfall with the sheep characters fails to land and does nothing to help endear us to those characters that are crucial for the central conflict between Bodi and his father. His dad’s been working as the town’s protector for what has to be decades now and is the only thing preventing the wolves from eating all the sheep. This is fine as a setup for why Bodi’s dad feels so strongly about his son continuing the legacy, but the way things are depicted in this, well it’s clear the sheep are not only unappreciative of all they do for them but are constantly on the verge of dooming themselves, what with how often they fuck up even the most basic tasks and how they are incapable of handling even the slightest bit of stress or adversity without nearly destroying themselves in the process. For the benefit of unfunny and annoying humor, the movie sacrificed any sort of connection we would have for what Bodi would have to leave behind to pursue his dreams, and it makes it that much harder to be behind him on his journey whenever that aspect of his life comes up.
Even if that aspect of his story was handled better, it still wouldn’t be enough to make him a likable character. He’s not mean spirited or all that obnoxious, but he is naïve to the point of flat out rudeness, and his character is unbearably flat. He’s automatically good at playing the guitar despite having barley any experience or training, he goes to the BIG CITY and expects to hit it big the first night he’s there, and he’s completely oblivious to other people and how they’re reacting to him. The dude is in his own little world which could have been fine if he was in any way a dynamic or engaging character, but everything about him from his design to his animations to even the voice acting from Luke Wilson all scream bare minimum effort. Honestly, you only have two character types in here; one dimensional and boring good guys, and wacky bad guys. There’s this band that Bodi’s trying to hook up which includes a stoner goat straight from the Shaggy school of kid safe pot humor and a fox girl who is the most blatant THE GIRLTM character I’ve seen in several years and is frankly shameful at this point to have in any movie. She literally exists to be nice to Bodi and be THE GIRLTM whenever the movie calls for it. That’s it. At least with the villains (and the one anti-hero who we’ll get to later), there’s a level of… well, PASSION to them that suffuses their characters with the bare minimum of life. They ACTUALLY want something tangible and are working their asses towards it which is certainly more endearing than Bodi The Dreamer who has no idea what he’s getting himself into and can barely even acknowledge the world around him. That’s not to say the villains are well written (they’re mobsters in the big city, so why the fuck do they care about a bunch of sheep on a damn mountain!?) but they do have their moments to shine which is much better than anything we get from Bodi.
If there’s one thing that saves the film from being a total disaster, it’s Angus Scattergood played by Eddie Izzard who’s consistently funny and well written in a movie that’s neither of those things. I guess the idea of this character as a burned out rock god gave everyone associated with this project a lot of inspiration as he’s clearly the most well developed out of anyone in here (both in design and writing) but it begs the question of why the hell he wasn’t the main character in the first place? It’s not like a fall from grace storyline would be any more cliché than the plucky musician goes to the big city one they ended up using, and at least Angus’s story doesn’t need to be artificially inflated with a sheep city, the Kamehameha, and a gang of criminals chasing him down for no reason. With Angus, I’d BELIEVE the bad guys were trying to hunt him down! Maybe some unpaid gambling debts or some sort of blackmail scheme! ANYTHING would have been better with his character than the movie we got with freaking Bodi!
Look, no one was expecting this movie to be any good in the first place and no one was going to see it anyway. It was doomed to the same fate as other animated atrocities like Norm of the North, The Nut Job, and Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return; a fat that this does indeed deserve for the most part. Still, it does have those little bits of humor here and there and at least one character that’s compelling enough to POSSIBLY make this worth watching at some point. DEFINITELY not in a theater, but when it hits Netflix? Sure. Give a whirl and see if you can even sit through it long enough to get to Eddie Izzard’s performance which is way too damn good for this movie. The guy should REALLY do more animated films. Imagine what he’d be able to pull off if he was in a GOOD one!