×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Rock Dog’

Low-energy animated pic offers an easy-listening version of the rock star origin story.

With:
Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon, Sam Elliott. (English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2822672/

For a film in which a Tibetan mastiff with big musical dreams stalks a jaded feline rock star while honing his supernatural martial arts powers and dodging kidnapping attempts from a gang of lupine Mafiosi who run a pro wrestling business on the side, “Rock Dog” is surprisingly uneventful.

Based on a graphic novel by Chinese musician Zheng Jun, this animated Chinese-American co-production cribs freely from “Kung Fu Panda,” “Ratatouille,” “The Muppets,” and “Flashdance,” taking those influences and flattening them out into an easy-listening version of the classic rock star origin story. “Rock Dog” is entirely inoffensive, and its low-key pace and no-frills animation style might come as a bit of a relief in contrast to so many frenetic kids movie spectacles. But taking an ode to the power of musical rebellion and running it through the mill of committee-thinking winds up being no rock and roll fun.

The film’s main premise is not without promise: dropping a naïve country pup named Bodi (Luke Wilson) into the middle of a bustling animal metropolis, where he tries to fit in with the rocker types and gain entry into the antiseptic manse of pampered superstar cat Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard). But as directed by Ash Brannon (whose last feature was the underrated “Surf’s Up”), “Rock Dog” is cluttered with incompatible subplots that never quite seem to belong in the same film.

The confusion begins with the opening credits, as hand-drawn-style animation introduces us to the Tibetan enclave Sheep Mountain, where a hard-nosed warrior-monk guard dog named Khampa (J.K. Simmons) defends a town full of not-so-bright sheep from a wolf attack with his super-powered Deadly Mastiff Paw technique. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, he resolves to keep the wolves at bay by banning all music from the village.

His dreamy young son Bodi isn’t keen on keeping up the ascetic family tradition, especially when a radio falls out of the sky and introduces him to this film’s hazy simulacrum of rock and roll. Bodi builds a makeshift guitar out of an old lute and learns to play, and after initially resisting his son’s artistic inclinations, Khampa soon relents and buys him a bus ticket to the big city to follow his dreams. Meanwhile, alpha wolf Linnux (Lewis Black), still angling to make a mutton meal out of Sheep Mountain, spots the departing Bodi on his surveillance cameras, and dispatches his henchmen to apprehend him.

Once in the city — a strange conflation of New York and Beijing, with billboards in both English and Mandarin — Bodi flubs an audition with a local band, and resolves to seek out his hero Angus for music lessons. Holed up in a home studio with his robot butler, Ozzy, Angus is desperate to cook up a new hit single by the end of the week. After repeatedly rebuffing his aspiring young apprentice, Angus hears Bodi improvising a catchy melody on the street outside, and invites him in to become an uncredited co-writer.

Izzard does the best work among the otherwise unenthusiastic voice cast, placing Angus somewhere between Russell Brand and Noel Gallagher on the louche British peacock scale, and even giving something resembling an edge to lines like “what the fudge-cakes?” But the film’s various narrative strands never manage to harmonize. Supporting characters like Mae Whitman’s bass-playing fox and a C.C. DeVille-esque leopard (Matt Dillon) have been pared down nearly into nonexistence, and the film comes to an end just as it’s about to find its footing.

Compared to the rewind-worthy detail on display in a film like “Zootopia,” “Rock Dog’s” vision of an urban wildlife society is rather barren, and character expressiveness doesn’t reach far beyond primary color emotions. It doesn’t help that so little care seems to have been expended on the film’s musical palette, combining out-of-left-field licensed tunes (Radiohead’s “No Surprises”?) with an overall aesthetic that suggests a Kidz Bop field trip to the Sunset Strip in 1987. If nothing else, “Rock Dog” does allow Sam Elliott to reprise his “Big Lebowski” narration style via a character named Fleetwood Yak — call it second hand gnus.

Film Review: 'Rock Dog'

Reviewed at Rodeo Screening Room, Beverly Hills, Feb. 22, 2017. (In Shanghai, London, Dubai film festivals.) MPAA rating: PG. Running time: 90 MINS.

Production: (Animated — China-U.S.) A Summit Entertainment release and presentation of a Huayi Brothers Media Corp., Mandoo Pictures production, in association with Huayi Tencent Entertainment Company, Eracme Entertainment, Dream Factory Group. Producers: Amber Wang, Joyce Lou, David B. Miller, Rob Feng, Zheng Jun. Executive producers: Wang Zhoungjun, Zheng Jun, Deng Feng, Angela Wu, Andrew Yang, Wang Zhonglei, Jerry Ye, Xu Xiaoping, Liu Shengyi, Tan Fei, Chuck Peil, Uri Fleming, Mike Bundlie, Lauren Selig.

Crew: Director: Ash Brannon. Screenplay: Brannon, Zheng Jun, based on the graphic novel “Tibetan Rock Dog” by Zheng. Editors: Ivan Bilancio, Ed Fuller.

With: Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon, Sam Elliott. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Laura Linney Cast in Viggo Mortensen

    Laura Linney Joins Viggo Mortensen's Family Drama 'Falling'

    Laura Linney, Hannah Gross, and Terry Chen have joined the cast of Viggo Mortensen’s family drama “Falling.” The movie will be Mortensen’s directorial debut. He’s also producing, wrote the screenplay, and is playing one of the two leading roles in a story about a son’s relationship with his aging father. Production is currently underway in Toronto. [...]

  • Maya Erskine-Jack Quaid Romcom 'Plus One'

    Maya Erskine-Jack Quaid Rom-Com 'Plus One' Sells Ahead of Tribeca Premiere

    Romantic comedy “Plus One,” starring Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid, has sold to RLJE Films in a pre-emptive deal for low seven figures ahead of its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. “Plus One” is written and directed by Jeff Chan (“Adam Ruins Everything”) and Andrew Rhymer (Pregame). The film also stars Ed Begley, [...]

  • Alan Horn Disney

    Walt Disney Studios Leaders Say Fox Deal Represents 'Exciting New Chapter'

    Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and President Alan Bergman are asking Fox staffers to be patient while the company begins the complicate work of integrating the two motion picture teams. Both men were on Fox’s Century City lot for meetings with executives. In a memo, Bergman and Horn said they would try to be [...]

  • DOHA, QATAR - MARCH 17: DOHA,

    Doha Film Institute's Qumra Wraps, Bolstering Status as Top Arab Cinema Event

    The Doha Film Institute’s unique Qumra workshop wrapped its fifth edition on Wednesday following six days of masterclasses, labs and mentoring sessions that bolstered the DFI’s status as the prime entity fostering Arab filmmaking and connecting directors from most of the region with the rest of the world.  Programmers from Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin and [...]

  • Tribeca Film Festival'Venus in Fur' film

    Tribeca Film Institute Honors 14 Films with Grants in Tribeca All Access Program

    The Tribeca Film Institute has announced the 14 films to be honored with grants at the 16th annual Tribeca All Access program, which amplifies stories from underrepresented voices. Seven films and seven documentaries will earn grants from the program to aid their productions, many of them having not received previous funding. The filmmakers will attend [...]

  • Black Panther Movie

    Global Box Office Flat in 2018, Netflix and Subscription Services Rise in Popularity

    The domestic box office rebounded in 2018 in a recovery fueled by blockbusters such as “Black Panther” and “Incredibles 2.” Ticket sales in the U.S. climbed 7% to top out at a record $11.9 billion, according to a new report by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). That helped off-set declines in overseas markets [...]

  • Variety Massive Entertainment Marketing Summit

    Showbiz Marketers Look to Netflix's Data Expertise as They Build Their Own Campaigns

    Netflix’s ability to profit from its secret sauce of granular consumer data has made it the envy of Hollywood. Now, with Disney, Warner Media and others prepping their own ambitious services to challenge the streaming insurgents, entertainment marketers will face more competitive pressures than ever. But at the same time, new marketing tools are emerging [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content