[Screen It]

"ROCK DOG"
(2017) (voices of Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer Animated Dramedy: A young Tibetan mastiff leaves his mountain village -- and responsibility of helping protect the wool-producing sheep from wolves -- to try to make it in the big city as a rock 'n roll musician.
PLOT:
In the high altitude village of Tibet's Snow Mountain, it's up to mastiffs to protect the wool-producing sheep from predatory wolves. The mastiff leader, Khampa (voice of J.K. SIMMONS), wants to pass on his responsibility to his son, Bodi (voice of LUKE WILSON), but the young dog is more interested in music than in the daily grind of overseeing some of the sheep dressing up like fierce guards to fool the wolves and keep them at bay. Khampa is disappointed in this -- especially what with having banned music in the past for being a distraction to security -- but the village's resident storyteller, Fleetwood Yak (voice of SAM ELLIOTT), eventually convinces him to allow his son to travel to the big city to give it a go as a rock 'n roll musician.

That's been Bodi's dream ever since a radio literally fell from the sky (and a plane passing overhead) which allowed him to hear the music of the legendary feline musician Angus Scattergood (voice of EDDIE IZZARD) along with that cat's advice to follow one's dream. And thus Bodi heads off for the bright lights and the city's music park in hopes of finding Angus for some music lessons. Bass guitarist Darma (voice of MAE WHITMAN) and drummer Germur (voice of JORGE GARCIA) think that's quaint, but egotistical guitarist Trey (voice of MATT DILLON) convinces the young dreamer -- as a mean joke -- that he should pay Angus a visit.

And so the mastiff does just that, arriving at the reclusive musician's elaborately protected mansion where he lives with only his robot butler, Ozzie, and is facing demands from his recording label for a new record. He initially wants nothing to do with the novice guitar player, but when Bodi plays something that catches his ear, he thinks his problem might be solved. At the same time, and unbeknownst to Bodi, wolf boss Linnux (voice of LEWIS BLACK) has been alerted of the young mastiff's presence in the city, and thus sends his henchmen Riff (voice of KENAN THOMPSON) and Skozz to kidnap the dog to learn about his father's current defensive strategy of the sheep up on Snow Mountain so that they can mount an attack.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Like probably every other kid who's grown up in the past century, I had my share of both real-life pets and their stuffed animal counterparts. Of course, while the real kitty was pretty much limited to what felines do in their everyday lives, the sky was the limit when it came to the faux critters.

All had names of my choosing, and they had abilities not extended to normal animals. So yes, Super Bunny could fly -- and often did about the house -- because he was shaped in the Superman flying position. Yet, for all of their unnatural roles and capabilities, I can't remember once imagining them to be musicians or singers, be that in an animal band or as a solo act.

Perhaps that explains my lukewarm reaction to last year's computer-animated, American Idol-inspired comedy "Sing" (that and it being a lackluster and uninspired flick overall). And it could also be the reason behind my similar if slightly dimmer view of "Rock Dog," this year's installment of the singing animal kids film.

Like last year's sub-genre entry, it might work for really young kids, but it's not creative, imaginative or engaging enough for older children or adults who might be dragged along and forced to sit through this 80 or so minute music comedy. And for a movie about being a songwriter and musician, the music isn't anything noteworthy (for a million dollars I doubt I could hum any part of any original tune found within). The songs are bland, much like everything about the flick that thankfully isn't a cinematic abomination, but never soars on any level.

It's based on Chinese rock star Zheng Jun's graphic novel, "Tibetan Rock Dog," and begins high atop Snow Mountain where a father-son duo of mastiffs have been tasked with protecting the local wool-producing sheep from predatory wolves. The only problem is that Bodi (voiced by Luke Wilson) really isn't into the job that includes having sheep volunteers dressing up in fierce-looking guard costumes that Bodi's dad, Khampa (J. K. Simmons), hopes will fool the wolves and keep them at bay. In fact, the father mastiff is so laser-focused on security that he's banned the village's lone song and all musical instruments as being dangerous distractions.

Alas, this isn't an animated, animal-heavy variation on the old "no dancing" town rule in "Footloose" despite Bodi being enticed by a locked away guitar. That's fueled even more when a small airplane accidentally loses some cargo and a radio drops down by Bodi who becomes entranced not only by the music of one Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard, although I initially thought it was Russell Brand), but also the legendary musician's advice of following one's gut and not stopping even when one's dad says to stop.

With encouragement from the village's storyteller, Fleetwood Yak (yes, that's the level of humor we're dealing with, folks -- although it's always fun to hear Sam Elliott's gravelly voice), Khampa lets Bodi head off for the big city in hopes of making it as a musician. The naive dog even allows a more talented musician (voiced by Matt "I'm Not the Character From Gunsmoke" Dillon) to convince him to head to Angus' mansion to ask for free music lessons.

To the surprise of no one except perhaps for little kids who haven't seen enough movies to note such predictability, the reclusive musician wants nothing to do with the over-eager novice. That is, until he hears a tune that could get him out of his creative slump and fuel a new record to satisfy his label and their demands for some tune delivery. At the same time, a local mobster wolf (voiced by Lewis Black who seems like perfect casting for an exasperated figure ready to blow his top, even if he's never really allowed to go there fully) wants to kidnap Bodi so that he can interrogate him for intel on his father's sheep defense strategy.

There's a lot going on in the screenplay adaptation of the original work, but neither writer/director Ash Brannon or co-writer Kurt Voelker manage to arrange it all together into a satisfying whole, especially when lots of the material (an animal fight club) and some of the characters (a potential new best friend if not love interest) end up being little more than superfluous. The vocal work is fine overall, but the character renderings look slightly second-rate, especially when compared to the far more gorgeously "drawn" backgrounds surrounding them.

When I can remember more about my stuffed animals' unique abilities nearly a half-century after their active duty but can barely recall much about this film less than 24 hours after seeing it, that clearly signals something didn't work or connect, at least with me. Perhaps with better use of humor and definitely catchier songs, "Rock Dog" might have added up to something. As it stands, it only rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed February 23, 2017 / Posted February 24, 2017


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