Rated PG for action and language
Story by Ash Brannon and Zhang Jun, written by Ash Brannon, with additional story material by Denise Bradley, Vincente DiSanti, Will Finn, Carolyn Gair, Nicole McMath, Josh Zinman and Kurt Voelker
Directed by Ash Brannon
Starring Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon, Sam Elliot and more
Grade: One and a half stars
There are so many things about “Rock Dog” that I don’t understand.
Not the movie itself, of course. A relatively pleasant knockoff of other, better made films, “Rock Dog” will be familiar to anyone familiar with the type of movies that go straight to DVD or some dark corner of Netflix. The animation looks simultaneously cheap and oddly detailed, the humor is surprisingly entertaining at moments, and the script is completely silly. It’s harmless but utterly forgettable, as many of these type of movies turn out to be.
But then I hear that it cost $60 million to make, which for the record is four times what it took to make last year’s “The Wild Life,” and three times what it took to make last year’s “Norm of the North.” Where did all the extra money go? Did they blow the budget on persuading J.K. Simmons to do one of the voices? Did they have to rent server space on NASA computers to do the freakishly finely wrought details on the blocky-looking characters? Did Reel FX Creative Studios, who apparently had a hand in the gorgeous “The Book of Life,” send their C-grade animators to work on this?
Though promotional materials say the movie is based on the Chinese graphic novel “Tibetan Rock Dog,” the more accurate Hollywood parlance would be “suggested by.” As far as I can tell, the only similarities between the two are part of the title and the fact that Tibetan mastiffs and wolves are among the characters. There are articles suggesting the movie tanked at the Chinese box office because of a feud between CEOs, but if they’re anything like American audiences they probably also alienated fans of the comic by forgetting to also grab the plot.
Here, the scriptwriters chose to go with a strange cross between “Kung Fu Panda” and every “struggling young musician follows his dream” movie you’ve ever seen in your life. Bodi’s a young Tibetan mastiff who helps his father protect a village of stupid but oddly adorable sheep from hungry wolves. Unlike his father, however, who can call forth sort of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”-style fireballs, Bodi just wants to play the guitar.
His father, naturally, doesn’t approve, though eventually Bodi goes down to “the city” and gets into comedic hijinks with struggling musician friends and a cat who’s every stereotype of a British rocker. Don’t try to find logic in it – you’ll hurt your head.
While I suppose it’s nice that Luke Wilson is working, the sheep are actually the best part of the whole movie. They all have the memory retention of concussed goldfish and seem utterly incapable of having an original thought, but they have a Zen-like absurdity I would have been happy to see more of. Most of the movie’s star rating is to their credit, along with a few nicely set-up jokes in other places that display the same sort of low-key ridiculousness.
Who was responsible for those moments of humor? Why weren’t they given control of more of the movie? Sadly, those are more questions I’ll probably never have the answers to.