Rock Dog: Bland Animation Has No New Tricks
Written and directed by Surf’s Up Ash Brannon, Rock Dog – based on the Chinese graphic novel titled Tibetan Rock Dog by Zheng Jun – is the latest animated feature to emerge from what may be surprising to many, a small Korean-Chinese co-production which was eventually recrafted with the help of a group of American animators. Centered on a dog who dreams of one day becoming a rock musician, the story definitely has its appeal. However, although enjoyable for both adults and children, there’s no spring in its step and thanks to its low-energy and unfocused approach, the overall effects fails to resonate.
Set in high up in the mountains of Tibet in a small enclave known as Sheep Mountain – the movie never actually makes the direct Tibetan reference but it’s pretty clear which mountain top is in question – the story is centered on a Body (Wilson); a young and a naïve Tibetan mastiff who, along with the other guard dogs, works at keeping the predatory wolves away from the sheep with whom which they share a relatively happy and easy-going existence. Keeping things in check is his father, Khampa (Simmons), who is not only known for his powerful Deadly Mastiff Paw technique, but is also someone who has imposed a ban on music – which he for whatever reason deems unsafe – from the entire village.
One day, when walking in the open field, Body – who spends most of his days with his head in the clouds – comes across a small radio which has fallen out of the sky. Getting his first taste of rock n’ roll, he is soon inspired to make his own guitar out of scraps and learns how to play. Naturally, his father is not too happy about his son’s newly-expressed artistic tendencies and tries to put a stop to it. However, after the initial resistance he soon gives in and buys his son a ticket to the big city to follow his dreams. In the meantime, alpha wolf Linnux (Black), who is still trying to find a way into the Mountain, learns of Body’s departure and soon sends his very best guys after him.
The story is simple in nature and relatively straight-forward with writer-director Ash Brannon pulling in inspirations – but none of the quality unfortunately – from the likes of Kung-Fu Panda and The Muppets. Layered with an array of already-seen and seemingly tired visual gags, Rock Dog – although plenty colourful – lacks tonal consistency and storytelling focus, offering one too many silly subplots which never really get the time to get resolved.
Absent from he lively energy needed in a musically-inspired story, the music itself is equally generic – the playlist includes short snippets of songs from artists like Radiohead, Coldplay and The Foo Fighters – and is never really given a chance to add to the overall production. In terms of performances, all of the voice support is pleasing, but just like the animated journey itself, it’s all a little too bland and unmemorable for one to go nuts over.