This week, we’ll be looking at the 3D animated family film Rock Dog, adapted from the graphic novel Tibetan Rock Dog by Zheng Jun. Directed by Ash Bannon, this film tells the story of a wide-eyed Tibetan Mastiff named Body, voiced by Luke Wilson, who is expected to become the next village guardian to a group of fun-loving country-side sheep. The problem is that Body fears he doesn’t have the passion to assume the role from his dad, Khampa, voiced by J.K. Simmons. But everything changes, when a radio falls from the sky and Body hears a song by rock legend, Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddie Izzard. So he decides to leave home to fulfill his dream of becoming a musician.
While I personally did find some entertainment value with the film there are a few things about it that rub me the wrong way. Did anyone working on this cheaply animated film ever stop to consider the fact that the dog of the title never rocks? Sure he plays an instrument resembling a guitar and writes his own music, but the fact that you’re playing a guitar doesn’t automatically mean you’re making “rock” music. Guitar is used in many other musical genres such as country music for example. In addition to making music, Body does a few other things that don’t really seem to mesh as a “natural” progression. He fights a grizzly bear in a cage match and harnesses ancestral magic powers ala Kung Fu Panda.
Body leaves behind his Himalayan-looking mountain village for the big city, and through it all he learns a lesson about… something. This last point is rather fuzzy. Those might qualify as “rock ‘n’ roll” in a different context, but “rocking out” in any widely accepted sense of the term? The dog doesn’t even plug in an electric guitar. There is a scene where he trudges around in the rain to Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” which is commonly considered a rock song, and while it’s a very strange moment for an otherwise unremarkable kids’ movie, it isn’t very rock ’n’ roll. As far as rock-star behavior is concerned, this acoustic-guitar-strumming, sherpa-wearing canine is strictly a nice guy with zero ego. I do personally love it when people are nice, but Body doesn’t really have an anti-authority and/or rebellious streak that the audience may have anticipated.
I do enjoy that he’s dedicated to fulfilling his dream and his willing to do strange things to further his goals. For example, he does go looking for a legendary rock star by the name of Angus Scattergood, but the title of the movie is Rock Dog. With a product this generic, one at least expects the film to follow the title. The only scene where Body really rocks as the title suggests is in the very last where he’s fulfilled his dream and everyone is happy. In other words, Angus Scattergood is the most interesting thing about Rock Dog. I say this because there’s more novelty in watching a kids’ movie about a bored, prickly, middle-aged British rock star trudging around his Beverly Hills mansion than about another harmless animal who needs to find his own way. Much like the whole Boy Meets Girl plotline, this kind of story has been overdone to the point that you’ve really got to try to do something different with the concept.
But this movie really doesn’t do that. Furthermore, the animation is substandard: flat, deserted, like a direct-to-video title you’d find in the discount rack at some grocery stores. At least the high-security Scattergood residence lends itself to a kind of emptiness and makes for a few decent visual gags.
Director Ash Bannon is a Pixar veteran who hasn’t made a movie since 2007’s Surf’s Up, a mockumentary entry in the mid-2000s mania for all things penguin, about a macaroni penguin who dreams of becoming a professional surfer. One might be inclined to view Rock Dog as a low-rent version of Zootopia or Sing, which actually were good films. Having apparently blown its budget on celebrity voices, Rock Dog has little to show beyond uninspiring and unimaginative city backdrops populated with cloned extras. There aren’t even many songs—and no point beyond having something sellable that kids will enjoy and parents can half-watch. So as such, I’m going to give this film a score of 3 out of 5.