Thursday, March 9, 2017

Rock Dog Is A Bad Boy

Are the various animation studios now just playing Mad Libs with these computer-animated movies? Inspired by the success of Ratatouille and Kung Fu Panda a decade ago, are they just now taking random animal names and random occupations that would juxtapose against the aforementioned animal and just calling that a plot? We've seen this phenomenon with the likes of Turbo and Norm Of The North and now a plot device intended to drum up an underdog story (that can be used well in the right circumstances it should be noted) that's easy to get invested in just feels stale at this point. The newest entry in this trend is Rock Dog, which is, as the title suggests, about a dog who wishes to be a rock musician.

Bodhi's (Luke Wilson) dream about being a guitar-playing singer clashes with the wishes of his father (J.K. Simmons). As some Big Lewboski-esque opening narration from Fleetwood Yak (Sam Elliot) indicates, His dad wants him to be a guard dog and protect the village of sheep he and Bodhi protect. But it isn't long before Bodhi and his dad depart and Bodhi heads for an unnamed (to my knowledge) city where Bodhi manages to meet his favorite singer, Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), a famous feline rock star who desperately needs to come up with a new single. It is here that Bodhi also manages to catch the attention of a pack of wolves who wish to infiltrate the village Bodhi and his dad protect and devour all the sheep their bellies can handle. 

You know what makes the likes of Ratatouille and Kung Fu Panda rise above the pack in these "underdog animal dreamers" tales? Likeable protagonists. Remy the Rat and Po the Panda are interesting creations before they even head off to try to achieve their dreams. Contrast that with Rock Dog, which saddles the audience with Bodhi, a mutt who isn't just naive, he's a moronic imbecile whose intellectual prowess is so minuscule it's a wonder he remembers how to blink. Bodhi isn't like Charlie Chaplin's Tramp where he's just charming in his inadvertent ignorance, Bodhi just constantly walks into traps or obeys commands that even an overly sheltered 3-year-old could tell you is just gonna lead to trouble.

Why does he act like this? Honestly, it mainly seems like a way for the film's lackluster script to constantly come up with contrived ways for certain plot points to even happen. No reason to come up with an organic reason for, say, Bodhi running into Angus, we'll just use his irritatingly low-IQ personality take care of that for us! To boot, Bodhi's personality begins and ends with his obsession with his music, there's not much else to this guy beyond "He's naive to an extreme degree and loves rock n' roll". On top of all that, Luke Wilson's vocal performance seals the deal on Bodhi being such a forgettable individual, he adds no personality whatsoever to his part and sounds mostly groggy throughout the motion picture. If the plan here was to create a guileless individual the audience would love to buy Beanie Babies of, well, let's just say you're gonna have a lot of Bodhi Beanie Babies gathering dust in some Dollar Tree somewhere, the character just doesn't work.

Most of the other members of the voice cast (including underused actors like Mae Whitman and Matt Dillon) are similarly inert in their work, though Eddie Izzard and Kenan Thompson get the only laughs of the movie in their solid vocal performances. All of the characters these people are voicing are brought to life by computer animation that feels super lackluster by theatrical animation standards. Just look at any sequence with large crowds, it becomes readily apparent extremely quickly that the same animals (right down to their wardrobes) are being used over and over again, while the facial expressions of the lead characters are similarly limited. The only real production design choice worth noting is that all the technology seems intentionally stuck in the 1980's, with larger mobile phones and cassette tape players being a frequent fixture of Rock Dog's universe.

That decade-specific design choice is the only aspect of Rock Dog that really stands out as having its own identity. Otherwise, this is pretty basic computer-animated family fare, though at least it has the courtesy to eschew elements like fart gags, pop culture references and constant screaming that other animated kids movie revel in heavily. Otherwise though, Rock Dog is a forgettable knock-off of better animated family movies with no entertainment to offer and a lead character more irritating than endearing. Rock Dog is off key, needs some music lessons, a little pitchy dog, whatever pun related to subpar music you can think of, it likely appeals to this feature film.

No comments:

Post a Comment