Bodi (Luke Wilson) has grand visions of becoming a guitar-shredding rock star, but his father (J.K. Simmons) has other ideas. After hearing some wise words on the radio, the young pup decides to set out and make his dreams come true — all the while pursued by some pesky gangster wolves.
Based on Zheng Jun’s graphic novel Tibetan Rock Dog, the latest animation from Reel FX (Free Birds, The Book Of Life) presents us with a Footloose-esque scenario: cool young dog’s father thinks his son’s guitar playing is too much of a distraction from guarding his village against hungry wolves. But the Himalayan hound (a mastiff, to be precise) has more on his mind than protecting dim-witted sheep. So, when a radio falls from a passing plane, an interview with feline rock god Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard) delivers the only words he needs to hear: “Play your guts out and never stop. Even when your dad says ‘stop’, don’t stop”.
This surprisingly fun yarn will undoubtedly have youngsters reaching for the nearest guitar.
After finally wearing his father (J.K. Simmons) down, Bodi’s journey from the snowy climes of Stone Mountain to a bustling nearby city is made with the intention of meeting new hero, Scattergood. Living a solitary existence in a big white house with only robot butler Ozzy — and robotic guard mice — for company, the musical moggy (dressed all in black and also sporting Izzard’s signature red nails) has little time to deliver a new single to his record label or risk being dropped. Luckily for the stressed kitty, a talented, eager pup has just arrived on his doorstep.
Deceit and a whole barrel of soul-searching predictably ensue, but Rock Dog stays refreshingly simple, never over-egging the animated pudding with unnecessary subplots. Dreamy voice casts don’t always spell success (hello, Doogal and Foodfight!), but writer-director Ash Brannon’s script provides more than the odd well-deserved giggle, even when quite clearly designed with children in mind.
Rock Dog does unfortunately suffer from ‘find your power’ echoes of Kubo and Kung Fu Panda, but its swift almost-90 minutes are peppered with enough spirited vocal performances (look out for Sam Elliott’s ‘Fleetwood Yak’) and infectious warmth to make it a genuine surprise.
You’ll long for a slightly smoother animation style (Pixar won’t be quaking in their boots), but this surprisingly fun yarn will undoubtedly have youngsters reaching for the nearest guitar.