If The Great Wall wasn’t proof enough of how U.S.-Chinese productions run the risk of failing as films in their efforts to appeal to audiences of both countries, here’s an animated film with a story from a Chinese singer/songwriter and animation from an American director. Rock Dog, however, lacks even the visual flair that accompanied The Great Wall, resulting in a fortunately brief computer-animated story that is better suited for direct-to-video status.
Young Bodi (Luke Wilson) lives with his father Khampa (J.K. Simmons), a watchdog for a herd of sheep who populate Snow Mountain. When a raid on the town by a pack of wolves led by Linnux (Lewis Black) is narrowly stopped by Khampa, Khampa proceeds to banish music from the town in favor of vigilant behavior to avoid further attacks. Bodi, who’s expected to replace his father one day, instead discovers his own love of music after a plane drops a radio onto the mountain, and he wants to go to the city and become a rock star. Khampa eventually agrees to let him go, on the condition that if things don’t work out, he’ll come back and forget about playing music.
Bodi’s trip eventually leads him to the musician who inspired him on the radio, rock idol Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard). Angus is under pressure to deliver a new single, and he eventually finds Bodi to be a bit of an inspiration. Unfortunately, Bodi’s trip to the city has caught Linnux’s attention, and he wants to kidnap Bodi to find out how to navigate Khampa’s defenses.
There are a few minor (and I do mean minor) subplots, but none of it adds up to anything particularly inventive. It’s completely predictable, and for parents who end up watching this with their children, they’ll recognize the basic structure of this film from a lifetime of watching animated films. That sense of “eh” extends to the animation, which is mediocre at best, as well as the casting, which brings little distinctive quality to the film in spite of the somewhat notable talent voicing the characters. Even the music that populates the film is decidedly ho-hum.
Rock Dog would, in a different time, probably be a decent-sized hit just because it’s an animated kids’ film. But when children have access to good-to-great films from Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Illumination, Laika and other notable studios that specialize in animation, it takes something distinctive to warrant a trip to the theater. Rock Dog is not that kind of film.