'Rock Dog': Film Review

Strikes a tamely familiar chord.
2/24/2017

Luke Wilson and Eddie Izzard lend their voices to this generic computer-animated Chinese-American production.

Something was evidently lost in translation where the blandly rendered Rock Dog is concerned. An adaptation of the graphic novel, Tibetan Rock Dog by Zheng Jun, this draggy, computer-animated feature exhibits neither bark nor bite in its portrayal of a sheep-guarding, guitar-playing Himalayan mastiff who has his head perpetually in the clouds.

Coming after the film’s Chinese release last summer, which disappointed its 14 executive producers by bringing in less than 10 percent of its $60 million budget, the Americanized version, with a voice cast including Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons and Sam Elliott, will be hard-pressed to do much better, with a marketing campaign catering to younger pups.

While groomed by his gruff alpha dog dad, Khampa (Simmons) to keep the wolves away from the woollier inhabitants of Snow Mountain, young Bodi (Wilson) has always been distracted by the sound of music.

So when a transistor radio literally drops from the heavens (falling off of a passing plane), Bodi takes it as a sign to pursue his dream, leading him to the decidedly Zootopian urban sprawl that’s home to the reclusive Angus Scattergood (Izzard), the Wayfarer-wearing feline of a Mick Jagger-esque rock legend dogged by a pesky creative block.

Buried beneath all the increasingly tired visual gags and well-worn character conventions is a workable message about following one’s muse, but director Ash Brannon, a Pixar veteran, along with at least eight other writers, seem content simply to lay down the same old licks.

Considering that Xheng’s graphic novel was inspired by his own career as a rock star (among his hits was a Chinese-language cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow”), one would have expected Bodi’s journey not to have felt like such a generic retread, echoing any number of anthropomorphic efforts from Kung Fu Panda to Brannon’s own 2007 animated mockumentary, Surf’s Up.

Although Izzard and Wilson have a nice rapport, the efforts of the other voice actors — including Elliott as Fleetwood Yak, the town elder and part-time narrator, and Lewis Black as a gangster wolf on Wilson’s tail — get lost in the shuffle of under-choreographed subplots.

As for the music, the resemblance of Rock Dog’s playlist to actual rock’n’roll is about the same as that of Vanilla Ice to rap music. Despite his rockier aspirations, Bodi, like his underachieving vehicle, was born to be mild.

Distribution: Summit Entertainment
Production companies: Huayi Brothers Media Corp., Mandoo Pictures, Huayi Tencent Entertainment Co., Eracme Entertainment, Dream Factory Group
Cast: Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon, Sam Elliott
Director: Ash Brannon
Screenwriters: Ash Brannon, Kurt Voelker
Producers: Amber Wang, Joyce Lou, David B. Miller, Rob Feng, Zheng Jun
Executive producers: Wang Zhongju, Zheng Jun, Deng Feng, Angela Wu, Andrew Yang, Wang Zhonglei, Jerry Ye, Xu Xiaoping, Liu Shengyi, Tan Fei, Chuck Peil, Uri Fleming, Mike Bundlie, Lauren Selig
Production designer: Elad Tibi
Music: Rolfe Kent
Editors: Ivan Bilancio, Ed Fuller
Casting: Jen Rudin

Rated PG, 90 minutes

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