Rock Dog on song as a sweet coming-of-age tale aimed at young children
A rock-loving mastiff is the main, er, dog, in the sweet story of affirmation and self-belief that is Rock Dog. It's no dog's dinner, but it's no Zootropolis either, writes Damon Smith
A TIBETAN Mastiff bows down at the altar of the rock gods and discovers the inner riff of a true hero in Ash Brannon's computer-animated fable. Adapted from the Chinese graphic novel Tibetan Rock Dog by Zheng Jun, this simplistic coming-of-age story strums to a familiar beat and strikes each emotional chord with a heavy paw.
Brannon's script is inoffensive to the point of blandness, repeating its central chorus of affirmation and self-belief to the target audience of young children.
Visuals are colourful and character design opts for cuteness over realism but there is a palpable lack of detail in every frame, which sets apart animations from the Pixar and DreamWorks stables.
Measured against yesteryear's anthropomorphic buddy Disney comedy Zootropolis, Rock Dog limps into a very poor second.
Brannon's film certainly isn't a dog's dinner. There are flashes of broad humour that elicit warm smiles and the central character possesses a roughly hewn charm as he masters his father's signature move, the Iron Paw, through his trusty guitar.
However, plotting is linear, the resolution is telegraphed far in advance and there is very little in the script to engage parents.
Bodi (voiced by Luke Wilson) is a teenage rebel, who has been raised by his stern father Khampa (JK Simmons) to guard their village, Snow Mountain, from a marauding pack of wolves led by snarling alpha, Linnux (Lewis Black).
Most of the residents are sheep so Khampa creates the illusion of a home guard of Tibetan Mastiffs by dressing up the flock as dogs and posting doppelgangers in clear view of Linnux's spies.
"If the enemy thinks there's an army here, they won't invade," reasons Khampa.
Unfortunately, Bodi's passion is music not protecting the village and when he neglects his duties to listen to rock god Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard) on the radio, Khampa's patience wears out.
He buys his son a bus ticket to the city and instructs Bodi to chase his dream.
"If you fail, you never speak of music again," demands Khampa.
Bidding farewell to the villagers including soothsayer Fleetwood Yak (Sam Elliott), Bodi heads to Rock And Roll Park to busk and forms a ramshackle band with a fox called Darma (Mae Whitman) and a goat called Germur (Jorge Garcia).
Meanwhile, Linnux's henchwolf Riff (Kenan Thompson) arrives in the city with instructions to kidnap Bodi.
Rock Dog won't be topping the box office charts but it's mildly diverting entertainment for our nation of ardent animal lovers.
Izzard's droll vocal performance enlivens his scenes and while Brannon's script hits a few bum notes, the underlying message is on song.
Every dog has its day, even misfit mutts who don't bark the same tune as the rest of the pack.
ROCK DOG (PG, 86 mins) Animation/Comedy/Drama/Action/Musical. Featuring the voices of Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, JK Simmons, Lewis Black, Mae Whitman, Kenan Thompson, Sam Elliott, Jorge Garcia. Director: Ash Brannon