Director: Ash Brannon
Cast: Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard
Watch Rock Dog online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV
Once upon a time, there was a young dog whose village needed protecting from the nearby nasty wolves. Pressured into becoming a responsible member of the community, and training to protect the local families and sheep, he was too busy having fun and playing guitar. Because he was a dog who liked rock. A rock dog.
If you’ve gotten this far and you’re already confused, there’s good reason for that: Rock Dog is, sadly, a bit of a mess. It’s a greatest hits compilation of other people’s greatest hits. There’s the bass riff of Kung Fu Panda’s unlikely outcast finding their inner strength; the guitar hook of Kubo and the Two Strings’ young boy coming of age and reconciling with his parents; the drum roll of School of Rock’s ode to the joy of musical expression; the backing singers of Zootropolis’ diverse animal ensemble; the keyboard stylings of Sing’s chart-friendly hits. There’s even a groupie robot butler who looks like a Fisher Price rip-off of WALL-E.
There’s little consistency to Ash Brannon’s script, which is adapted by seven people from the graphic novel Tibetan Rock Dog by Zheng Jun. In a matter of minutes, the Kung Fu Panda-like plot is swiftly dropped in favour of a trip to the city, where Kodi (Luke Wilson) attaches himself to rock legend Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), who’s struggling to come up with his new single. Is Kodi going to make it big one day and become a star? Will his grouchy idol discover a heart and grow to like his unwanted sidekick? And will his guitar-playing be so good that it somehow magically helps the people back home too?
The cast do their best to breathe some life into the characters, with Wilson and Izzard’s interactions possessing some odd couple chemistry, while Sam Elliott as the village’s wise veteran, brilliantly named Fleetwood Yak, gives good gruff vocals. The presence of Mae Wihitman, Kenan Thompson (of Kenan & Kel) and J.K. Simmons as Kodi’s dad, is also a welcome surprise. But the story is so desperately derivative, and the animation so underwhelming in the face of the other films Rock Dog recalls, that the end result would be disappointing, if it weren’t so forgettable.
There is the odd decent visual gag, but the laughs are too few and far between to keep anyone other than the smallest viewers entertained, no matter who the filmmakers put on the soundtrack (Beck’s Dreams and Radiohead’s No Surprises both make an appearance). For younger audiences, there may be a novelty groove buried beneath this mash-up of ideas. For the rest, this mostly feels like a remix of other, better tracks set to a beat that’s already been overplayed. It’s harmless cinema, but it’s a harmless waste of talent (Brannon also directed the fantastic Surf’s Up and co-directed Toy Story 2). For all its championing of creativity and originality, Rock Dog ends up sounding like a dull cover band.
Rock Dog is available in UK cinemas and on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.