By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
Over the last few years we’ve seen an abundance of great animated films come down the road. From Disney to Pixar to GKIDS to Laika, there have been so many great films that it’s sometimes easy to forget that not all animation is created equal.
Such is the case of “Rock Dog.”
The film starts with a flashback showing Tibetan Mastiff Khampa (J.K. Simmons) heroically protecting his village of sheep from a pack of vicious wolves. Concerned over the long-term safety of the village, Khampa disguises the sheep as other mastiffs to keep the wolves away. He has also put an end to the celebrations and music that drew the wolves’ attention in the first place.
“Assisting” him in his efforts is his son, Bodi (Luke Wilson). While he is concerned about the safety of his family and friends in the village, Bodi is far more a dreamer than his father and he shows little interest in taking over security for the village.
Those feelings only multiply when a radio drops from the sky and introduces Bodi to rock ‘n’ roll – namely the work of the legendary Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), a British cat who, despite his denials, is at odds with his record label over his inability to produce his next great hit.
With the help of the village’s wiseman, Fleetwood Yak (Sam Elliott), Khampa sees that Bodi must leave the village to find out for himself if his dreams are his future.
Unfortunately, Bodi’s departure to follow his dreams and find his idol draws the attention of the wolves and their alpha, Linnux (Lewis Black).
Will his dreams end up costing him everything and everyone that matters to him? Well, it’s a kids’ movie, so I think we all know the answer to that.
The short version is that there’s nothing horribly wrong with “Rock Dog,” but there’s nothing it gets overwhelmingly right, either. It’s just sort of there.
The story is pretty generic, but if the idea of music and joy drawing the attention of the story’s evil-doers, it’s because Laika just did it last year with “Kubo and the Two Strings.” The difference is that in “Kubo” you weren’t sure if good would trump evil. Here, you knew from the jump that good would win out.
However, the biggest problem with the story is the pacing. The movie is only 80 minutes long, but it feels much longer than that. I’ve done 13-hour marathon days at the theater multiple times, and I found myself fidgeting half way through … about the time my buddy dozed off for a few minutes.
In terms of animation, it’s pretty average, too. The animals look like animated animals, the scenery looks like animated scenery – neither are breathtaking or super imaginative. They serve their purpose and that’s about it.
The only area where the movie excels is its voice cast. Wilson does smarmy as well as anyone, Black is THE voice of rage and if I were to go anyone in Hollywood for sage advice, it’d be Elliott and/or Simmons. The rest of the cast doesn’t stand out like those three, but they’re effective.
Do you see where I’m going with this? In virtually every aspect, “Rock Dog” is average or slightly below average.
If the world of animated movies was food, the Pixars and Laikas of the world would be the lobster tails and filet mignons, and “Rock Dog” would be the store brand hotdogs that you chop up and put in macaroni and cheese.
And there’s nothing wrong with that … kids will love it and the rest of us will just have to wait for something a little more refined to come along.
★★ of ★★★★★
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.