Review: Rock Dog (2016)

With an all star cast and excellent soundtrack Rock Dog is an underdog film worth checking out.

In the Himalayan village of Snow Mountain, Khampa (J.K. Simmons) is a Tibetan Mastiff. A descendant warrior dog whose role in the village is to protect the local sheep population from the wolves. As a tradition which has been handed down from father to son, Khampa naturally wants his son to follow in his footsteps. But his son Bodi (Luke Wilson) has other ideas about his future. After discovering a radio which is dropped by a passing aeroplane, Bodi hears rock music for the first time, in particular a rock star cat Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard). Inspired by the music and the inspirational words of Angus, Bodi realises his calling, he wants to pursue his own dream of becoming a Rock Star.

Rock Dog is based on Zheng Jun’s graphic novel Tibetan Rock Dog and follows a familiar philosophy of following your dream. It may not be the most original idea, but the film has enough funny moments and a great soundtrack to keep both the youngest and oldest of fans entertained for 90 minutes.

As you would expect from a film which has a title like Rock Dog, the music plays an important part in the movie and the rock soundtrack which they have brought together doesn’t disappoint.  Along with some surprisingly catchy new songs created for the film, the soundtrack also manages to encompass some classic rock songs from the 90’s. With songs such as No Surprises by Radiohead and Learn to Fly by Foo Fighters instantly recognisable. They may not be the songs which I would have expected to be used in a kids film, but they are incorporated perfectly. I love when great music is exposed to a younger audience, because it also gives me a sense of nostalgia. But when I realise that these songs are over 20 years old, it can also suddenly make you feel a whole lot older.

The film really benefits from its great cast which includes Simmons as Bodi’s determined father Khampa and Wilson as the rock dog dreamer Bodi. Although with Luke sounding so similar to his brother Owen Wilson, I did start thinking of Lightning McQueen from the Pixar movie Cars (2006) on several occasions. The real star in the film surprisingly is Eddie Izzard, who is not a stranger to animation having already appeared as Sir Miles Axlerod in Cars 2 (2011) and a previous scene stealing performance as Nigel the Koala in The Wild (2006). Once again Izzard does an amazing job, this time embracing the motif of the British rocker cat Angus Scattergood. Beaming with character and delivering some of the best lines in the movie, it feels as though Izzard injected some of his own unique personality into his character, including his painted nails. These scenes which are probably aimed more at the adults had me laughing probably more than I should do when watching a kid’s film.

If there are any issues with the film it does start off a bit sheepishly, so it takes a while for it to really get going and the sub plot regarding the wolves didn’t really progress until quite late in the film. It made their presence feel more like a plot to close the story rather than a theme which was incorporated throughout. It doesn’t take away from the fun of the film, but it would have been nice to see more of the wolf boss Linux (Lewis Black), whose character was underused.

When animations are being released by companies without the trademark of Dreamworks, Disney or Pixar, the quality of the films are instantly questioned. Thankfully that is not an issue for Rock Dog which surpasses expectations as a great film for the whole family. It may not be the most original concept, but with the film full of uplifting tunes and plenty of humour, this animation really rocks.

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