“Rock Dog” is an animated film that’s perfect for older kids (ages 8 – 12), especially those who are musically inclined or play an instrument. While this sweet natured movie isn’t going to change the world or even be remembered years later, it is better than it should be on all accounts.
The film is set high in the snowy mountains of Tibet, where Mastiff pup Bodi (Luke Wilson) lives with his father Khampa (J.K. Simmons). The dogs are responsible for protecting the sheep residents of the village from a pack of big, bad wolves. When Bodi develops a love for guitar playing, he dreams of going to the big city to pursue his music. Once Bodi gets to the city, he crosses paths with famous reclusive British rock star Angus Scattergood (a really, really funny voice performance by Eddie Izzard). You can probably guess what eventually happens with the story because it’s as predictable as they come, and while the film suffers greatly from its stupid ending, the rest of the movie is pretty enjoyable.
Bodi’s wide-eyed, youthful optimism creates a fantastic yin-and-yang quality by playing off of Angus’s grizzled cynicism, and I enjoyed their time together onscreen. At the film’s center is a great “follow your dreams” message about living your life in a way that makes you happy because it’s the only one you’ve got. There’s a catchy original song but it’s surprising that a movie about a guitar playing, rocking dog doesn’t feature a lot of actual rock music.
I expected this movie to be lazily packed with pop culture references (like the terrible “Lego Batman Movie”) but it’s not, and I applaud the filmmakers for refusing to use that as a crutch. There’s just enough tongue-in-cheek humor to make it engaging for adults too, despite its mostly uninspired story. The whole project reminds me of a strange mash-up of “Zootopia,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.” It’s a different kind of adventure, yet it features the most basic of plots.
While the voice talent is nothing more than competent, the mediocre animation is good enough and the funny characters are likeable enough that it’s not a total loss.