Blending the coming-of-age formula with a musical journey makes for a fitting collaboration. During those formative years, when we as teenagers attempt to discover exactly who we are and how we fit into this world, our own quest is often enriched, and illustrated by a soundtrack, as our change in mentality and outlook is matched by our musical choices, constantly discovering new sounds, bands and artists that change our own perception of the world we inhabit. Then there’s the social element, epitomised in Almost Famous – in how this art-form brings us together with other likeminded individuals – and this is what lays down the foundations for Ash Brannon’s animation Rock Dog to thrive off, steeped in relatable themes. Only difference is, our protagonist is a dog.
Luke Wilson leads this all-star ensemble voicing the aforementioned hero Bodi (Luke Wilson) who is determined to impress his father Khampa (J.K. Simmons), to find himself perpetually falling short of expectation. His dad has taken it upon himself to protect their village full of sheep from the pack of wolves that linger, and wants his son to take over the family business once the time is right, except all Bodi wants to do is play music, and so he sets off to the city with nothing but a dream (and a guitar) in search of the most famous cat/rockstar on the planet Angus (Eddie Izzard), hoping to persuade him to be his mentor. This encounter instead leads them both down a series of unfortunate paths – all while the wolves are planning their next attack.
Like any good animation should, Rock Dog conveys very relatable themes presented via rather outlandish concepts, such as chasing your dream, and the challenges in a father and son dynamic. Zootropolis was one of the most politically charged features of last year (pre-dating Trump, no less) and often to get these ideas across it can be easier when doing so in such an accessible manner, to simplify accordingly – it’s what Disney have always thrived off.
Also like many a good animation we see our protagonist leave behind his hometown to explore the world – except in this instance, it’s here the film loses its way somewhat. It’s mostly because back at the village we have the sheep – easily the best thing about this film. Though Izzard may have something to say about that, turning in a predictably entertaining performance, channeling his inner Russell Brand, with a character akin to that of Aldous Snow from Get Him to the Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s also inspired casting to have Sam Elliot involved, playing the narrator Fleetwood Yak. He has the voice of sex.
Rock Dog is an easy to indulge in production that is somewhat formulaic, but comforting in its execution, complete with several nice messages for the younger members of the crowd to take away. Most prevalent is not to give up – even if it does mean crazily stalking your heroes like our protagonist does. Perhaps don’t go quite that far.
Rock Dog is released on June 16th.