Rock Dog all bark and no bite

Luke Wilson voices a dog from the country trying to be a rock star and Eddie Izzard voices his cantankerous cat idol in Rock Dog.
Luke Wilson voices a dog from the country trying to be a rock star and Eddie Izzard voices his cantankerous cat idol in Rock Dog.PHOTO: LIONSGATE PREMIERE



92 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3/5 stars

The story: Bodi (voiced by Luke Wilson), a Tibetan mastiff, dreams of being a rock star against the wishes of his father, Khampa (J.K. Simmons), the literal watchdog of a mountain hamlet of sheep. With his dad's reluctant blessing and a humble sanxian (Chinese lute), Bodi heads to the big city to meet his idol, Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), a reclusive legend struggling with songwriter's block. Meanwhile, Khampa's nemesis, crime lord and wolf Linnux (Lewis Black), sends his lackeys - Riff (Kenan Thompson) and the mute Skozz - to kidnap Bodi for leverage.

Director Ash Brannon is no stranger to the animation medium, having co-directed Toy Story 2 (1999) and the Oscar-nominated mockumentary Surf's Up (2007). This adaptation of rock star Zheng Jun's semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Tibetan Rock Dog, is Brannon's solo directorial debut.

It is also reportedly the most expensive Chinese-financed animated production at US$60 million (S$84.7 million), with the producers, Huayi Brothers and Mandoo Pictures, outsourcing the animation to Reel FX, the American studio behind the beautiful The Book Of Life (2014).

All that money and talent seem lost on the crude character models and textures, but at least the EastWest collaboration is apparent in the film's picturesque Sherpa village and unnamed metropolis. The latter is a surreal hybrid of New York, Shanghai and Los Angeles' Beverly Hills, with noodle bars, auto rickshaws and signs in English and Chinese.

Inexplicably, the denizens speak English in various accents. But the furry inhabitants are not as diverse as those of Sing (2016) or even the mammal-only Zootopia (2016).

The unfocused plot has story elements reminiscent of those of other animated flicks.

A stoic village guardian wants his milksop of a son to follow in his footsteps (How To Train Your Dragon, 2010). But the young, sanguine and naive country bumpkin heads to a city of dreams and gets exploited (Cats Don't Dance, 1997), before discovering a dormant martial arts ability to save the day (Kung Fu Panda, 2008). Yes, Bodi knows gongfu.

Children and those young-atheart will enjoy the Looney Tunes antics. Older viewers may appreciate Izzard channelling Russell Brand to voice cantankerous cat Scattergood - whose gestures Brannon says are inspired by Mick Jagger's - and the rock references - the narrator (Sam Elliott) is named Fleetwood Yak and a robot butler is called Ozzie.

As the film is set in the 1990s, the soundtrack boasts classics from that decade, such as Foo Fighters' Learn To Fly and Radiohead's No Surprises. But the original theme song Glorious, performed by Adam Friedman, is charming but forgettable.

If Rock Dog were a band, they would be more opening act than headliner.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2017, with the headline 'Rock Dog all bark and no bite'. Print Edition | Subscribe