When a Tibetian Mastiff decides to follow his big dreams of becoming a rock star, he leaves home to accidentally find his way on the doorstep of rock legend, Angus Scattergood. But will this rock-inspired indie have your kid clamoring for an encore, or will this musical animated film make you Trolls-level annoyed?
Rock Dog is not a Pixar or Dreamworks-backed feature. It’s co-produced by Chinese studios, and based on a Chinese graphic novel. So at least, it’ll look and feel unique from everything else that’s out there. It failed to find its audience in China when it was released last summer, but let’s face it, an axe-shredding dog has red, white and blue pumping in its veins. The story is simple, Bodi (Luke Wilson), and Angus (Eddie Izzard) lead the film and perform musical numbers, but there’s also a pack of wolves (lead by Lewis Black) in pursuit of the rock dog. So it’s like Kung Fu Panda meets School of Rock meets Zootopia. So maybe it’s not so different from other kids features after all.
The film’s director, Ash Brannon, directed Surf’s Up, Toy Story 2 (co-director) and he’s written those films as well. So your kids are in good hands. Critics have been comparing the film more to Looney Tunes than Disney, and that’s mostly due to the slapstick humor from Angus’s insanely guarded mansion that beats up the main characters in the name of safety. That’s a good comparison to have. But it’s called Rock Dog, not Stunt Dog, so there’s music in the film. The NY Times says the film is far from being a full musical like Frozen or Sing. They say, “It has musical flourishes, yes, but nothing as memorable as ‘Let It Go.'” That actually sounds like a good thing.
This movie may have you eye-rolling already, but when you consider the cast, there might be some hope. The NY Times said you’re going to get a kick out of the performances from Eddie Izzard and J.K. Simmons and especially Lewis Black. “Grown-ups will enjoy hearing the distinctively enraged voice of Lewis Black as the head wolf.”
But is the movie any good? SF Gate called the film “so-so” and described it as, “Too lackluster to be praised highly, yet too benign to be excoriated, Rock Dog is the perfect family film for a rainy day with no other options.” Woof. The Boston Globe was a little nicer, as they called the film a terrific surprise. “[It’s] uniquely likable, and even unique-looking at times.”
Common Sense’s Take
Common Sense Media is the leading nonprofit source helping parents make movie and TV choices for their children. Their review of the film is fair, stating it has “solid comic writing, and vivid performances … [it’s] aiming for a wide audience, including adults who often go grudgingly along for the ride.” They went on to give it three stars and said the film has “some historical rock references that may go over the head of the younger audiences (though parents may appreciate them).” The film also has positive messages about independence and responsibility in between the silly action parts. “The action is fine for kids who are clear about real vs. imaginary action.” So hopefully your kid understands it’s good to imagine being someone like Lady Gaga, but in real life that’s unlikely.
Rock Dog may not be an instant classic like Moana or game-changing as Kubo And The Two Strings, but it definitely seems more likable than Sing, and more memorable than The Angry Birds Movie. Rock Dog is not exactly a rock homage to welcome kids into the genre, but it’s a musical-ish movie and if your kid doesn’t want to re-watch The LEGO Batman movie this week, then let them rock out with their crocs out.
Running Time: 80 minutes