While Rock Dog may not be my favorite animated film that’s come out in the past year, I still really dug it. Music has always held a special power over me. It lured me to local venues to experience live performances so often that it provoked arguments between my dad and me over when I would grow up and stop wasting my time on bands. I never saw experiencing artistic expression, in any form, as a waste of my time. Well, maybe sitting through that Channing Tatum film, Fighting, was a waste of time, but generally I can’t get enough of movies or music. So when an animated film tells the story of a dog’s passion for music and where it takes him, I’m completely on board. (Sorry dad, I’m still not ready to “grow up.”)
One aspect of the film I love deals with the use of different animation styles. The back story gets told using a style that feels older. The present sequences revert back to the standard fare we’ve come to expect from modern animated films. After the beautiful opening, I really want the whole film to be in the older style of animation. It just provides far more interesting visuals than the latter. Having said that, the animators create several visually different elements that somewhat distance it from the common studio animation we see regularly.
Based on the Chinese graphic novel Tibetan Rock Dog by writer illustrator and rock star Zheng Jun, his appreciation of music shines through. Thematically the film touches on topics that may be more relatable to older audiences. Although not exactly hilarious, the film elicits smiles and laughter on occasion. More than anything, relatable moments that sneak into the storyline provide me the most joy. Marrying multiple ideas, some more compelling than others, Rock Dog wins me over and reminds me of the magic of music.
Assembling a great cast to voice the characters further enhances the film. Rather than recording in isolation, actors record together and often play off each other, resulting in more natural and fluid conversations. If you see the movie, you may find yourself racking your brain wondering why that one voice sounds so familiar. Here are a few of the voices you may hear: Jorge Garcia (Lost), Matt Dillon (Crash, There’s Something About Mary), comedians Lewis Black and Eddie Izzard, JK Simmons (Whiplash), Luke Wilson (Legally Blonde), Mae Whitman (The DUFF), and Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live). I have to confess, at times Sam Elliott reminds me so much of his character in The Big Lebowski that I imagine him as a yak who drinks White Russians.
Rock Dog may rehash some familiar themes, but it marries them with fresh themes and unique elements that make it interesting. Not always a fan of getting up early on a Saturday morning to catch a special screening, I am glad I caught this one. Rock Dog is in theaters this weekend.