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"Rock Dog" – What parents should know

"Rock Dog" is a 3D-animated comedy about a dog who wants to become a rock-n-roll musician, despite his father, who wants him to take over the family’s sheep herding business.

The story begins with a herd of Tibetan Mastiff dogs living on Snow Mountain. Like “Zootopia,” this is an anthropomorphic tale about dogs, sheep and other animals that act like humans.

Evidently, the dog’s job is to guard the village’s sheep from ravenous wolves. The dog leader is Khampa (voiced by J.K. Simmons) and he is grooming his son Bodi (voiced by Luke Wilson) to become the next in command. Of course, Bodi wants to do his own thing and he isn’t sure if that includes sheep herding.

One day, an airplane flies over Snow Mountain, and some debris falls from the plane. The debris includes some nuts and bolts, and an old radio. Bodi has never seen a radio before, and begins turning the knobs. He discovers a radio station that plays rock music, and starts dancing. Bodi loves how the music makes him feel. Eventually, Bodi fixes up an old guitar that he finds in a storage barn. He learns to play the guitar, and dreams of being a rock ‘n’ roll star. 

Bodi takes a bus out of Snow Mountain in hopes of meeting the legendary musician Angus Scattergood (voiced by Eddie Izzard,) who needs to write a new song and fast. Angus is a British cat who wears black skinny jeans and dark sunglasses. He’s a rock legend suffering from a serious case of songwriter’s block. With enormous pressure from his record label to release a new hit single, he hides away in his grandiose mansion with Ozzie, his robot butler, as his only companion. Angus’s mansion is also booby-trapped, which makes for very funny and intriguing scenes, as Bodi tries to get his attention.

Eventually, Bodi puts a band together and helps Angus make a blockbuster song. In the meantime, a gang of wolves aim to attack Bodi’s family village of sheep, back on Snow Mountain. Bodi feels conflicted between pursing his dreams in the city, and his sense of duty back home. Bodi is determined to come to the rescue of his community. However, Bodi also wants to show his family that becoming a sheep herder was his Dad’s dream, not his, and that he has a new destiny as a rock dog.

You might be wondering if this is a good movie for the kids.

This is somewhat of a mature film (rated PG) with some peril and impending doom as wolves attempt to take over the village at Snow Mountain. There is “Road Runner”-style slapstick humor as Angus Scattergood initially tries to keep Bodi away from his mansion. The film features some harsh language and innuendo, occasional rock-n-roll references that will probably go over the heads of younger viewers. It’s appropriate for children ages 7 and up, but the movie is best suited for teens and adults. For the most part, "Rock Dog" is a fairly wholesome and entertaining.

In terms of storytelling and character development, teens and adults will understand the film on a different level than children. The plot is funny and frisky, and holds your attention until the end. The animation is slick and polished, with eye-popping set design, special effects and colorful characters.  I liked the classic rock songs in the film, such as “No Surprises” from Radiohead, Foo Firefighter’s “Learn to Fly,” and Beck’s “Dreams.”

The voice-over cast adds lots of punch. Wilson makes Bodi a blend of laid-back coolness, and being slightly naïve yet daring and adventurous. Simmons adds bite as Bodi’s mystically–powered dad. We can all relate to having a family member who wants us to follow a certain career path, when we have other plans. My favorite character is Angus Scattergood, the famous feline rock star, who initially is paranoid and secluded, yet mellows into an empathetic and caring friend of Bodi’s.

An interesting side note about the movie is that it’s loosely autobiographical. The Chinese musician who created the film, Zheng Jun, says his parents were pushing him to go into International Finance, but he wanted to be a rock star. Everything changed when he heard a Bruce Springsteen song. That’s when he decided to go to the city and pursue his dream of becoming a musician.

About the story

The film is based on a graphic novel written and illustrated by Chinese rock star Zheng Jun.  He isn’t well-known in America, but Zheng Jun is one of China’s major rock stars from the mid-1990s.  In 2002, Zheng Jen won the MTV China award (International Viewer’s Choice Award) for his hit, “1/3 Dream.”

Sometimes animated movies get lost in translation when they’re made overseas and later translated into English. However, "Rock Dog" was produced in America to ensure that Western audiences could relate to the film, and cultural differences would be minimized.

"Rock Dog" originated in China and has Chinese backers, but the film has an American director — Ash Brannon — and was animated by an American studio — Reel FX — the studio responsible for "The Book of Life" (2014) and "Free Birds" (2013). Brannon, who also worked on the "Toy Story" films from Pixar, initially joined the film as a story consultant, and later became the film’s director.

"Rock Dog" opens nationwide Feb. 24 in theaters.