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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Rock Dog is an animated comedy about a dog named Bodi (voiced by Luke Wilson) who dreams of being a musician. After a radio literally falls into his life, Bodi leaves his post as a guard dog in the mountains and heads for the big city. There's lots of comic action -- a careening market cart, Bodi fighting a mighty grizzly bear, plus laser beams, bonks, chases, and captures -- as well as some suspenseful sequences in which wolves attack a peaceful village of sheep. For kids who are comfortable with pretend vs. real violence, the mayhem is more slapstick than scary, including the blustery, exaggerated evil of wolf pack leader Linnux (Lewis Black). Other than the peril/scary parts, there's little iffy content here ("twit" and "stupid" is as strong as the language gets). And the clear messages about perseverance, following your dreams, and teamwork are hard to miss.
What's the story?
ROCK DOG opens in Snow Mountain, a peaceful sheep village high in the Himalayas where Khampa (voiced by J.K. Simmons) -- a brave, responsible mastiff -- guards the residents. Always alert to the dangers of fierce wolves from the city below, Khampa is a strict taskmaster, keeping his army of sheep well prepared for any attack. He's counting on his son, Bodi (Luke Wilson), to continue the fight, but Bodi's heart isn't in his job: Music is his great passion (much to his dad's dismay). One day, a radio literally falls from the sky, courtesy of a low-flying plane, and Bodi finds it. Trying to make sense of the strange object, Bodi is soon entranced by the exciting sounds of Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), a rock god from the big city. In that moment, it becomes clear that Bodi's talent and ambition aren't to be denied, so he convinces Khampa to let him go to the city, and his adventure begins. Bodi quickly learns that his quest isn't an easy one. Will the super-arrogant, elusive Angus ever listen to Bodi's original songs -- and, if he does, will he be willing to share the credit for them? Will Bodi connect with the eclectic musicians who populate the city's Rock Park, including the feisty Darma (Mae Whitman), who may like him for more than his songs? And, most pressing, will Bodi be able to outwit Linnux (Lewis Black), the wolves' gangster-like leader, who vigilantly tries to capture Bodi, hoping that the innocent young dog will reveal the secrets of Snow Mountain's security detail?
Is it any good?
With plenty of stunts, solid comic writing, and vivid performances, this Chinese/American co-production is aiming for a wide audience, including adults who often go grudgingly along for the ride. Izzard makes the most of his "diva" role, and Angus' mansion-studio is glorious. Simmons, Black, and Sam Elliott, with their distinctive voices, are quite entertaining, and Wilson brings emotional substance, along with humor, to Bodi.
More of an updated take on Looney Tunes than a Pixar-worthy achievement, Rock Dog (which is based on a popular Chinese graphic novel but was written and directed by American Pixar alum, Ash Brannon) offers fun, old-fashioned comic mayhem. Still, the musical numbers are only so-so, and there are some historical rock references that may go over the head of the younger audiences (though parents may appreciate them). But positive messages about independence, responsibility, and parent-child understanding are smoothly woven into the story, and the action is fine for kids who are clear about real vs. imaginary action.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the different types of cartoon violence -- some is meant to make us laugh, and some provides thrills and excitement. Which type best matches with Rock Dog? Which, if any, scenes combine both laughs and thrills?
Wolves are villains in many favorite childhood stories. Did you know that, in reality, wolves almost never attack humans? Could the "big, bad wolf" be an example of how stories and movies color our feelings? How could you find out more about wolves?
What's a "narrator"? Who's the narrator in this movie? How does a narrator's tone and attitude set up both the story and the characters? Was Bodi a sympathetic hero even before you spent time with him?
- In theaters: February 24, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 23, 2017
- Cast: Luke Wilson, J.K. Simmons, Eddie Izzard
- Director: Ash Brannon
- Studio: Summit Premiere
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 80 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: action and language
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