February has been pretty impressive this year, with theatrical offerings that have defied expectation and made a typically dismal month something fun to behold. But of course, the fun wasn't going to last forever, and Rock Dog is here to prove that yes, some studios still use this month as a dumping ground for sub par product. Nothing about this film feels like it even contains the whisper of a spark of excitement, as the film's disjointed plot and stock characters feel like a flat, lifeless knock off of better animated films that have come before it.
Bodhi (Luke Wilson) is a Tibetan Mastiff who is being groomed to become the defender of a mountain village of wool producing sheep. Yet despite his father (J.K. Simmons) continuing to try and put him on the straight and narrow, Bodhi just can't fight the music within him. As he travels to the big city to make his dream come true, he'll have to avoid the wolf mafia that's trying to capture him, and deal with a less than thrilled musician (Eddie Izzard.)
Picture for a moment you're a writer looking for a new idea, and you've got three kids. One child's watching Sing in their bedroom, while another is watching Kung Fu Panda, with the last child watching a random Pixar movie about parents and their children. If you ducked your head into each room and sampled each movie, then went to writing immediately after seeing those pieces of the films mentioned, you'd have the basis for a script like Rock Dog. Rather than be a film of its own, it is an unholy mash-up of concepts we've seen before, and not even with the slightest bit of effort to make them as charming as the first time we saw them.
You can't really blame the typical all-star celebrity cast, as they're really just doing their jobs in Rock Dog. Luke Wilson is likable enough, and Eddie Izzard actually manages to score the scarce but genuine laughs that this film contains. Also, J.K. Simmons isn't bad as the standard father figure who eventually comes around on his son's dreams. But much like the story, these characters feel written by someone who's seen animated films, and wrote a mere outline of such a film, but forgot to fill in the actual details and depth that would make the film an actual thing.
Most glaring is the fact that for a film that dabbles in comedy and musical elements, Rock Dog manages to be merely mediocre in both areas, as the only respites in the film's song catalog are the few licensed songs they paid to use in the film. Everything is so disjointed and low energy that by time the movie ends, you really only have enough inspiration to write it off in a sentence or two. It's only later, when you start to regain the actual energy of your life essence, that you start to realize just how paralyzing this film's lazy banality. I'd call this film vanilla ice cream to drive the point home, but that's an insult to an actually delicious and entertaining treat.
It's hard to find an audience for Rock Dog, as it's certainly not clever enough to hold the parent's attention, and it's barely entertaining and flashy enough to get the kids to even care. How this film was co-written and directed by a former Pixar collaborator is a mystery, as none of the ingenious spark of that studio's best films made it into this bland and annoying project. If anything, Rock Dog should be taken out to the shed, and serenaded with "The Ballad of Old Yeller," as it's a film that deserves to live on a farm upstate with all of the other failed dog movies that faded into obscurity.