Friday, September 11, 2009

Rock and Rule review

Recently, I asked a few of my friends to throw out some bad animated movies at me to review for my blog.
One of the more tentative requests came from my friend Meoshira from deviantArt, who seemed to think that the movie was weird rather than just plain bad.

After viewing it, I would be inclined to agree. Rock and Rule is not a bad movie, nor is it a fantastically good one, but certainly worth looking into if you have an interest in what has very broadly come to be known as "adult animation".

The film was released in 1983, and revolves around pop music.
This is already the most apt description of the movie that can be conveyed in one sentence. The very nature of pop music is such that if you base a work around it, that work will date very fast. And Rock and Rule is pretty dated.
If you're like me and have a fetish for retro - everything old-school and so past its use-by date it's turned from wine to vinegar - then you're in for a real treat. Otherwise you're going to find this movie very hard to sit through.
This applies to the whole movie, not just the music, though the music is by far the most dated feature of the film. Most of it seems to be by Cheap Trick, and while I have nothing against Cheap Trick they did always strike me as a twenty-years-too-late ripoff of The Beatles, which kind of double-dates it.
One thing I will tip my hat to them for with regards to the use of music is that, despite my fears, all music by pop-bands made for this movie were made specifically for the film, which is a breath of fresh air in this department. Comparatively speaking, Yellow Submarine used songs that The Beatles had described as songs they didn't really care about, because they didn't want to waste the good ones on what they predicted would be a bad film. The fact that these Canadian guys actually managed to get Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and a bunch of others to come into the studio and write songs for the movie is quite impressive.
That said, every one of them shrieks "the eighties, here and now". It's challenging, to say the least.
As I said, though, there are other parts of this movie that have not aged well.

First of all, this is one of the many creative works (comics suffered from this problem particularly badly) that came from the awkward period of time that no one knew what a furry was, but they were appearing anyway.
Nowadays, if you want to create a work full of anthros, you can be excused for going all-out. Back in the eighties, it wasn't very established, and so you had a lot of concern from directors over how "human" the characters should look. The problem here is that the characters in Rock and Rule don't look like anything.

(Can you spot Shaggy?)

The introduction of the movie states in plain English that after what is alluded to being World War Three, the only survivors of Earth were cats, rats and dogs, who all evolved into humanoid mutants. It doesn't hint that any other species survived.
The reason I take issue with this (the fact that one character looks like a pig notwithstanding) is that upon hearing this, I imagined three 'looks' for characters that would suggest cats, dogs and rats, respectively. Instead, it seems that in a display of utterly erroneous convergent evolution, these three species have somehow merged into a race of humans who have pointy ears and coloured bits on their noses.
I am frankly okay with this when it comes to characters like Stretch and Dizzy, who do kind of look like rats, but then you get characters like Angel and Omar, the leads, who just look like freaks. They are humans through and through - no tails or anything - and the only things distinguishing them as animals are that Omar has this ugly and very asthetically unpleasing snout jutting from where his nose should be (it looks like an adhesive) and Angel has these giant, slanted eyes that make her look like a grey alien. I'm still not sure whether either of them are meant to be cats, rats or dogs.

The coolest character design in the movie is that of Mok, who look suspiciously like Mick Jagger. He is cast perfectly by Don Francks and has the coolest and strongest personality of the film, and thus it is a crying shame that he suffers badly from that most evil of animation-killers: plot.
Mok basically wants to summon a demon. This is no secret, it's repeated throughout the film, on the back of the DVD cover, everything. The whole point of the movie is that he needs Angel's voice to summon it.
Unfortunately, it is NEVER revealed why.
He has this amazing setup for his personality - a decrepit rock star who is, in his own eyes, fading into obscurity (when this really means his last show had two empty seats). He is a paranoid, delusional magician with a dangerously fragile ego. And yet I don't know whether he's trying to summon this thing for revenge, fame, power...?
I hate it when writers ruin good characters with unclear motivations. It's like giving a chef the finest sirloin you can afford and he throws it into a pot of boiling water.

While we're on the subject of characters, I'd like to point out a good thing and a bad thing about the two main characters. The good thing is that Angel is a strong, capable character, not some damsel in distress (which STILL persist in animation to this day). She actually ends up being the hero of the movie, not Omar.
Which brings me to the bad thing. Omar is a dick. Like, he's a real dick. I hate him.

(Seriously. What a wanker.)

It has long been known that you can have a dick as the main character and the story can still be appealing. The one thing you will consistently notice, however, in the stories that work is that said character goes through some kind of moral and emotional development. They realise they have been a complete dick and make an effort to change. I'm thinking Woody from Toy Story.
With this in mind, I watched the film optomistically hoping that Omar would develop as a character, and he doesn't. When the credits rolled I still wanted to punch him.

As for the animation, it's brilliant. There were probably two instances where Omar's ugly snout thing rolled around his head the wrong way, and frankly I was expecting from the beginning for this to happen a lot more. That seems to happen a lot (I've even seen it in comics, so animation is a deathtrap here) when you take a character so human that they may well have been rotoscoped and slap on 'bits and pieces' that aren't there naturally. All it takes is one assistant animator who isn't paying attention and you'll get a horrible 'sliding face' glitch, but the movie is surprisingly devoid of this.
In all aspects, I found the animation of the characters to be quite good. There are obvious 'ping-pong' moments when some of the characters dance in the night club (Frames one-to-ten then back down to one again, rince and repeat), but that aside there are consistently beautifully fluid movements throughout the movie. It's actually a real treat to see a non-Disney movie this old that looks this good, because it's a damn rare find.

The special effects that the movie utilises are similarly very ahead of their time. This movie was made around the same time as Tron, and the CGI that it does contain (small in quantity though it may be) is actually better. Mostly, however, they relied on basic photographic special effects, and this has resulted in some stunning sequences.
I can't get enough of the multiplane in this movie, which has been used exquisitely. The shot of the car travelling from a God's Eye View through Ohmtown and our first view of the filthy Nuke York spring to mind immediately as visual treats.
One of the best looking moments of the film is the Lou Reed-composed song, "My Name Is Mok", which, while very eighties-looking, is executed very well.

(I admit it. Nuke York gave me chills, however lame the name was.)

All in all, I would call this a flawed masterpiece. There are some great things about this film, but not enough to save it from mediocrity, unfortunately. It was sad that this film nearly bankrupt the company that made it (worse animations have done better at the box office), but it wasn't without error and to me, to put on my script-writer's hat for a moment, it felt more like a first draft brought to completion. They did a fantastic job of realising a story that wasn't yet all the way there.


  1. Well I love the eighties. Would that make me see this film in a better light than you?

  2. No, as I pointed out, I'm into retro.
    The complaints I had with this film weren't how dated it was, that was a warning to general viewers.
    My complaints were that the characters had really unclear motivations (particularly the 'hero' and the villain) and that the story didn't make a whole lot of sense. It didn't feel finished.

  3. I just watched this movie for the first time. What a mess! The Omar character is indeed a dick, but I'd go one further and say a douche. So an unlikable main character ruins the story, which is already a boring, unclear- just whatever story.

    But wait, so I'm watching this experimental animated travesty and realize there are literally no populated environments at all to be found through out the entire movie. Apocalyptic war or not. Despite the club scene, every location features only the main 4 maybe 5 characters.

    Anyway I'm done and this movie sucks. The music not only sounds dated, although I'm 46 so I'm all over the retro stuff, but all the mmusic sounds like "C-side only for bad movies" music.