PLOT A Tibetan Mastiff yearns to become a rock musician.
CAST Voices of Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Mae Whitman
RATED PG (mild scares)
BOTTOM LINE A sweet-natured but awfully clumsy animated tale. Best for very young viewers.
A forgetful fish, a lovesick robot, a Kung-Fu panda — they’ve all been box-office hits, so why not a guitar-playing dog? It’s as good an idea as any, but “Rock Dog,” an animated U.S.-Chinese production, somehow falls flat. Despite a talented voice cast and some cute moments, it feels like an amateur version of the Pixar and DreamWorks classics we already know. What’s more, “Rock Dog” just doesn’t rock.
Its hero, Bodi, is a Tibetan Mastiff with the appealingly guileless voice of Luke Wilson. Up on Snow Mountain, Bodi trains to be a shepherd under the watchful eye of his father, Khampa (J.K. Simmons), but his heart isn’t in it. When a passing plane accidentally drops a “magic singing-box” — a radio — Bodi hears the sound of an electric guitar for the first time (a thrilling moment many of us can probably remember). Soon, Bodi is off to find the cat behind it, the legendary Angus Scattergood (the British comedian Eddie Izzard).
“Rock Dog” is based on a graphic novel by the Chinese rock musician Zhen Jun, which may be part of the movie’s problem. The story and its details seem generally mistranslated. Why would Angus, a British rock star, live in Beijing? (It’s not illogical, just odd.) Why does Bodi’s nemesis, a wolf named Linnux (Lewis Black), dress and speak like a 1930s gangster? Also, could this movie define what it means by “rock”? The soundtrack includes Beck, Foo Fighters and Radiohead, but what comes out of Bodi sounds more like Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith.
Things liven up a bit when Bodi finds Rock ’n’ Roll Park, where young bands — from hardcore punk to cool jazz — come to busk and get noticed. This colorful backdrop has all kinds of potential for comedy, romance and tension, especially when Bodi meets a literally foxy bassist named Darma (Mae Whitman) and an arrogant leopard guitarist, Trey (a very good Matt Dillon). These characters could almost carry their own movie, but they’re reduced to bit players.
“Rock Dog” has one very good joke — it could use more of them — in the narration by Sam Elliot. He plays a friendly yak whose name is Fleetwood. Think about it.