Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rockerel Out With Your Cockerel Out - Thoughts on "Rock-A-Doodle" (finally)


A new month dawns and as it does, a loose end rears it's ugly head.
With any luck, I will have resolved several loose ends in September. To wit, "Rock-A-Doodle". It is now available via Netflix instant, where it was not available through Netflix at all during Don Bluth Month last year. My hideous dark twisted sense of completion and the private little hell that is my obsessive-compulsive disorder both demanded that I watch it and give a full review. I hope they are happy.

Where to start with "Rock-A-Doodle"? I don't know, but I feel that it's definitely worth noting that the story upon which the film is (very, very, very loosely) based had a long, very strange trip to the screen. Jim Hill tells the tale in excruciating detail here. It isn't hard to imagine Don Bluth hearing about the rejected project while working on "Robin Hood" and getting it hopelessly stuck in his head.

I should also note that personally, I was pretty messed up by the film. See, this is back when "The Land Before Time" was still my favorite movie and "All Dogs Go To Heaven" stung badly. The "All Dogs" video included a preview for a singularly strange looking upcoming animated film with a bunch of animals on an adventure down a river (promising) and a rooster Elvis impersonator (what?) I was hoping for a movie that would be on the level of Bluth's earlier films. Maybe -just maybe- we'd get something as good as "The Secret of N.I.M.H." Instead, we got "Rock-A-Doodle".

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, here's the plot of "Rock-A-Doodle". I don't do plot summaries often but it's worth recounting the plot as it is probably the one thing critics of the film agree is the film's greatest problem. We start in space, where a bored-sounding Phil Harris (Baloo the Bear in "The Jungle Book", shameless Baloo clones in two subsequent Disney films) informs us that there is a singing rooster whose crowing raises the sun. Which would be an easier concept to take if we hadn't started in space. Anyway Chanticleer the rooster, king of the barnyard, is disgraced when the sun raises without his singing, and he runs away to The City to seek his fortune with folks who appreciate his golden syrinx (or whatever roosters crow with). This, naturally, causes the rains to come and flood the farm. Never you mind how the crops survive if Chanticleer banishes the rain with his singing, but a pretty straightforward animated folky tale so far, no?

"Rock-A-Doodle" takes precisely five minutes to run completely off the rails. That's when we suddenly shift to a live-action family struggling through a hurricane on their own farm.* The story of Chanticleer we just heard was actually a story read to the little boy of the family, because kids just love the
Canterbury Tales. The child is played by the same kid who voiced the titular character of what was arguably the single most uncomfortable "Ren and Stimpy" episode ever. At least, I would have assumed the kid was being read a story if the narrator wasn't still hanging around and acting as if the tale of Chanticleer AND the story of the live-action family were both the God's honest truth. After some business that's way too pointlessly convoluted to get into here, the film switches back to animation, Chanticleer's friends set out to find him and bring him back to the farm and save the day, and we're introduced to the villain of the piece (I'll get to him later).

This transition back to animation is all prompted by the live-action kid transforming into an animated kitten. You can basically ignore all of this because it has
no bearing whatsoever on the plot. None. I'm not kidding; everything introduced in the live-action sequence, including the very presence of humans in the world of this movie, is brought up in the very beginning and ending of the main story and in a few lines that appear to have been edited in during post-production and that is literally it. The whole rest of the movie completely ignores it.

So why even bother with the live-action sequences? It would appear as though either Don Bluth or his supervisors wanted to cash in on the popularity of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". Which seems like an absurd excuse, given that the few scenes that combine mediums aren't even as good as those in Walt Disney's old "Alice" shorts. Mind you, the source I found this out was TV Tropes, but it and other trivia out there about "Rock-A-Doodle" is believable in terms of animation behind-the-scenes stuff. They're unbelievable enough to be true.

So... Chanticleer's friends go to the city and take way, way too long to realize Chanticleer is now the biggest rock star in the country. Come to think of it, every action that should move the story along takes way, way, WAY longer than it reasonably should. They try to bring him back to the farm, but the rooster is distracted by... Goldie.

Goldie is another element of the film worth her own paragraph. Okay. She is a Golden Pheasant, apparently, and female even though there is not the vaguest attempt to make her resemble a female pheasant. What the character designer DID take pains to make her look like is a female human. I have often said that certain tetrapods just
can't be made into appealing anthropomorphic animal-people. Goldie demonstrates this fact beautifully nightmare fuel-illy. The result of mixing poultry and beautiful girl results in what can comfortably be described as A Thing That Should Not Be.

According to TV Tropes, Goldie was meant to be as sexy as Jessica Rabbit. Yeah.

The script has a cavalcade of other brain farts. For an example, there's a scene where our heroes are banned from Chanticleer's concerts by the rooster's boss. Said boss may or may not be under the employ of the main villain depending on what particular scene in the movie we're talking about, but never mind that now. See, specifically, there is a sign at the concert hall barring "Cats, Dogs, Mice, and Birds". Yeah. The heroes disguise themselves as penguins to get in, but it turns out that everyone at the concert -not just the heroes- must disguise themselves as penguins. Because... ??? (It seems unnecessarily pedantic at this point to note the searing logical flaw in having avian performers and patrons in penguin costumes at a concert that bans birds. Ye Gods, this movie.)

The songs, aside from maybe the opening number, are annoying and the animation is frequently terrible. Things to note in a film that arrived in theaters in-between "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King". Actually, this is one of the few cases where Bluth and company farmed some of the animation out to make the release date deadline, and a lot of the same problems seen in "The Pebble and the Penguin" can be spotted here too. Characters "shimmer" and shift around in the picture plane, and they casually change size and perspective while standing still. (I have heard, since doing Don Bluth Month last year, that certain of his films were released out of production order, which may help explain why "Rock-A-Doodle" showcases the worst elements of both "All Dogs" and "Penguin".)

With all of this in mind, all of it, watching "Rock-A-Doodle" for the first time in all these years was... not as painful an experience as I anticipated.

I think I know why. Most Don Bluth fans haven't sat down and watched "The Pebble and the Penguin", and that one movie puts everything else in perspective.

Also, as it happened, I experienced a bunch of weird things during the day before I watched this movie in the evening. It was back when I was still entertaining my little cousin. We went to the Wildlife Park and encountered
two field trip groups, with all the attendant chaos that implies. I got into what can only be described as a "Who's On First" routine with a person who saw my Sketchbook. We tie-dyed, which turned out to be way more involved than I remembered. We found parasite-infested caterpillars in the veggie garden. We watched a Barbie direct-to-video movie and...

You know what? It's Tangent Time. That last thing might have made the biggest difference. You want to appreciate a lesser movie from a quality animation studio, you go watch one of the "Barbie" movies. Because once you have seen "Barbie and the Secret of the Fairy of the Princess of the Pegasus of the Planet of the Apes", any subsequent animated feature you see -and I mean any one- is going to look like Disney's "Pinocchio" in comparison. (Also, you cannot imagine how much more you will appreciate what they do with Barbie and Ken in "Toy Story 3".) It's not just that it's as bad as you'd imagine it would be from the title. It's actually worse. In the parlance of a recent Temple of the Seven Golden Camels post, it's "all frosting, no cake." And that frosting is the gross cream cheese kind. I
t's absurdly cheap, the animation is downright crappy, the visuals are unimaginative, and the whole thing shows open contempt for it's young audience. I mean it. We're talking about a film made in 2011 where a character bends over backwards in slow motion to dodge some sh*t, just like in that awesome twelve-year-old sci-fi kung-fu movie that THE TARGET AUDIENCE IS TOO YOUNG TO WATCH OR HAVE EVEN HEARD OF WTF MATTEL?!?** Also, the term "Bling" is used unironically. And fashion designers are Fairies. Yup.

Auntie Tricia got to watch "Barbie and the Gooey Kablooey" with six-year-old cousin twice.

Auntie Tricia would have watched "My Neighbor Totoro" or "Fraggle Rock" or "Dinosaur Train" or -honestly- "Rock-A-Doodle"*** with adorable six-year-old cousin instead, but adorable six-year-old cousin refused to watch anything besides "Barbie and the Who Gives a Crap". Callback to a few weeks ago: Adorablausting.


So with all of
this in mind, I found myself even enjoying the sheer open madness of "Rock-A-Doodle". There is some evidence in the film to suggest that events in it are, after all, supposed to be a fever dream that the kid is having and it (unintentionally) fits that tone perfectly.

So, about that villain. He's the Grand Duke and he is voiced by Christopher Plummer. It seems that Plummer doesn't get a lot of truly hammy bad guy roles, so he has way, way too much fun with the Duke, chewing up whatever scenery he is in. "Rock-A-Doodle" is, sadly, very definitely made for children (though lord knows what they'd get out of it), so the Grand Duke isn't allowed to do anything truly evil or even interesting (aside from the deleted scene above and the bit where he turns the kid into a kitten -- and remember the movie barely acknowledges that). But he is used frequently as an outlet for the few flashes of trademark Bluthy weirdness. This may be due to his being the last vestige of a proposed film called "Satyrday", one of Bluth's most deeply fascinating lost projects.

Honestly, the only real sadness I experienced while watching "Rock-A-Doodle" is the fact that there are no more Don Bluth features to be seen (though I remain optimistic that we haven't heard the last from him). It's a real bummer to end on such a weak note, and
it was hard to watch portions of "Rock-A-Doodle" and wonder what happened to the Don Bluth who gave the world "The Secret of N.I.M.H.". Ah well, more loose ends await.

* - Ah, how timely! See, I'm posting this the day after we *just* got our electricity and phone/internet/cable back after Hurricane Irene came and kicked our asses a little harder than we though she would. And left us without power for three and a half days. Fun times.

** - Yeah, I know "Animaniacs" had an episode that was a direct parody of "Apocalypse Now". That's totally different. Because it just is, shut up.

*** - Don't worry, this wouldn't have been her first Bluth. We watched "Banjo the Woodpile Cat" together. D'awww...


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(Pre-Hurricane) Garden Update!

8.8.11 - Garden Bee

8.8.11 - A Successful Experiment

I am going to go ahead and declare this garden to be a successful experiment.

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Sketch of the Day!

I don't even know...

8.10.11 Sketchbook Page

1 comment:

Albertonykus said...

While I've (probably thankfully) never seen this film, this post was a delight to read.