‘Rock Dog’ an old tale with new tricks

A strict father with ultimatums. A dutiful son with dreams. A famous aging cat in need of inspiration (and champagne).

Such are the themes of the new animated children’s film “Rock Dog,” an old tale that manages to serve up some refreshing new tricks.

The film, directed by Ash Brannon (“Surf’s Up,” “Toy Story 2”), begins on Snow Mountain, where a Tibetan mastiff named Khampa (J.K. Simmons) and his son, Bodi (Luke Wilson), guard a village of wool-making sheep from bad-wolf Linnux (Lewis Black) and his pack, who yearn to infiltrate.

Despite working hard to protect the mountain, young Bodi can’t shake his lifelong love of music, which his father long ago deemed an unnecessary distraction. When a radio falls from the sky and Bodi hears an interview with rock-cat legend Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), he is forever changed.

“Play your guts out and never stop,” Angus advises young musicians, “even when your dad says stop.”

“It was like the answer to the question of my life,” Bodi says.

Angus’ words of inspiration ringing fresh in his floppy ears, Bodi knows what he must do. Armed with a bus ticket, boundless optimism and dogged determination, he heads to the city in hopes of living out his dream.

Meanwhile, Angus’ record label is pressuring him for a new song like yesterday, and the all-black-clad cool cat with a serious case of writer’s block is starting to sweat.

What follows is an unlikely partnership between the two as they race to produce a new song while also trying to outwit the wolves, who have decided that kidnapping Bodi is the key to finally sinking their teeth into Snow Mountain.

Wilson does a commendable job as Bodi, who looks exactly how you’d picture the well-known actor if he actually were a dog, but it’s Izzard’s Angus who is really the cat’s meow, perfectly tapping into the soul of an over-fluffed, reclusive, tortured rock god.

The best compliment he can muster after being impressed with a song Bodi played? “That is not actually awful. It’s OKish.”

My biggest complaint about the movie is the same one my 8-year-old daughter voiced before we even left the theater — “There are no girls.” The only female character of note — and the only female voice I can even remember hearing — is Darma (Mae Whitman), a friend of Bodi’s who is vaguely endearing but completely disposable.

Still, despite that and the fact that the story line is not new — and at times feels disjointed — the musical current that runs throughout is refreshing and fun, sure to inspire kids in a place like Austin, where guitar lessons by age 10 are standard practice.

It’s fun to watch, too, from the beauty of the village on Snow Mountain, with its flowing streams and kites floating in the breeze, to the grandeur of Angus’ mansion, with its retractable lawn and multiple-story guitar room. Oh, and it ends with a totally rockin’ jam session.

At one point in the film village elder Fleetwood Yak (Sam Elliott) offers Bodi these wise words: “It’s your life. Make it a happy one.”

This movie will make you happy, for 80 minutes at least.

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