Rock & Rule (1983) | This Ain’t No Kid’s Movie
Okay, so…where to start with this?
I suppose I could tell you first off, that I discovered this film through Film Buff and Media Collector, Sean, better known as Zaranyzerak from his Youtube series “The Multimedia Chronicles.”
He was just going through his DVD collection a couple of different times and at one point, I’m not sure exactly which video it was, but he pulled this one off the shelf and told us that it was a 1980s Canadian animated film called Rock & Rule. And the first thing that came to my mind was something more along the lines of Rock and Roll Highschool (despite the fact that I’ve never seen that film). It just gave off this vibe that it was going to be an animated highschool drama with radical guitar jams and stuff. I also thought that based on the style of art on the box, the animation was going to be more akin to “My Dad is a Rockstar.”
Instead, what I found out is that this is a dark animated feature of a dystopian future, populated by partially roto-scoped anthrapamorphic characters, singular members of five different less-than-popular rock bands (dipping in popularity at the given time, 1983), and it is fueled by crazy pills and a crap ton of acid.
Ladies and gentlemen; I give you one of the most awesome films I have ever seen in my life.
Now that is not to say that this film is good, by any means. It is actually quite confused with itself. The writing is neither here nor there exactly. It doesn’t flow like a common narrative would. Things that ought to happen at the times you expect them just don’t, but they might pop up later if you’re lucky. Predictability in this case is not clichéd or anything, I just have found that certain things should happen at certain times in different types of films, and things just didn’t progress or turn out like I would have hoped they would in this movie. So that may be a deterrent for some of you because you may notice these problems subconsciously even if you don’t know why. The film also has a tendency to be a bit slow and confusing with the directions it turns in, which can also take you out of the experience a little bit.
But now that we’ve got the bad stuff out of the way, let’s get to why this film is still Bitchin’ Awesome.
First, I’ll give you the brief run-down of the plot and its characters.
So there is this aging Rock legend, Mok Swagger (obviously a play on Mick Jagger, who even sports enormous expressive lips, playing fun at Mick’s own lips size) who, in his most recent career has fallen on hard times with his audience attendance and fame. And because this has taken him from the highest point to the lowest point except with some die-hard fans, he now wants to take out his frustrations on the people who have forsaken him. So now he has devised a plan to bring forth a demon from hell to enact his revenge and kill in mass, all those who have turned away from him.
To do this, he must acquire the perfect voice, a voice who’s resonant pitch and tone when singing a particular sequence of notes, will open the gateway to bring the hell-spawn out. He finds this voice in our arguable Main protagonist, Angel; who is one of the many half dog creatures populating this film. The other main protagonist, who you could say is either the main or the secondary, depending on how you look at the story, is Omar: the lead singer of an up-and-coming rock band who has a good heart at his core, but he’s a little hard headed and self-centered during the first half of the film. The side characters are Dizzy and Stretch, the drummer and bass guitarist of this band. You can kind of think of these guys as the PJ and Bobby of the film, because like with “A Goofy Movie” and “An Extremely Goofy Movie,” they are both half dog, half human, and they serve similar comic relief and supportive roles as friends of Omar and Angel. Parts of their personalities are also similar to PJ and Bobby, but you often find those geeky/timid characteristics in characters who fill these supporting roles.
So once Mok convinces Angel to come to his home and help him create his next concert experience, he doesn’t hide his true intentions for long and knocks her out. Then converting his house into a giant flying fortress and makes sail for Nuke York. Omar is convinced that Angel has left the band to pursue a new, bigger career with her idol, Mok. But Dizzy convinces Omar that they have to save her because she is in mortal danger.
To make it more of a special experience, I won’t reveal the rest of the plot to you, especially the extra characters that pop up a little later on, it’s too interesting to spoil it here. But I will say that this does have a happy ending with the demon being sent back by the power of Rock. (are you surprised?) This also makes it unlike most of the other dark animated features out there in that it doesn’t have a dark and twisted ending, it actually turns out alright after all.
Now as for the overall feeling and atmosphere of this film, what are the good and what are the bad things about it?
Number one, it has some very striking music. Not just the songs written by the musical guests, but all the background tracks as well. They give off this haunting, weird, slimy, abysmal feeling that just makes you go, “aw yeah, I’m feelin’ this. This thing’s fixin’ to get real.” Just the first few minutes with the opening exposition and the opening scene puts you right into this dark, dank, flea infested world. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into within the first three minutes.
As for our resident musical guest stars, their contributions to the soundtrack are odd as well as interesting. Not odd, as in: the artists chosen to be in the film, but the songs they decided to write for it. I mean, I’m sure all of these artists had songs in their repertoire that were way better than what they wrote for Rock & Rule. So unfortunately, except for the main song, “Send Love Through” by Debra Harry, the rest of the songs are sub-par, forgettable; and in one case, hard to hear.
I will say that the song Lou Reed wrote for Mok, is probably the more enjoyable of them all, just under the Earth Wind and Fire song for the Dance Club scene. Mok’s song is completely egotistical, self-centered, and self-righteous; pretty much equalizing Mok to Jesus. There’s even a scene where Mok is wearing one of his darker colored wigs and a matching Jesus-like robe. But the character of Mok Swagger is supposed to be like that. He feels he is so important to the world, so powerful, so all-knowing and almighty, that he practically equates himself to God or a god-like figure, even if he never verbally expresses it.
Another thing I like about this is the animation. Despite a lot of it being propelled by obviously Roto-scoped human actors, the animation is still fun to watch, and I’m sure at times it is not fully roto-scoped. They’ve managed, like Don Bluth, to find that middle ground between un-settling rotoscoped animation (like you would find in a Ralph Bakshi picture) and traditional animation. I’m sure some of you will still find the style and the film itself a freaky, disturbing piece; and to you guys I say “this is probably not for you.” But for those of you who, like me, enjoy a weird-ass looking movie from time to time, you will get a kick out of this unconventional animated feature.
I’m consistently impressed with the inherent fluidity of the animation in some sequences. Studio Nelvana put a lot of time and effort into making this feature possible; and it seems they really did a top-notch job with the fluidity of their character animation. It’s not so fluid all the time, but it never drops below what you would expect a Disney movie to be capable of.
In particular, I am often mesmerized by Mok’s gigantic, over-expressive lips. In the hands of certain animators, these things are bigger than the rest of his face put together, and they look like they could suck a tomato through a coffee straw. What helps sell these abominations of facial muscle is Mok’s dialogue voice-actor (as opposed to his singing voice), jazz singer turned actor, Don Francks; who gives one of the most striking and imposing villain performances ever in an animated feature. The booming resonance and richness of his voice fills the oversized pie-hole they emanate from. Therefore making Mok’s enormous lips seems that much more acceptable to the film’s reality.
I also must say that I really enjoy the design and animation done on Angel here. She “is one dynamite Gal,” to quote a line from Wreck-it Ralph. It’s amazing how many extremely hot chicks there were in animation in the 80s as well as the 90s; and of course I had a crush on all of them. Angel here is one of the more head-strong female characters, which you did not see much in live-action until the late-70s I think, and I don’t ever remember seeing many strong independent female characters in cartoons or animated films until the mid-90s. Girls were always just the thing the protagonist won by the end of the film. So I’m glad to see that although Omar and the other band members go after her to try and save her, she is not at all helpless in her predicament. She actually finds a way out and escapes for part of the film, before being tracked down again and taken back. (Okay, that’s the last spoiler for ya)
Before I go, I should point out some fun trivia for you Detail Junkies so that you can know stuff that your other Film Buff friends do not. Lol
- Nelvana Limited, the Canadian studio that created Rock & Rule, did not manage to get the film into enough theaters due to its controversial nature and adult oriented story, as well as continual overseer changes from their US distributor, MGM. Thus Nelvana nearly went bankrupt due to the lack or revenue and the huge budget it took to produce the film.
- Nelvana soon after, got the job to produce and animate the original Care Bears movie, which amazingly (despite it’s obvious lacking animation compared to Rock & Rule) made then back a ton of cash with about 38 million in World Wide sales and 1.85 million in their native Canada. Care Bears the Movie even beat out Disney’s own Black Cauldron that same year in 1985.
- Nelvana was originally offered the chance to work on the other famous, Adult-oriented animated feature from the 1980s, “Heavy Metal,” but chose instead to work on their personal project Rock & Rule, which started production in 1979, but was not completed and distributed as widely as it was until 1983.
- Nelvana heavily based Rock & Rule’s plot and universe on one of their earlier short projects called “The Devil and Daniel Mouse.” The story of a down on their luck singing duet who work hard to make it to the big time. But Daniel’s partner, Jan, is much more distressed by their current situation than Dan is. One day Jan runs into a large red-colored business man (similar to the devil-like character from the cartoon “Cow and Chicken) who offers to make her a star. She makes a deal with him, and she instantly becomes a sensation, leaving Daniel behind.
- I won’t spoil the rest of the short film for you, because you can actually see this short film on both the Special Edition DVD and the Blu-ray of Rock & Rule, released in the US by the appropriately named, UNEARTHED FILMS. It’s quite a decent piece of early 70s animation.
- Don Francks, the voice of Mok Swagger, is the father of Cree Summer Francks, known better without the Francks on her name. Nelvana Limited was contracted to animate the first season of the well-known cartoons series “Inspector Gadget,” where Cree Summer got her first voice-acting job playing the rambunctious Penny, who always solved the crimes and prevented her dimwitted bionic powered uncle from hurting himself. Cree’s Father, Don, actually portrayed the voice of Doctor Claw in a select few episodes of the series. Though I am unsure if it was during that first season run. For the most part, high-profile voice artist, Frank Welker, provided the voice of Doctor Claw.
- The Canadian version of Rock & Rule has actor Greg Salata in the role of Omar. MGM executives disliked Greg Salata’s performance, as well as some of his more obscene lines, and insisted that he be replaced by someone with more recognition and marketability. So he was redubbed by Paul Le Matt for the US version of the film.
- Due to its initial messy production, script changes, and staff changes at MGM which therefore brought in new people who disliked the film outright, Rock & Rule was never given a proper release in any theatrical form, nor was it given a very large Home Video Release.
- Some records say that it had a VHS release in 1985, and a Laser disk release in 1987 or so, but those releases were short lived and soon went out of print. All throughout the 90s, the only way you could have seen the film was either to catch it on one of its late-night broadcastings on HBO, or to personally contact Nelvana Limited and request a print of the film be made and shipped to your household, which would have cost you $80 to accomplish. But I suppose for die-hard fans that’s not at all unreasonable. I only wish more companies offered that kind of service for us die-hard fans of all the 100s of things that still aren’t on DVD.
- Then in 2005, the film was finally release on DVD by UNEARTH FILMS, and then brought back again on a restored Blu-ray (which I own) by their newest distributor, BREAKING GLASS PICTURES.
- The Blu-ray and DVD copies both have the US version of the film, fully restored as best as possible, and they both include the only remaining VHS transfer of the (now lost) Canadian original version of the film with Greg Salata in the role of Omar.
- Final piece of trivia.
The retrospective book “100 Animated Feature Films” includes an entry for Rock & Rule as one of its 100 selections from around the world. These are films that anyone interested in animation should see. So to know Rock & Rule is among these essential films is a wonderful surprise.
- In the entry, author Andrew Osmond explains that animator Torn Sito created the disgusting, shape-shifting demon seen in the climax of Rock & Rule. But Sito was also a part of created the similar shape-shifting gelatinous creature, the Greedy, seen in Richard Williams’ Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure; something else I posted a review of a while back. Later Sito went on to Disney Animation Studios where he helped created the animation style for moving the tentacles on Ursula the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid.
- Also Roger Allers was a part of the Animation team. He was also previously mentioned as part of the team on Steven Lisberger’s Animalympics where he animated Kit Mambo. He would go on later to direct Disney’s Lion King (again, a very appropriate and fitting career move.
I encourage all of you animation junkies to search out this film and see it soon. It is one of the craziest experiences you will ever have watching an animated movie next to of course, Heavy Metal.
So join me next time everybody, where we will continue to look into the strange and often creepy world of underrated animation.