Monday, October 4, 2010

Rock-a-Doodle (1991)

Title: Rock-a-Doodle
Year: 1991
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Glen Campbell as Chanticleer
Tobey Scott Ganger as Edmond
Phil Harris as Narrator/Patou
Christopher Plummer as Grand Duke
Sandy Duncan as Peepers
Will Ryan as Stuey
Charles Nelson Reilly as Hunch
Ellen Greene as Goldie
Sorell Brook as Pinky

Plot: When a rooster is revealed to not be the one in charge of making the sun rise, he goes to the city and becomes a famous rock star.

Based on: Original screenplay.
Setting: An American farm...sometime in the 50's (judging by the telephone).

The rousing, rollicking adventure of the world's first rockin' rooster!

Andrew's First Viewing: Early 90's daycare
Jordyn's First Viewing: Early 90's, somehow, someway.

Andrew's Comments

As we come to the midway point in our Don Bluth retrospective, we reach the beginning and end of several paradigms: this is the last movie I grew up watching (after this, I enter the realm of Oh, This Is What I Missed), and the first Bluth film of the 90’s. It’s also the first in a rather long line of what are considered to be Bluth’s bad films, a trend that won’t let up until considerably later in the decade.

Now let me preface this entry by saying that just because I grew up around this movie doesn’t mean that I have nostalgia for it. No sir. This is one of those films that I was subjected to ad nauseum while in day care because the lady taking care of us couldn’t be bothered to get new tapes. I actually think I have anti-nostalgia for it, a curious sensation of being irrationally angered whenever anything that looks like a kitten in a Davy Crockett outfit wanders into view (see the sound that makes you punch infants for a similar idea).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Rock-A-Doodle is Don Bluth’s fifth movie, and the story of a rooster called Chanticleer (French for “rooster,” though not the most obvious name for a country-western protagonist voiced by Glen Campbell). Chanticleer’s job is to crow and wake the sun, but one day, Chanticleer is driven to distraction by a fight and the sun rises without him. Naturally, everyone thinks he’s a fraud and laughs him off the farm. What they didn’t know is that the sun went back to bed after checking on the fight, and now the sun won’t rise until they find Chanticleer or they punish the mosquito.

And if you ever come back, we'll kill ya!
The movie then totally Tarantino’s us by revealing that this whole setup is actually a bedtime story being read to an insufferable snot rag named Edmund, who the movie will spend the next 75 minutes trying to convince us is cute. Edmund’s mother is called away to help deal with the torrential rain plaguing their farm when he gets a bright idea: the rain will stop if he can find Chanticleer! He goes to the window and calls for Chanticleer, not realizing that a) Chanticleer is a storybook character and b) he’s probably not near enough to hear Edmund calling him anyway, what with being evicted and all.

No matter. The Grand Duke of Owls (Christopher Plummer, in what is surely not the brightest moment of his career) turns up to inform the (live action) Edmund that the (animated) Chanticleer will never return, and then turns Edmund into a (animated) kitten under the pretense of wanting to eat him. Just then (boy, this write-up is taking a while to get off the ground), a dog named Patou jumps in and acts as a diversion, giving Edmund time to drive the owl away with a flashlight (wuss).

Beware of those hearts, stars, and rainbows, clover and balloons...
The rest of the movie is spent looking for Chanticleer in “The City” while the animals back on the farm do their best to not get eaten. The story is kinda strange, and though I don’t think it’s as bad as it could be, I did think it was a bit redundant to have Patou act as the narrator throughout the movie (“She was falling in love for real,” he says right before another character and Chanticleer sing a love ballad together).

There were a few odd points for me, though. I’ve always been hung up on the sun not coming up for a while, and people flat-out not noticing. Does it stay night the entire duration Chanticleer’s gone, or is it just overcast the whole time? Where are the farm characters in relation to Edmund’s mom and brothers? Even without looking into it this far, the film has a few odd narrative choices, such as the aforementioned redundant narrator, and not one but two iron helps us play moments.

Where the movie starts going tits-up for me is with the introduction of Edmund. As I not-so-subtly hinted at above, I ABSOLUTELY DESPISE THIS CHARACTER. I loathe his woe-is-me-I’m-too-little attitude, cringe at the way his face is animated, and, above all, HATE THE SOUND OF HIS VOICE. Remember in the last entry how Jordyn made the distinction between sweetly annoying and annoyingly sweet? This kid’s just annoying; he does just about everything wrong that Judith Barsil did right in crafting a sympathetic child character.

You’d think with an unlikable protagonist, the movie would throw us some slack in the way of interesting supporting characters. You’d be dead wrong. Here is a movie that, among other things, has the dubious honor of having TWO Jar Jar’s. The first is Snipes, a magpie voiced by Eddie Deezen (whom you may have heard as Mandark from “Dexter’s Laboratory”), a character who is loud, obnoxious, and contributes nothing to the story. Literally, nothing. He doesn’t have a pivotal moment where his annoyingness results in a positive moment for our heroes (even Jar Jar destroyed some battle droids on accident), and is basically dead, detestable weight throughout the whole movie.

The second is the Charles Nelson Riley-voiced Hunch, who by now is two-for-two on annoying villain sidekicks. Maybe CNR didn’t think that Killer from All Dogs was obnoxious enough, because Punch is one of those hyper-incompetent minions who can’t help but make large, loud, exaggerated movements before being arbitrarily maimed. He also has the “funny” character tick where he constantly is mumbling words that end in “-ation” under his breath. Charming.

Many of the other characters fall flat as well. Peepers, a bespectacled, lisping mouse is the stereotypical “smart” character, but she doesn’t contribute much besides acting smug and calling Edmund a “ ‘fraidy cat” (there’s also some weird, inter-species sexual tension between the two, which Jordyn may or may not get into). Patou, who is voiced by The Jungle Book’s Phil Harris, is probably the best of the bunch, but he’s given a running gag about how he can’t tie his shoes that sort of gets in the way of his character. And the less said about Goldie and her pseudo-Lina Lamont persona, the better.

Thrown on this bunch of woeful character-excuses is an absolute s@$#-storm of awful songs. You know those parodies of animated musicals where people sing tunelessly about very banal and mundane things? That’s this movie. In particular, I was miffed by the Bouncer’s Song (which lasted all of 15 seconds and consisted primarily of the word “bounce”) and Twittley Dee (which is also about eight bars long and tuneless). With the exception of two Chanticleer songs (and your mileage may vary depending on your affection for country western and Elvis), the music is uniformly terrible.

An Oscar bait song if there ever was one.
Not all is awful, though. The movie looks pretty good; it’s clear that Bluth had gotten a handle on his style by this time, and everything looks reasonably clean and well-drawn. Even the water effects, which usually irk me in these movies, look about as good as they can, and there are some fancy tricks throughout, like a bit with reflections on a window. In particular, there’s a tornado at the very end of the movie that’s fairly impressive, and the live action/animation transition that happens at the beginning is kinda neat.

Maybe he hasn't lost his animation touch yet.
In all, this movie is technically sound on many levels, but is spoiled by bad writing, awful characters, and terrible songs. Plus, it just gets me riled up. Good animated movies are pretty transcendent of age, but bad ones just get under your skin in ways I can’t adequately describe. I’m sure there are worse movies in the canon (from everything I’ve heard about Troll, anyway), but I think this is the movie that just pisses me off the most.

Jordyn's Comments
All right! Half way through! Unlike the four previous films in our little self-imposed journey, this one was actually a part of my childhood. (I know, I know. Let’s break out the Santana champ.) I don’t have specific memories of actually watching the blessed thing, but my cousin Raymond and I would sing “Rock-a-Doooo-OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODLE!!!” into running electric fans whenever possible. (Try it. It sounds awesome.)

So through this family bonding I had fond, nostalgic memories associated with this film and I was actually looking forward to watching the damn thing. Nonetheless, even my low level of nostalgia could not change the fact that this movie is, indeed, shit. Like so many other wayward souls, I actually thought this movie would be enjoyable just because it was once upon a time.

Andrew (just because he went first…but not for much longer, bitch!) pretty much covered the basics of Rock-a-Doodle’s all encompassing awfulness and now I am here to nitpick. So, I’ll start with what I know best: sub-par, tacked on romantic plotlines.

As you know, Chanticleer, the manliest cock this side of the road (heh, cock) is dejected by all his friends on the farm for not making the sun rise, and then takes his talents elsewhere and become the animal kingdom’s Elvis. Chanticleer finds it lonely at the top and wants someone to love him tender at night. He bitches to Pinky, his manager, who comes up with a plan.

Enter Goldie, one of the worst love interests to ever grace celluloid, animated or otherwise. She is one of Pinky’s chorus girls, seethingly jealous of Chanticleer’s fame. Pinky somehow bribes her to pretend to fall in love with the King and keep him “happy” and away from Edmund. She performs an impromptu duet with him and then IN THE VERY NEXT SCENE, the two end up “kissin’ and cooin’” on a giant couch swing. And as Patou narrates to us, “Goldie was only supposed to pretend fall in love with Chanticleer, but she was falling in love with him for real.”

Drink your f%$@ing milk!!
I know this movie is already full of conflict what with the sun not rising, and the Great Flood coming, and the Grand Duke twirling is moustache, and Edmund and the gang relentlessly searching for Chanticleer, and Chanticleer’s self loathing and doubt, but would it be too much to ask for an actual romantic plotline? Could we maybe show Goldie falling for Chanticleer? Could we see her struggle maybe? Why does she do it too, other than him being handsome, famous, talented, and richer than God?

I really hate Goldie. Just as Chanticleer is a caricature of Elvis, Goldie is one of Marilyn Monroe: sexy, soft spoken, ditzy, and gold digging. But at least Marilyn brought some heart and humor to her characters. Goldie is just plain irritating. She represents everything that is wrong with “sexy animated heroines”. As extreme as Jessica Rabbit is, at least we can admire her for liking a goofy ass bunny instead of a super hunk with shoulders wider than a goal post. There's that whole "opposites attract" thing going on there. But the Chanticleer-Goldie romance is too easy, like all of Bluth's romances.

However, there is a brief little moment where he's pissed at her for keeping the fact that Edmund and et al are trying to find him. But through the gratuitous chase scene this is forgotten and the two end up living happily ever after on the farm. (What happened to your career, Goldie??)

Oh God, does this movie have faults but for my own sanity, I must not write about them. Andrew covered it anyway and I won’t doubly bitch. Instead I will lodge my complaints in list form.

1. The similarity of Fievel and Edmund’s floppy hats and dopey sleeves.

2. This wildly inappropriate flying phallus. (It’s even pink for Christ’s sakes!)

3. Any time Snipes eats.

4. Any time Patou narrates.

5. Or fusses with his shoe laces.

It's not all bad though. Personally, I enjoy those "Iron Helps Us Play" moments when a character is completely downtrodden and they hear snippets of previously recited dialogue to perk them up and get the job done. This movie has two which might be over kill to some, but then again the movie has two heroes, both dealing with a lack of confidence. Sometimes the only way to gain strength is repeat the positive (and sometimes negative) things others have said.

"After all...tomorrow is another day!"
The quality drop in Bluth’s films is definitely apparent by now. Even his fans can recognize this. I wanted to say something in my All Dogs Go to Heaven review simply because we went from super smart lab rats to Jewish emigrating mice to orphaned dinosaurs to zombie dogs. One of these things is not like the other in tone. But I figured this argument was best saved for Rock-a-Doodle since it’s the biggest mindfuck (so far).

It feels like Don Bluth was off his rocker a bit by now. Disney had kicked his ass at the box office in the All Dogs Go to Heaven vs. The Little Mermaid box office death match. Once he had seen The Rescuers Down Under in all its CAPS glory and heard that the next animated feature was an adaptation of "Beauty and the Beast", I can only assume he said “What the fuck?” and threw in the towel.

They're coming to take him away...
"Sun Do Shine" - Glen Campbell (Chanticleer)
"We Hate the Sun" - Christopher Plummer (Grand Duke)
"Come Back to You" - Glen Campbell
"Rock-A-Doodle" - Glen Campbell
"Bouncers' Theme Song" - Chorus
"Tweedle Te Dee" - Christopher Plummer
"Treasure Hunting Fever" - Glen Campbell
"Sink or Swim" - Ellen Greene (Goldie)
"Kiss n' Coo" - Glen Campbell and Ellen Greene
"Back to the Country" - Glen Campbell
"The Owls' Picnic" - Christoper Plummer
"Tyin' Your Shoes" - Phil Harris (Patou)

P.S. One final note: Rock-a-Doodle was released on DVD back in the early 2000's but has since gone out of print. Even the VHS Andrew and I rented from the video store was bootleg with a Xeroxed label taped on. It's ironic how this awful film is in such high demand and that a used DVD version on Amazon goes for $30. I guess Nostalgia is a crazy bitch goddess. Fear not, dear readers, for the whole thing is viewable on Youtube!

1 comment:

  1. Hilarious read.
    As a young child who was severely disturbed by this film, it's heartening to know I'm not the only one that still hates it with a passion typically reserved for African warlords.