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Movie Review

It's an age-old dilemma: parents who want their teens to do one thing, teens who want to do something else entirely.

And so it is with Tibetan mastiffs Bodi and Khampa. Their life purpose is simple, straightforward and unchanging, elder Khampa insists: protecting a mountain village full of sheep from predatory wolves. It's their lone calling. And they do it well.

But teen Bodi isn't all that interested in protecting sheep—especially since the much-feared wolves haven't actually attacked the sheep of Snow Mountain for many, many years. What Bodi is interested in is making music—a passion that's ignited with a vengeance when a plane passing overhead somewhat randomly drops a radio practically on Bodi's head.

For Bodi, the songs on the radio—especially the rock songs, and even more especially those performed by legendary star Angus Scattergood—promise a portal to another world, another way of life, another dream.

Khampa resists at first. Vehemently so, in fact. But Khampa is persuaded to let Bodi take a stab at his dreams by the sage-like counsel of his friend Fleetwood Yak [!].

And so Bodi boards a bus to the big city, eager to seek out his rock idol and make a name for himself with a homemade guitar he's taught himself to play. Things get off to a mildly promising start: He meets some sympathetic, would-be musicians, bass player Darma and drummer Germur. (Their egotistical guitar player, Trey, is somewhat less sympathetic, though). And Bodi even manages to meet his idol—er, briefly—before the famously reclusive Angus Scattergood's doormat unceremoniously ejects poor Bodi into a different area code.

But Bodi's got bigger problems than just Angus' cool reception. Turns out those wolves, led by the cruel canine Linnux, are still lurking out there, just waiting to overrun Snow Mountain and make grilled mutton kabobs.

The wolves have been watching. The wolves know Bodi has left snow mountain. And the wolves are determined to make the most of this potentially delicious opportunity … if they can just keep Bodi and his new rocker friends from interfering, that is.

Positive Elements

Rock Dog delivers yet another animated iteration of the message Disney pioneered in film after film: Chase your dreams, find your meaning and purpose in life. It's a message that can be positive (though I'll return to the flip side of that coin in the Conclusion). Bodi's dad encourages him, "Find the fire inside. Find the passion." When Bodi takes him up on that counsel—albeit to become an passionate musician as opposed to being a passionate watchdog—it leads to adventure, friendship and proves to be the key to saving Snow Mountain's sheep from yet another wolfish assault.

Khampa has a hard time understanding his son's dream and an even harder time giving him permission to pursue it wholeheartedly. It's Fleetwood Yak (get it?) who convinces him to give Bodi the freedom to fly. Despite some grumbling, Khampa lets his son go. Eventually, he misses him. In the end, he's able to embrace his son's musical passion and affirm the lad for who he really is, not just who dad wants him to be, even saying, "I love you, son."

For his part, Bodi is unshakably optimistic and confident, even when he's treated really shabbily by narcissistic Angus Fleetwood. The old cat completely mocks and rejects Bodi at first, then uses Bodi's real talent to help him craft a comeback single. In the end, though, ol' Angus has a conscience attack of sorts and ends up helping Bodi, Darma and Germur repel the wolf attack on Snow Mountain.

Spiritual Content

There's a bit of fantastical magic in play in that Tibetan mastiffs have the ability to tap into an inner power that Khampa calls "deadly mastiff paw." It' basically enables him to unleash fireballs from his paws, almost superhero style, that repel the wolves. He's trying to coach Bodi on unleashing his own similar power, but to little avail.

Bodi eventually learns that music is the key to tapping into this spiritual potential inside him. When he taps into it, it causes those who hear his mystical musical music to levitate weightlessly in a peaceful cloud of positive vibes.

Traditional Tibetan prayer flags decorate Snow Mountain, which is described as "paradise." Though the spellings of their names are different, Bodi and Darma are obviously references to the Buddhist concepts of Bodhi (spiritual enlightenment or awakening) and dharma (a broad understanding of the moral laws and spiritual order in Buddhism and Hinduism). There's one passing reference to "judgment day."

Angus describes rock 'n' roll's meaning to him in almost spiritual terms. In a radio interview, he says, "It was like the answer to the question of my life." Likewise, lyrics to one of his most famous songs say, "Shout it out/Let it out/That's what it's all about/We love the rock and roll." Angus is referred to as a "rock god."

A mystical dream sequence as he's listening to Angus' music shows Bodi dancing around through what might best be described as colorful beams of energy.

Sexual Content

None.

Violent Content

Cartoony, mostly slapstick violence abounds from start to finish here, though there's some mild peril in two wolf attacks. We see Khampa and later Bodi do battle with the canines twice. Bodi gets kidnapped, drugged and bound. It looks at one point as if wolves are about to make good on barbequing four unfortunate sheep bound to long kabobs.

A couple of characters get violently shocked, repulsed or catapulted away from Angus' castle-like abode (all of which he can monitor from the house's control room). Someone gets propelled through a pane of glass. Angus' robot, Ozzy, is launched out of a window. A storage shed full of fireworks inadvertently ignites, providing an explosive show that also gets quite a few characters moving to avoid those impromptu explosions. Someone is grabbed by a huge claw, another character gets sucked up in an equally huge vacuum. We see someone kidnapped, knocked out with a baseball bat and dragged away. Several reckless car chases involve ping-ponging around various other objects and vehicles, resulting in a flipped vehicle in one case. Bodi goes for a wild ride in a grocery cart.

In addition to repeatedly attacking the sheep and stalking Bodi, the wolves, led by their cunning leader Linnux, run what amounts to a mixed martial arts venue called Fight Palace where we briefly see a couple of bouts (including one between Bodi and an enormous grizzly bear who tears a hole in the chain link fence encasing the ring). Elsewhere, Linnux sounds like a Mob boss when he talks about disabling "both kneecaps" of an adversary. A wolf gets blasted off Snow Mountain by Khampa.

Crude or Profane Language

Angus angrily begins to utter a word that begins with an "F" sound when a vehicle drives by and honks twice, effectively bleeping it (and sounding a lot like the myriad of such bleeps once heard by Ozzy Osbourne on MTV's reality show bearing his surname.) Someone voices an unfinished "What the …"

Khampa grumbles something like, "Ding-busted wolf." We hear the British vulgarity "bloody" four times, including once in this three-part put down: "stupid bloody idiot." Other name-calling includes, "cockamamie," "nut job," "twit," "nutter," "knuckleheads," "fool," "daft dog," "idiots" and two uses of "shut up."

Drug and Alcohol Content

In a moment of discouragement about Bodi, Khampa goes to what amounts to a pub of sorts on Snow Mountain dubbed The Warp & Weft. We see him with four empty shot glasses in front of him. Fleetwood Yak joins him for a double shot of a "wheatgrass" drink. Linnux and his cronies' headquarters has a pool table where the wolves play billiards and sip martinis.

Staying true to rock stereotypes, Angus seems to be a bit of drinker. We see him drink champagne at home. There's also what appears to be a wine bottle on an end table next to his bed.

Several characters are knocked unconscious by tranquilizer darts. One is obviously quite woozy when he begins to come to. Drummer Germur never takes drugs, but he definitely embodies the absentminded stoner musician stereotype.

Other Negative Elements

In a radio interview that Bodi hears, Angus advises, "Play your guts out. And never stop, even when your dad says stop. Don't stop." Bodi takes that counsel to heart, continuing to secretly play his guitar despite his father's wishes. Bodi eventually tries to explain his passion to his father by paraphrasing what he's heard Angus say. "I can't help it dad," he says. "The music is in me. Angus says it's like a fever that takes hold and doesn't let go."

Bodi eats a piece of pizza scavenged from a dumpster where he and Angus are hiding.

Conclusion

Rock Dog is a movie that is at times mildly charming (if predictable and formulaic) but more often just kind of … odd. It feels like the unlikely mash-up of Spinal Tap, School of Rock, The Osbournes, a Wile E. Coyote cartoon and Kung Fu Panda … with just a dash of Buddhist thought creeping in at the margins.

The latter is to expected, perhaps, as this film is based on the Chinese graphic novel Tibetan Rock Dog. Cartoonbrew.com characterizes it as "the first Chinese animated feature outsourced for production to an American studio."

Those subtle spiritual allusions are probably navigable ones—and are likely references that will mostly fly right over youngsters' heads anyway. A bit more vexing is Angus' penchant for the mild British profanity "bloody" and the film's depictions of several characters drinking. The movie's cartoony violence never gets too intense, but it's pretty much constant throughout.

Over and above all that, though, perhaps the biggest philosophical issue here is yet another take on the idea that pursuing our dreams on our own terms is what brings true joy. As he's about to leave, Fleetwood Yak tells Bodi, "This is your life. Make it a happy one."

That counsel might sound right and good on the surface, especially to American ears. But dig a bit deeper into this expression of "go chase your dreams," and there are some theological problems.

Scripture tells us, contrary to American philosophy, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a). The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that true joy and purpose come when we lay our lives down for the sake of others, not when we set off on personal quests to find our passion and truly "discover" ourselves.

Is it necessary for me to bring out a big theological sledge for a straightforward animated kids film that only has a handful of other problems? No. Then again, these kinds of feel-good films reflect and reinforce cultural themes that we often take for granted—and which we even praise—that deserve closer scrutiny if we're to discern how they quietly run counter to the Christian faith.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

PG

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Voices of Luke Wilson as Bodi; Eddie Izzard as Angus Scattergood; J.K. Simmons as Khampa; Lewis Black as Linnux; Kenan Thompson as Riff; Mae Whitman as Darma; Jorge Garcia as Germur; Matt Dillon as Trey; Sam Elliott as Fleetwood Yak

Director

Ash Brannon ( Surf's UpToy Story 2)

Distributor

Summit Entertainment

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

February 24, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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