In a post nuke world where irradiated mutant animals have taken on very human characteristics, Omar (Paul Le Mat) and Angel (Susan Roman) front a small time rock and roll band in the tiny burg of Ohmtown. They work pretty hard at what they do and they take their music very seriously, but stress creeps into their relationship when Omar forbids Angel from auditioning at a dingy nightclub, secretly fearing that she might go on to bigger and better things without him.
When their duet doesn't work out as well as they thought it would, Angel defies Omar and hits the stage to do her thing anyway, and it's here that she catches the attention of Mok (Don Francks), a rock and roll star-maker with some very sinister ties.
You see, Mok is into the dark arts, black magic so to speak, and he's able to make wannabe musicians like Angel famous quite easily, as long as they're willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Mok quickly scurries Angel away from Omar but when she finally comes to her senses and realizes what she's done, the only one she can hope to turn to, the only one who might be willing to help her out, is the very same man she scorned for fame...
A little too adult for the kids and a little too kiddie for the Heavy Metal crowd, Rock & Rule was one of those odd animated features that really failed to find an audience right of off the bat but would quickly become a cult favorite. Through regular play on Canadian television and less regular play on American airwaves, it eventually did win itself an audience, and deservedly so, as it's a finely made film that strikes a chords (pardon the pun) with those of us raised in the late seventies and early eighties who will inevitably remember this one from our younger days.
Blessed with a soundtrack featuring contributions from such rock and roll luminaries as Debbie Harry (of Blondie), Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Cheap Trick, even if the film doesn't work for you the soundtrack likely will. The film should work for you though, as it taps into the desire for fame and fortune or that dream of being a rock star that every kid has entertained at least a few times in his or head no matter how delusional it might have been to do so.
At its core, the film is a classic tale of good versus evil. A lose remake of an earlier Canadian animated short, The Devil And Daniel Mouse (see more on this one down in the Extras section), Rock & Rule is a beautifully rendered piece of cartoon animation that looks just as good and just as impressive today as it did over twenty years ago when it was made. The studio animators over at Nelvana obviously put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the film and it shows in every frame, or more likely, in every cell of the finished product. There's an amazing amount of detail not only given to the characters and their movements and their expressions but to the backgrounds and sets and assorted gadgets and whatnots scattered throughout the film as well.
So while it didn't work as the animated blockbuster that I'm sure the film's backers were hoping it would be, the time has finally come to appreciate Rock & Rule, and to give it the respect it deserves from animation nerds, sci-fi geeks, music fans and film buffs of all walks. It's got something for everyone - a noble if slightly misguided hero, a sassy and sexy heroine (I don't care if she's a mutant, she's hot, dammit!), a sinister villain and a killer soundtrack set over top of some amazing visuals and playing out a simple but effective tale of right versus wrong. If you haven't seen it before, get to it and if you've seen it as often as some of us have, then find someone who hasn't and have them check it out.
The AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer for this release was taken from the HD remaster that was done a few years ago for the standard definition release. Compared to that DVD transfer, this Blu-ray shows some considerate improvement, particularly with color reproduction and black levels. There's also quite a bit more detail noticeable in some scenes, though the animation that was made to look soft when the film was originally created is only ever going to look so crisp. Contrast is off and on, with the opening sequence looking unusually dark, and some minor print damage is present (though never to the point of irritation or distraction) but overall, Rock & Rule transfers well to high definition.
Unearthed wisely gives you the choice of watching the film in a newly re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix or in the original 2.0 Stereo mix but unfortunately omits the option of a lossless audio track (and this is the type of film that really would have benefited from it). Both tracks sound fantastic, and while purists will want to go with the original mix, the 5.1 track makes good use of the rear channels to periodically suck you into the film but it's not a consistently enveloping track. The music swells up around you, the sound effects occasionally whiz past you from all the right angles, and background effects and ambient noise does sometimes fill in the rest of the soundscape very nicely. The 2.0 mix also sounds good, with excellent channel separation and crystal clear dialogue. Neither of the two tracks have any problems with hiss or distortion, there's nary a snap, crackle or pop to be found - everything has been cleaned up very nicely and there's really nothing to complain about with either of these mixes - except for the fact that they just don't take full advantage of the format when they really should have.
First up is a feature length commentary track with director Clive Smith. Though the film wasn't a big commercial success, this one was obviously still a very important project to Smith who put a lot of effort into making the best film that he could. Smith has a lot to say about the making of the film, and goes into quite a bit of detail of what turned out well and what he thought could have been better. He unloads a lot of pre-production detail and also delves into the technical side of things a few times too. Smith comes across as a pretty likeable, down to Earth guy and hearing him reminisce about the movie with as much affection as he does on this track and with as much enthusiasm as he does on this track makes for a very enjoyable listen.
The Making of Rock & Rule is an extensive documentary that examines what went into getting the film made. It features interviews not only with some members of the animation team but also with some of the musical talent involved (there's some very good footage here of a couple of the musicians doing their thing). Originally shown on Nickolodean, this is a pretty interesting piece. Also on the first disc is a huge sketch gallery and a restoration comparison feature that gives us a look at how much effort was put into cleaning up the picture for this Blu-ray presentation.
Up next is an alternate version of Rock & Rule. This is the version that was shown a few times on Canadian television and while the differences are subtle and they don't really alter the film that much, they're still interesting. The opening narration differs from the U.S. version, as does some of the voice work (most noticeably the characters of Omar and the computer game that Stretch is playing in the arcade scene. The ending on this one is also slightly different, and the music sounds like it has been mixed with a more aggressive sound here, most noticeable during the guitar parts of the score. This version runs roughly twenty seconds longer than the U.S. theatrical cut. This version is presented fullframe and the video quality isn't on par with the restored version on disc one. Despite the fact that it doesn't look as nice (a lot of the original elements were wrecked in a fire) I'm thankful that Unearthed included this version on the set as this is the cut of the film that I was introduced to, and for nostalgic reasons, it was important to me on a purely personal level that it be in this set.
The Devil and Daniel Mouse is up next. It's a twenty seven minute long animated short film from 1978 that served as the inspiration for Rock & Rule. This film finds a pair of folk singing mice losing favor with their fans when rock and roll starts to take off in a big way. The female of the pair mutters that she'd be willing to do anything to regain their popularity, and the devil appears and offers her fame and fortune in exchange for her eternal soul. Her popularity soars, and her one time partner Daniel is left in the dust. When Satan comes calling for her and it's time to pay the price for her deal, the only one she can turn to for help is Daniel. This is a fun little short, another one I remember fondly from my childhood in Canada. Clive Smith directed this one as well and the influence that it had on Rock & Rule is obvious. Following that, appropriately enough, is The Making of The Devil and Daniel Mouse which is exactly what it sounds like - a look at the making of the short film. Like The Making of Rock & Rule, there is a lot of interesting information in here that details the background of the film and its creators.
A fifteen minute work print of the title sequence of Rock & Rule is also on this disc, which gives some interesting insight into how the animation all came together for this very visual scene. Rounding out the extra features are a trailer for Rock & Rule, and a workprint ending sequence. Included with the previous DVD release but omitted on this Blu-ray reissue were a still gallery and a booklet featuring some interviews and articles on the film along with some production artwork.
This Blu-ray release doesn't offer a huge upgrade over the two disc standard definition DVD release that came out a couple of years ago as it features the same audio tracks and actually omits a couple of minor supplements. It does offer a noticeably more detailed transfer with better colors, however, and for some that will be enough. As for the movie itself, it remains an interesting animated oddity that'll intrigue and perplex for years to come. It's got a great musical cast and features some creative and beautifully drawn animation, all of which come together to help its story flow well. Animation junkies probably already know they want this but even if you don't fall into that category, Rock & Rule is still worth checking out and comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.