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Olive Films // G // October 31, 2017
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 11, 2017 | E-mail the Author
Rock 'n roll makes the world go 'round.

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No, wait; the sun rises (and maybe sets?; I dunno) with rock 'n roll. Look, it has some kind of effect on celestial bodies. That's what the anthropomorphic critters on the farm believe, anyway. Hunka hunka burnin' rooster Chanticleer (voiced by Glen Campbell) doesn't just crow; nope, the sun doesn't rear its head until this cock rocks out every morning. The Grand Duke of Owls (Christopher Plummer) isn't much for rock 'n roll, and he's even less fond of that big, gleaming, yellow ball in the sky. So, the scheming Duke sends one of his flunkies to...errr, duke it out against Chanticleer, with a knockdown dragout battle royale that lasts through the night and into the morning. Yup, you heard that right: morning, with the sun rising even though Chanticleer never had a chance to crow. Turns out we've all been living a lie. If the guy can't further solar cycles with his music, what good is he anyway? As his disillusioned pals on the farm turn their backs on him, a dejected Chanticleer slumps off towards parts unknown.

The end.

Well, it's as much of the story as Edmond (Toby Scott Ganger) has had a chance to get to, anyway. His mom has to put down the oversized storybook and tend to more pressing matters. This is real life, after all, and this torrential downpour is threatening to flood the family farm. Edmond is too little and wee to help out himself, but he knows someone who can. "Chanticleer!", he cries out. Wouldn't you know it...? It works! Kind of. Edmond's cry for reinforcements doesn't wrangle in a rooster who can call out the sun, but it does bring in everybody else. The Duke of Owls swoops into the bedroom, with his dark magicks transforming Edmond into a fwuffy wittle animated kitten. At least he's not in it alone, with all of Chanticleer's buddies from the farm showing up afterwards to lend a hand (or paw, or wing, or whatever). You see, the sun hasn't risen since Chanticleer left. They know they were in the wrong for turning their backs on a friend, and they've gotta make things right with Chanticleer if there's any hope of saving their home. Word on the street is that Chanticleer was headed towards The City, but how do you even get there? Thankfully, Edmond knows the way, but the journey there won't be easy, especially with the Duke's minions hot on their trail.

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If your reaction to this synopsis thus far has been "wait, what?!", then brace yourself, 'cause Rock-a-Doodle doesn't suddenly start to make more sense the further it goes along. I mean, how does a movie like this even get made? The storytelling is clumsy and nonsensical, like something (for good reason!) out of a fever dream. This is a musical in which not a single one of the songs manages to be much of an earworm. You know what kids at the dawn of the '90s love? Elvis! ('cause after being rejected by his friends, Chanticleer reinvents himself as a superhumanly successful rock 'n roll star named The King, who's unambiguously modeled after you-know-who.) And sly jokes about Colonel Tom Parker and the seedier, more exploitative elements of show business. Bizarrely, Chanticleer isn't the protagonist here, even though he's one of the only characters with any sort of arc. C'mon, being rejected by your friends, discovering what you thought made you special not being all it's cracked up to be, dissatisfaction with fame and fortune when you'd rather be back home on the farm with your friends: that's what you oughtta orient your movie around. For whatever reason, Don Bluth and company decided that this is Edmond's show, even though the kid is completely devoid of personality or any defining traits beyond "little boy transformed into a cartoon kitten". There's kind of a throughline about Edmond feeling as if he's too little and too scared to make a difference (y'know, 'fraidy cat and all), but Rock-a-Doodle rarely bothers to do much with it.

So, sure, Rock-a-Doodle doesn't hold up to a whole lot of scrutiny. I can only assume that kids in test audiences were struggling to follow along with the story, which is why the narration is so overbearing. That narration sure does make it sound as if exposing Chanticleer was the Duke's sinister plan all along, but it's also revealed that the sun rising on its own that morning was a total fluke and that everybody's favorite rooster really is the only thing preventing an eternal night. Dumb luck does not a nefarious scheme make. Why does the Duke dispatch another rooster to square off against Chanticleer? Does never-to-be-seen-again Rooster #2 crow in the morning? What could The King's sleazy manager possibly stand to gain from his arrangement with the Duke, seeing as how he's a world away and fabulously wealthy in his own right? Why is the character who inspired Rock-a-Doodle's title and is most prominently featured in the cover art barely in the friggin' movie? With two separate farms in crisis, why is there borderline-zero tension or the feeling that there are any stakes at all?

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Then again, is Rock-a-Doodle failing to tell a coherent story if it never actually tries? That somehow winds up being a chief part of the appeal. Tossing just about every possible narrative convention to the wind ensures that Rock-a-Doodle is chock-full of surprises. Between its brisk pace and barely-an-hour length (padded out to fulfill contractual obligations with 10 interminable minutes of credits!), the movie never has a chance to be boring. You have the Duke's pint-sized nephew running around with a knife and screeching about "total atrocitation!", a parliament of owls singing about battery life, a badnik who spews out Lucky Charms shapes in his magical breath, a fourteen-axle pink limousine complete with a hot tub, a helicopter that's so much bigger on the inside that it might as well be the TARDIS, and a weathered old hounddog prone to getting tied up in his own shoelaces. It's a G-rated movie with a honeypot subplot, for crying out loud. The voice acting isn't as fun as its credits would suggest, but still, you have Eddie Deezen, Charles Nelson Reilly, Glen Campbell, Christopher Plummer, and Boss Hogg himself, Sorrell Booke on the bill. The live-action stuff may be mostly dead air, but there's only a few minutes worth of that anyway, wisely emphasizing the reasonably stylish animation instead.

Rock-a-Doodle bellyflopped at the box office and, even in my geeky animation circles, barely seems to rate as an afterthought. I'm sure it's still a nostalgic blast for those who were in the target demo twenty-five years back; I mean, my wife's been known to shout "Chanticleer!" whenever the sky abruptly gets dark mid-day. Even though I'd never gotten around to watching the movie until now, I found myself hopelessly sucked in by how silly, strange, and rock-a-diculous the whole thing is. Recommended, as long as you know what you're getting yourself into.

Rock-a-Doodle hasn't just been remastered in high-def; it's been re-re-mastered. The HD presentation making the rounds on VUDU is reportedly heavily aliased and peppered with specks, but such headaches are nowhere to be found here.

Especially considering that Rock-a-Doodle is a more traditional production rather than the digital ink and paint that Disney was transitioning towards by this time, this is a decent enough presentation. Colors are eye-popping on the farm when the sun's beaming brightly, though a premise hinging on gloomy darkness obviously keeps hues fairly muted otherwise. Rock-a-Doodle isn't exactly sharp as a tack but rates as passably crisp much of the time, and the linework of the animation remains reasonably well-defined throughout. While Disney has been clumsily smearing away every last trace of filmic texture from their pre-CAPS productions, Rock-a-Doodle better respects its analog origins. Grain is kind of muddy and indistinct compared to my favorite traditionally animated works from the era, and it gets unexpectedly coarse and heavy throughout some of the live-action sequences, but I didn't find it ruinously so.

There's really only one thing I found to be a nuisance throughout Rock-a-Doodle, and that's the sporadic ghosting:

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This makes the sharpness of the image waver even within the space of a single shot, and it's a mild annoyance that recurs over and over and over and over again. We're not talking about the sort of thing that only a nitpicky Blu-ray reviewer pausing and squinting would notice either, unmistakable in motion and from a healthy viewing distance. That's not a dealbreaker, though, nor are any of the other entirely bearable flaws to be found throughout Rock-a-Doodle. While far from a world-class presentation, I'm still happy with what MGM and Olive Films have delivered here, and I'm sure that's doubly true for anyone who's suffered through what's said to be a markedly inferior showing on VUDU HDX.

Rock-a-Doodle storms its way onto a single layer Blu-ray disc at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

There's nothing to be quite so longwinded about when it comes to this 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track. Rock-a-Doodle's lossless audio is unremarkable but entirely adequate. The narration and voice acting (with the occasional exception of Edmond Fudd's heavy lisp) come through alright. The musical numbers and action alike don't really roar from the front mains, not even when the quite-literally-huge car chase rolls around, but it's all still clear and readily discerned. No crystalline highs or thunderous lows. No intrusive background noise, clicks, pops, or dropouts. No clipping or distortion to speak of. Nothing to heap all sorts of praise upon or grouse and groan about. Just kinda there.

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Also along for the ride is a set of English (SDH) subtitles.

The lone extra is a heavily aliased, upscaled theatrical trailer (2 min.).

The Final Word
In the pantheon of movies about a sorcerous, organist owl transforming a little boy into a cartoon kitten who in turn sets out to track down Rooster Elvis who day in and day out is singularly responsible for preventing an endless twilight, no one -- and I mean no one -- has done it better than Rock-a-Doodle. Sure, it's ridiculous, incoherent, and feels as if the whole thing is being made up as it goes along. While that certainly gets in the way of Rock-a-Doodle rating as a success in any traditional way, it doesn't stop this generally forgotten Don Bluth production from being a heckuva lot of fun. Memorable because it's nuts, this is a movie that by all rights should not exist. I'm kind of thrilled that it does, and I'm even more glad that Olive Films has seen fit to bring Rock-a-Doodle home to roost to Blu-ray. Not particularly good but Recommended anyway.
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