Rock & Rule came out in 1983, the same year as Fire and Ice, and suffered pretty much the same fate as that film. It was a commercial flop which I think can be linked to two factors. Firstly, like Bakshi's film, it pushed the envelope perhaps a little too far for a kids film by having one or two scenes that involved implied drug use and devil worship! Secondly, the film's distributor, MGM, didn't give it much promotion on release (perhaps because they were concerned about these elements). It's a shame because it's a really underrated film. It was the first major release by Canadian animation studio Nelvana, who went on to do several children's TV shows like Inspector Gadget and Care Bears, and the artwork is really top notch.
The film is set in a post apocalyptic future where humanity has been
wiped out. The world is now populated by highly evolved cats and dogs
who more or less resemble us both in terms of appearance and culture.
The film is focused on small struggling rock band headed up by lead
guitarist Omar (Paul LeMat) and vocalist Angel (Susan Roman). A
mysterious aging rock star called Mok attends one of their shows and
instantly recognises that Angel possesses "the voice" so he drugs the
band and whisks her off Nuked York (get it?) to play in his reunion
concert. Omar and the band recover and set out to rescue Angel and find
out exactly what Mok plans to do her special "voice".
the music is this is sublime. There's about 8 or 9 songs in the whole
film from a mixture of artists and bands. Cheap Trick do all the songs
for Omar's band, Debbie Harry sings all of Angel's songs while Mok's are
divided between Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. It's not really a
musical though, because the characters don't
spontaneously break into song, it just has a lot of scenes of the two
bands performing on stage. I was kind of taken aback by how catchy and
memorable the songs were. It's a shame that the film's poor box office
meant that a soundtrack was never released but there are plenty of
bootleg versions floating around on the net if you're interested.
The story and artwork of Rock & Rule
are pleasingly quirky. There's some wonderful post apocalyptic vistas
and I really liked the Don-Bluth-gone-bad designs of the characters. I
don't know that we really needed the whole explanation at the start of
the film about everyone being mutated cats and dogs. It's not like
Disney ever had to explain why Mickey Mouse could talk, but I guess it's
only a small point! The film has a pleasingly subversive take on the
music industry. Mok obviously representing an aging, failed artist
desperate to climb back into the limelight by any means necessary. And
the film definitely toys with the idea that music is the new religion.
There's also a great extended gag where Mok drugs Omar and the band, using a glowing orb, and
they turn into mellow folk band for a short while.
Like Fire and Ice,
the short 75 minute running time doesn't allow for much more than a
simple A to B plot. We also don't really get much character motivation
and Mok, in particular, is a complete mystery to the audience. He seems
to just want to destroy the world for... well, no apparent reason. I
think I would have liked the character more if they could have fleshed
out his reasons. I enjoyed the fact that the Angel character was written
as a strong female character. Despite the fact she spends much of the
film chained up she is anything but a damsel in distress and ultimately
turns out to be a far better hero than Omar.
Overall Rock & Rule is
a lot of fun and deserves some critical reappraisal. This film really
didn't deserve to flop so hard at the cinema. It must have been a bit
of sore point for Nelvana going from making this subversive cartoon to
making the Care Bears. But I guess money talks. Despite a couple of story
flaws it is a wonderful mix of catchy music and eclectic artwork. I
think anyone who was a kid in the 80s would really enjoy discovering
this on DVD (speaking of which there was a great 2 disc version that
came out a few years ago from 'Unearthed DVDs').
For another review of Rock & Rule check out The Film Connoisseur's perspective