Wednesday, November 14, 2012

80s Animation Month: Rock & Rule (1983)

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".

First off, 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 



  1. I always wondered about this one. It seems like it might actually be worth my time, based on your take on it. :) I'll definitely make sure to seek this one out sometime in the near future. I never saw Fire and Ice either, any good??

  2. I think watch Fire and Ice first then if you're still itching for more 80s animation go for this.

  3. Glad you enjoyed Rock and Rule, agree with you it probably tanked because it confused audiences, was it for kids or adults? Films that do this tend to die a quick death at the box office. Funny, this one started out as a kids film in its early stages, then it evolved into what it is, a film with cartoons partaking on drugs and the villain taking part in some sort of satan worship? It gets kind of convoluted, but the overall effect of the film is pleasing I think, to adults anyway.

    Thanks for the link to the blog Jack!

    1. Yeah, I really enjoyed this one. Glad it's got a bit of cult following now.

      The soundtrack is fantastic - love that Debbie Harry song from the end of the film.