Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rock-a-Doodle (Sullivan Bluth, 1991)

I was going to write that we had here the most precipitous drop in quality of any movie we’ve seen on the list so far. The most astonishingly sharp turn from good to bad that the blog has yet given us. And while that’s probably still true (though the Lion King to Pocahontas is a fierce contender as well), it’s not quite the feeling I got from this. After all, while All Dogs Go to Heaven was very good, it wasn’t flawless. It’s more a feeling of a movie where all the Don Bluthy aspects worked perfectly being followed by one where they didn’t work at all. And in true Bluth fashion, the reason is a mix of studio interference, regrettable circumstance, short-sighted ambition, and personal shortcomings. The result? Probably the worst movie featured on the blog since Chicken Little. Definitely the worst since Quest for Camelot.





Constant Narration!


Jumping Jesus metaphor on an Elvis impression, this movie is a freaking mess. I don’t even know where to begin. Or how to begin. Or frankly why to begin. But begin I must. The story is about a rooster named Chanticleer, which none of the other characters agree on how to pronounce. Chanticleer lives on a farm, where his job is to wake up the sun every day by crowing. But the Duke of Owls wants to get Chanticleer off the farm, so he has another rooster show up before dawn and fight him. This gets Chanticleer so distracted that he doesn’t crow, and when the sun comes up without him, the other animals laugh at him and mock him as he leaves the farm in disgrace.


Sadly, the Deliverance squirrel does not feature prominently at all.
Sort of. That appears to be the end of a storybook that is being read to an EXTREMELY tiresome real live-action little boy named Edmond. He lives on a farm, and there’s a big storm a-comin’. He wants to go out and help prepare the farm, but he’s too little! During the storm, he runs to the window and yells for help from Chanticleer, because... He’s an idiot? But the Duke of Owls shows up instead! Hey! That’s not the cartoon bird he asked for! Although any cartoon bird at all is about infinity percent better than I expected, so well done, kid. The Duke is upset that he yelled for Chanticleer, and turns him into a cartoon kitten because... they’re easier to eat? Fortunately, Edmond gets his thumbless hands on a flashlight, which blasts the owl out of the room because... flashlight?

Then all the other animals from the storybook come in on a raft. They are also looking for Chanticleer! Without his crowing, the sun hasn’t come up, and they need him to chase away this rain, before the flood drowns them all and the owls, emboldened by this eternal night, eat them! So with Edmond’s help, a senile dog, a selfish magpie, and a snooty rat set off for The City to find Chanticleer. Once there, they learn that he has gone on to fame and fortune as a massive music and film star going by the name of “The King”, complete with a black-dyed comb and a Tom Parker style agent. Chanticleer and-



I mean, there’s a shaky plot and then there’s this COMPLETE NONSENSE. Nothing here makes a LICK OF SENSE. In fact, I think it’s time to bring back that old classic, the bulleted plot hole list!

* First of all, and most glaringly, if Chanticleer’s not crowing anymore is what caused the sun to stop coming up, WHY DID IT COME UP WITHOUT HIM CROWING THE FIRST TIME?! The sun comes up and the animals laugh at him, and he leaves. Then it stops coming up, and the rain comes, and it’s his fault HOW?!

* Do the animals live on Edmond’s farm, or not? The movie pretty clearly implies that this is all a dream, although it’s super wishy washy on the topic, and I’m meeting them more than halfway in agreeing to that. But even in the context of the dream, the farm they’re trying to save seems to be the one he lives on, and yet it’s implied they traveled a long way and are unfamiliar with him.

* Is the sun not coming up all over the world, or just on the farm? Because while the latter is impossible, I feel like the former would be a cause for some concern.

* And no, it’s not just that the sun is hidden by the rainclouds. They show shots of it clearly rising and falling at the appropriate moments in the plot.

This is our duterantagonist, to coin a phrase no one will ever use. He is also terrible.

* The other animals are ASSHOLES. Seriously, they laugh Chanticler off the farm because of whatever, and then they go to get him back not because they realized they’ve wronged their friend and they need to do right by him, but only because they want something.

* The three that accompany Edmond to find Chanticleer are the WORST. There’s a magpie - which is not even an animal you find on a farm - who is defined entirely by his selfishness and laziness, a mouse who is at least intelligent, but also bossy and mean, and a dog who CAN’T TIE HIS SHOES.

* That’s it! That’s his whole deal! He can’t tie his shoes! Which by all rights he shouldn’t even be wearing, but it’s a Don Bluth movie, so random amounts of clothes for all!

* How long has Chanticleer been off the farm? Long enough to become a major star with a fully furnished helicopter and a major film career, but short enough that Goldie the showgirl is jealous that he’s the “new star”.

* And then she’s sent to seduce him for no reason, and they fall in love I guess, and -

Look, I’ve been going on for over a page on my word processor now, and I could go for several pages more. There’s no point, not one single point, where this plot makes the tiniest hint of sense. In a desperate attempt to spackle over some of the worst cracks, there’s a constant narration by the dog, but that just makes it worse, because it was OBVIOUSLY inserted after the rest of the movie was finished. He literally talks over new plot points because he’s too busy repeating stuff we’ve JUST SEEN. The movie is full of stuff like this:

Edmond: We have to go to The City! 

Patou: (narration) And so we went to the city, but when we got there, we couldn’t believe what we saw. 

Edmond: It’s Chawnticwear!  
Patou: (narration) And sure enough, it was Shanticlaire, and he’d become a big star!

Edmond: ...eater!

Patou: (narration) Edmond had just told us to go to the theater. Sorry. I was talking. I think there was a song here?

Patou: I can’t tie my shoes!

Patou: (narration) And I still couldn’t tie my shoes!

ha ha because shoes

And it’s all horrible, anyway. Nobody acts in a coherent way, nobody has a consistent character, the laws of physics are ignored EVEN BY CARTOON STANDARDS. The villains lack all motivation, planning ability, and common sense. There is no reason anything happens in this movie. There is no reason for any event to occur, nor for any character to perform any action.

The cast is... Well, mostly terrible. The kid is awful, even by child actor standards. He’s got a severe rhotacism that makes him sound like junior Elmer Fudd. And while I’d never make fun of a kid for having a speech impediment, especially such a common one, I do question the judgment of giving him a voice over role. Chanticleer is Glen Campbell, who built a whole career on being a pale shadow of more talented singers, so it’s no surprise that the Elvis impersonation is barely credible. And if you’ve seen the older version of True Grit, you know what kind of actor he is, i.e. not one at all. The Duke of Owls is a badly slumming Christopher Plummer, who gives the role WAY more nuance and effort than it deserves, because he’s phenomenal.

As for the supporting cast, perennial 80s nerd Eddie Deezen is the magpie, and I want to punch his voice in the face. Ellen Greene, who really is a phenomenal actor in things like Little Shop of Horrors, Pushing Daisies, and her recent appearance on Hannibal, is badly miscast as the seductive showgirl Goldie. Greene’s voice oozes charm, innocence, and kindness, all of which have to be concealed or gone entirely for the character to work properly. The voice needs to be a Susan Egan or a Kathleen Turner for the character to work at all. At least a Fran Drescher. Phil Harris plays Patou, and he sounds old and tired, and makes me miss him in The Jungle Book. Hell, even in Robin Hood. Hell, even in THE ARISTOCATS. And as the Duke’s little sidekick, it’s Charles Nelson Reilly again, indulging in all the awful CNR quirks he so successfully restricted in All Dogs. And adding a few new ones. He’s terrible.

Released the same year as Star Trek 6, containing one of his greatest and hammiest performances.

So is the music. For one thing, most of the songs, such as they are, are less than one minute long. And the lyrics are insipid. For instance, here, in it’s entirety, is a number sung by the King’s bouncers.

Don't touch the star, Try, you won't get very far, We'll bounce you once, bounce you twice, If you get outta line, we're not very nice, We'll bounce, bounce you all over the place! Bounce! Bounce! Bounce! Bounce! If we don't like your face!

That’s it. That’s the song. Most songs are about that long. Here’s another, sung by the owls.

Tweedely dee (Tweedely dee)They're running out (They're running out)They're running out of batteries! (Of batteries!) Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No batteries!

There are a few songs that are a bit longer, having actual verses and choruses and such, but - and I’m not joking here - any time one of them comes up, Patou narrates over most of it, either the beginning or the middle. Because why would we want to hear some music when we could hear an elderly jazz musician laboriously tell us what we already know?

The animation is... Okay, it’s not all awful. For all that the characters are horrible, Bluth hasn’t lost his flair for character design, and his comfort level with technology is still growing, leading to some real good stuff. But the actual animation of the characters is often too busy and jumpy, a problem often seen with Bluth, but not often noticed, as he tends to avoid legitimate crowd scenes. I think this was animated somewhere other than Sullivan Bluth for budget reasons, which contributes, I’m sure, to the problem. There’s also a bit at the end where Edmond, restored to his human form, visits the animated farm, and it’s hideous. I mean, I’m not expecting Roger Rabbit levels, but this looks significantly worse than Anchors Aweigh, and that came out, what, 50 years previously?

To be fair, this is the greatest piece of promotional art ever.

Here’s the thing, though. Don Bluth is a lot like Terry Gilliam. Their ambition far outstrips their ability in many ways. Not their talent, mind, which is prodigious, but their ability to get their projects produced and finished. And part of that is their fault, seeing the art as more important than the finished product in many cases, and being unable to work well with studio figures, but a lot of is also the fault of things completely beyond their control. In this case, Bluth was forced by budgeting issues to spread animation to three different studios. TV director Victor French, who was set to direct the live sequences, died just before production started, and Bluth had to step in despite never having directed live action before. MPAA concerns led to a number of bizarre edits, like using cel overlays to cover Goldie’s cleavage, or adding weird Lucky Charms doodads to the Duke’s spells to make them less spooky. And yes, the narration was added after the film was completed at the insistence of the studio, who expressed concern over the incoherent plot. Which to be fair, they were right about, but come on, this is like having a gaping stomach wound and decorating it with tinsel. You’re not actually solving the problem, and you come off like an insane person.

This is NOT TO BE SEEN BY ANYONE. I know sometimes I mock a movie and then say “oh, it’s still worth a look” or maybe people want to see if it’s really as bad as all that, and NO. NO. STAY AWAY.

That said, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you all that when I was a little kid, my grandfather owned this movie and I watched it about a zillion times and I loved it and it was my favorite. So... *ahem*. There’s that.


* Okay, to be fair, while most of the live action stuff is hot garbage, the bit where a talon-like tree limb crashes into Edmond’s room is pretty cool.

* Early in the movie, in the live action segment, Edmond’s dad turns up in a shocking amount of rain gear, ready for the storm. When they cut to the outside later, and the family is braving the horrific rain, the dad is the only one dressed like that, which Edmond’s older brothers literally just in their pajamas with rain hats. Selfish jerk, give one of your kids the coat.

* Speaking of, in that scene, Edmond wants to run out and help, but he’s too little. “I’m too little” is his recurring problem for most of the movie, until at the end, it suddenly becomes that he’s scared of everything, the opposite of his personality for the rest of the movie. Nice and consistent, guys.

Then he has a nervous breakdown and fantasy/nightmare sequence where he crawls around inside his own brain. That is a thing that happens.

* Edmond’s name is taken from Edmond Rostand, the French poet and author of Cyrano de Bergerac, who wrote a play called Chantecler, the basic plot of which is somewhat faithfully relayed in Edmond’s storybook. This is also where they got the name Patou and the idea of a pheasant who seduces Chantecler from his duties. Of course, in the play, he realizes that it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t bring the sun, because his crowing still wakes the farm and starts everyone on their day. I am not aware of Rostand’s opinion on Patou’s shoes.

* Ellen Greene was also good on that super weird X-Files episode where Burt Reynolds played God. For a ninth season episode, it’s pretty good. You should watch it. Spoilers on that God thing, by the way. Forget I said that.

* Phil Harris’s birth name is Wonga Philip Harris. I had to double check that for accuracy, because the first place I saw it was on his Wikipedia page, which currently states that he is “probably best known” for Rockadoodle. I felt a violent urge to change that, but I left it in case you don’t believe me.


  1. Animated movies are very difficult to make. It takes couples of years to complete and I appreciate those who make animated movies and their work. Today so many animated movies list are there which we can watch with our babies.