'Rock Dog' and the positive impact of creative self-expression

20 Jun 2017 BY Joe Ursell in Film Features

5 mins
Rock Dog
Rock Dog

Arriving in cinemas this week is new animation Rock Dog. Bodi is a wide-eyed Tibetan Mastiff living on Snow Mountain. His life is fairly carefree - all he and the rest of the dogs need to do is guard a peaceful village of wool-making sheep from a nasty wolf called Linnux and his pack. The job requires concentration however, so Bodi's father and Mastiff leader Khampa forbids all music from the mountain. Things change for Bodi when a radio drops from the sky, blasting out rock tunes. Bodi is immediately hooked and decides then-and-there that he's going to be a rock-and-roll star! That means going against his father's wishes, but eventually Bodi wins Khampa round and heads down the mountain to the big city in search of the legendary and reclusive rock god, Angus Scattergood - the coolest cat in the world.

Angus, though, is a bit down on his luck; struggling with writer's block, he needs to come up with a hit song, and fast. Meanwhile, back on Snow Mountain, the wolves are threatening to take over. It's up to Bodi to form a band and help Angus with his song - and simultaneously try to defeat the wolves - in order to get his life in tune. And he might just learn some important lessons about friendship, creativity and self-expression along the way.

Making his directorial debut is Ash Brannon. Ash started his career as an animation trainee at Disney, working on The Little Mermaid, before moving to Pixar where he had increasingly significant roles in their earliest films - Toy Story, A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2helping to establish the company's reputation as creative geniuses who changed the world of animation forever. The career path of filmmakers such as Ash is an inspiring one, demonstrating to young people that pursuing your dreams can lead to the most fantastic rewards - but that it will also take tenacity and persistence, as well as a willingness to start off slightly further down the ladder. 

Rock Dog continues this theme: like many of the greatest children's films it focuses on characters developing the courage to honestly express themselves to the world around them. Bodi goes on a life-changing journey throughout the film, transitioning from feeling restricted and frustrated, into a vibrant, inspiring role-model. This storytelling trope is one of the reasons why film is so powerful, and there many more brilliant examples for young people. Some of our particular favourites are Up, Mulan, How to Train Your Dragon, Big Fish and Dead Poets Society, but there are countless more! Other examples include the works of international animation powerhouses like Studio Ghibli, LAIKA, and Ireland's Cartoon Saloon. 

Rock Dog also contains a subtle but important message about intellectual property and learning to respect other people's work and not pass it off as your own. At one point, Angus attempts to steal a song that Bodi wrote, claiming to have written it himself. The film makes clear that there is no excuse for stealing or copying ideas, and demonstrates the importance of collaboration, as well as honest communication with those around you. As young people grow up in a culture where online piracy is an increasingly everyday practice, stories such as Rock Dog and Zootropolis demonstrate in gentle ways why it is something to be concerned about, and the consequences it can have on people's livelihoods and wellbeing.

There are also important lessons around friendship. Angus may be one of the biggest stars in the world, but he has also shut himself away from everybody and doesn't really have anybody he can talk to, which, the film suggests, could partly explain his writer's block. His reclusiveness resembles that of Batman in The LEGO® Batman Movie. Like Batman, Angus a similarly stubborn alpha male - both have to learn the importance of communicating and letting other people into their lives. Eventually, Angus forms a band with Bodi and begins to embrace spending time with other people. The group become like a new family; another example in an increasing trend of celebrating diverse family units and unusual friendship groups in films for young people. This theme is explored in more complex ways in the recent animation My Life As A Courgette

Most importantly, Rock Dog is a fun and inspiring story for young audiences; one that encourages them to work together, but also harness the power of their individual creativity. Whether it is picking up an electric guitar, or playing a piano, writing something down, or even exploring the possibilities of a video camera, Rock Dog demonstrates the positive impact that creative self-expression can have on a young person's upbringing. 

For more titles aimed at young audience that demonstrate creativity and reflect the importance of respecting intellectual property, take a look at our Celebrating Creativity film list.

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Film Curator

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has worked with the BFI London Film Festival and on the production of ITV documentary 56 Up.

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