We all give in to nostalgia once in a while. Maybe you’re digging through a closet and find some old VHS tapes or walking by the Hot Topic you see they’re still printing shirts with the Angry Beavers on them. Luckily for most people in my generation the 90s was a pretty great time for kid’s entertainment. We had ABC’s One Saturday Morning, Cartoon Cartoons, Nicktoons and the Disney Renaissance. Most people I’ve talked to who grew up in the 80s would talk about having to be cautious when revisiting childhood memories. Shows like He-Man, Thundercats, and yes even G1 Transformers don’t exactly hold up to the test of time, but I never quite understood this. ‘Everything I grew up on was great!’ I’d always say. Darkwing Duck? Still awesome! Johnny Bravo? Fantastic! Ren & Stimpy? Pop in the DVD and I could watch it anytime. And a certain man stands out in the minds of everyone who was a child of the 80’s and 90’s, the man who was to be the new Walt Disney and even got his start working with the man himself on movies like Sleeping Beauty and the Sword in the Stone.
Mr. Don Bluth, the director of such classic and iconic American animated films as The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time (only the first one), and An American Tail, is synonymous with animation in film in the 1990’s. Creating such hits as Anastasia and All Dogs Go To Heaven he was Disney’s biggest (and kind of only) competitor for two decades. He has certainly had a great career and despite all the praise he’s received even he can make some stinkers. A few films like The Pebble and the Penguin and Thumbelina underperformed at the box office and were blasted by critics but in this article I will be addressing what may be his worst film of all. Today I’ll take off my nostalgia goggles and examine one of my favorite childhood films, Rock-A-Doodle.
Luckily for me (and you) the entire film can be seen on youtube! Care to join me?
The movie begins like you’d expect any animated movie to start with orchestral music over the opening credits and a voice over from the late great Phil Harris. Phil Harris as the dog Patou asks what could happen if one day the sun didn’t rise, setting up the plot of the film. Then we’re introduced to the titular character Chanticleer AKA Rock-A-Doodle as he’s named later in the film. With the voice of Glen Campbell Chanticleer belts out a loud crow, signaling the sun to rise and goes into song about letting the sun shine on the farm. Chanticleer’s job is to crow otherwise the sun won’t come up. It totally works like that.
The song is pretty good and of course with it being the 90’s and following the recent successes of films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast this is obviously telling us that this film will be a musical. Right? Wrong. This is the only song in the movie. We hear it here and at the end. They cast Glen Campbell as the main character, have him sing likes like ‘My daddy taught me how to sing and that’s why this voice means everything,’ and he only gets one song? Well I shouldn’t really say main character since he’s barely in the film at all! So, next up we get introduced to our other annoying and less interesting characters.
First there’s Patou the old hunting dog. I’m pretty ok with Patou since he’s the least annoying of the characters and is voiced by Phil Harris who we love from many things including his extensive list of voice work in films like The Jungle Book and the Aristocats. We also get a quick glimpse of Snipes the magpie voiced by Eddie Deezen. As much as I loved Deezen as Mandark, HOW does this guy get so much work? He does the same voice every time and it’s the most ear bleeding, grating voice in the world! Also with him is his foil, Peepers the mouse voiced by Sandy Duncan. Alright, now we’re talking. Sandy Duncan? I’m gonna enjoy her work. Nope. They give her a lisp and her only purpose is to act like a little know-it-all bitch the entire movie. She tries to explain that the lisp endears her but no… no it does not.
After the song Patou continues to narrate and night falls over the farm and a shadowy figure sneaks into the scene. The stranger was sent by the Grand Duke of Owls to beat the hell out of Chanticleer and keep him from crowing. Even though Chanticleer wins he doesn’t get a chance to crow, but the sun comes up anyway! Needless to say the animals are shocked. Everyone on the farm proceeds to berate and mock Chanticleer upon the realization that his entire life and purpose was all a lie. Seriously? 5 minutes ago this guy was your hero. You were just all singing and dancing with him and swooning over his chicken pecs but one day the sun decides to get off its own ass and do its job and they drive him off the farm? Farm animals are a fickle people.
Embarrassed, depressed and broken, Chanticleer leaves the farm to find work in the city. I guess he was getting paid to crow. Who gave him this job in the first place? Did they not know the sun has been around for a bit longer than this rooster? He had to have lied on his application. When Chanticleer leaves the rain comes shown that this was all taking place in a story book being read by our completely unnecessary main character Edmond and his mother in a live action sequence. This kid is so shoe horned into this film to humanize it and make it relatable to kids. Simba didn’t need a little human friend who was turned into a cartoon lion to defeat Scar. This kid also has a lisp. Instead of giving people actual character in this film they just load them with annoying affectations and make them act like jerks to each other.
Edmond’s family’s farm is being hit by a huge storm and is starting to flood. After being told to stay in his bed while the ‘big boys’ take care of the homestead, Edmond runs to his window and starts calling for Chanticleer. This kid is like 11 and he thinks a cartoon rooster is going to save his family. I guess Chanticleer’s crowing can also stop floods? And he probably wasn’t paying much attention when his mom JUST told him that Chanticleer was a damn dirty liar with no solar system shifting super powers. Outside, a tree is hit by a bolt of cartoon lightning and none other than the Grand Duke of Owls appears before Edmond. The movie doesn’t really tell you why. I guess his screaming caused the two worlds to collide? Or the book was some kind of portal into the cartoon dimension? Maybe this movie exists in the same universe as that movie the Pagemaster with Mccauley Culkin, which by the way is a much better movie. But, hey I thought Rock-A-Doodle was still a good movie until now so I may be wrong.
The Duke explains that Edmond is rude for calling Chanticleer back to the farm after he worked so hard to drive him and the sun away. I guess the cartoon and the live action farms are the same farm? And weren’t we just told that Chanticleer’s powers DIDN’T WORK? The sun came up anyway. He also says that he drove him away because he loathes ‘rock and roll.’ I’d call the song Chanticleer sang a country western tune if anything. And does this guy even live on that farm? Then he turns the kid into a cartoon cat. Again, what is your motive? Patou runs in, also completely unexplained as to how he got here or why, and attacks the Duke. While they tussle, Edmond flips on his flashlight, which drives the Duke away screaming. Yeah, a flashlight can defeat the villain of this film.
Patou is followed by the other members of the team and a bunch of ancillary characters that we never get introduced to but the movie seems to think they’re important. After learning that Edmond knows where the city is and how to get there they decide to hit the road for adventure! Just as they’re about to leave, the house floods with water and they all climb into a toy box and use it as a boat to float to the city.
We’re shown where the owls live, in the top of a tall mountain peak. Why are they so damn concerned with what goes on at that farm when they have a bitchin’ pad in a mountain. I never saw Chernabog terrorizing any cows and chickens. I guess I forgot about another song. Know why I forgot about it? Because it sucks. It’s not even a song as much as it’s the Grand Duke talking while playing an organ and a bunch of owls singing exposition about them hating the sun. It only lasts for about 30 seconds then the only possible reason for you to ever watch this movie flies in. Charles Nelson Riley as the Grand Duke’s retarded nephew and mercenary, Hench, enters and is sent by the Duke to sabotage Edmond and his new friends from finding Chanticleer. He may be the worst character in a cast that already makes you want to tear out your old VHS and smash it but hey, he’s voiced by CNR.
He and a group of other owls attack the group in their toy box raft and throw them off course but then are driven away by a camera flash. Things that can defeat our villains; a flashlight and a camera. The box slams shut and latches then floats into an aqueduct pipe. Snipes gets claustrophobic and puts a bunch of holes into the sides of the box which starts to fill with water and almost kills everybody. This is literally the only thing this character does in the whole film besides wander around with everyone else and act like a dick. After shooting out of the pipe, the box opens and they find themselves at the city. The owls actually helped them get to the city and Edmond’s entire purpose is moot since they didn’t really need him to get there. Now he’s just annoying baggage. In the city they discover that Chanticleer is a headliner singing at a club and is in love with his performing partner Goldie. After discovering where they are the Duke sends his retarded nephew after them while his other henchmen wait at the farm for the animals’ flashlight to lose its battery power. These really are the least threatening villains ever. You never feel the characters are in any danger because the bad guys are so inept and can be defeated so easily. The Duke ain’t no Hades, that’s for sure.
Our ‘heroes’ try and get to Chanticleer but are shoved aside by toad bodyguards. Returning in disguises the group gets a note to Chanticleer but Goldie distracts him and they are captured by the bodyguards and locked in a trailer. Hench, who is trying to kill them, inadvertently sets them free. The heroes of this movie never accomplish a damn thing. They either get somewhere by luck or a villain does it for them. Feeling guilty for hiding the note, Goldie shows it to Chanticleer and they ride away on a prop motorcycle to save them. This is like the third time we’ve seen the title character this whole movie and he’s had no real character development at all except for seeing him sing in the beginning and on stage. He’s just ‘cool singer guy that everyone loves for some reason.’
Chanticleer saves everyone form the bodyguards and after an intense car chase they steal a helicopter. They fly back to the farm and use the searchlight to drive away the owls just as the flashlight runs out of batteries. They try to get Chanticleer to crow so the sun can come up (they seem to have forgotten that it didn’t matter at all) but he’s out of practice so he gives up immediately. Oh hey, I guess that’s character development. Now I hate him because he’s a pussy. First he gets embarrassed once then leaves the farm and his life’s purpose behind, then he gets super rich and famous and leaves THAT with no real instigation then he gets a chance to save everyone and says ‘eh, fuck it.’
The Duke taunts Chanticleer and starts to strangle Edmond. I get the strangling Edmond part but why do you WANT him to crow? Your big plan was to get rid of him. Patou and the gang start to chant Chanticleer’s name to encourage him enraging the Duke until he turns into a tornado. I guess he can do that? But a flashlight defeats him? Chanticleer then lets out a loud crow, making the sun rise and causing the Duke to shrink down to a miniature version of himself. Oh, hey I guess his powers do work? And he can make people shrink? Ok, sure, whatever. I just want this goddamn movie to be over. Hunch chases the mini-Duke away with a flyswatter and we’re all left unsatisfied with that lameass final boss fight. The flood subsides and Edmond changes back into a person. I guess Chanticleer could do that too. Edmond wakes up in the real world and his mother tells him that it was all a dream but he still believes. Then the two worlds merge (again) and Chanticleer sings the same song from the beginning with all the farm animals and Edmond.
This movie was a complete mess. No one has any real motive or character definition and the plot just moves from action to action without any of it being interesting at all. The movie is 76 minutes long but feels like hours. There are much, much better things from your childhood you can revisit.