Welcome to The AniMAYtion Challenge, where Ashe and Branden review one animated film every weekend throughout the month of May. Each film was chosen in draft style, with Ashe recieving the first pick of round one. Today, Ashe Collins selects Rock & Rule from 1983.
Rock & Rule was a film that almost broke Nelvana, the Canadian animation studio that made it. They were trying to make something that was a bit over the kid crowd with animation, but didn’t quite move into an R-rated feature like Heavy Metal did. Released today, it’d probably get a PG-13 rating just for the themes instead of the PG it received in 1983. This isn’t exactly a kids movie, but it’s one that I grew up on in the ’80s, and I memorized every song in the film. Make no mistake, this is definitely a musical film, it’s just that instead of Broadway-inspired songs, we get some kick ass songs from rock and roll greats.
Rock & Rule is another post-apocalyptic offering, only the animals that survived the nuclear war have evolved, and are now running the planet, emulating our culture, and taking over what was left of our cities. Rock and roll has arisen again, and a legendary super rocker, named Mok, has risen onto the scene. Using technology to simulate all sorts of magic on stage, he’s looking for the next big thing, in this case using music to cast a real spell to summon a demon, but he needs a specific voice to summon it.
Angel and Omar are up and coming on the rock scene and have high hopes, but they’re obviously still struggling. Struggling, that is, until Mok shows up to one of their performances and realizes that Angel’s voice is what he needs to summon his demon, and invites her and her band up to his home to convince Angel to sing for him. When convincing her doesn’t work, he drugs them all and kidnaps Angel, leaving Omar and his band to follow after them to Nuke York and get some answers.
As far as stories go, it’s kind of basic, but the characters are what really sells Rock & Rule. Omar is the lovable jerk, Angel has an amazing singing voice and just wants to make it big, and their band mates are a lot of fun. Mok is based at least in looks off of Mick Jaggar, and has this menacing, smarmy feeling to him that makes him a fantastic villain. Even the guys he employs who all look alike have their own personalities and quirks. So while the story is pretty simple, the characters and the world really help this one along quite a bit.
The animation is pretty fantastic. There are a few moments where it looks a bit rushed, but I’d put this up there for quality well over Heavy Metal in appearance, and at least on par with most of Nausicaa. The design of the world is fantastic, and each character that shows up on screen is unique, even the triplet brothers that work for Mok. They do some neat effects work with the animation as well. It’s a great romp into a possible future world of rock and roll.
The voice acting in this is great. The characters are well cast, and a lot of the charm of the film is definitely in the delivery. Omar would not nearly be as likeable and Mok as detestable with different talent behind the characters. Then there’s the music and bands they picked. Angel’s songs are taken care of by Debbie Harry. Lou Reed handles most of Mok’s songs with an Iggy Pop thrown in for good measure. Cheap Trick gets Omar’s written songs, and Earth, Wind and Fire tackle one of the songs that gets played at a club outing. It’s a great mix of rock talent for the film, and I’m still pissed we don’t have a proper soundtrack release for the film, and we’ll likely never get one. Angel’s songs by Debbie Harry have gotten a few covers by Harry over the years, but they’ve been changed up from their appearance in the film. Cheap Trick did release Born to Raise Hell on an album, which is our first song from Omar’s band, but the rest we can only get from the film.
The version I watched is a remaster from the original US release of the film, which is different from the Canadian version. MGM didn’t like some of the vocals and re-dubbed over with a new actor, and changed a few other things. Having never watched the Canadian version, I guess I’m ok with this. I originally watched this when it hit basic cable and taped it off the TV way back when, so when a remastered widescreen version cropped up, I of course had to grab it. Unearthed Films did a great job with the DVD release back in ’09. If you can find it, grab it. Hell, I’m tempted right now to grab the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray since I see Amazon has it.
If you like the Disney animated musicals, but wish there was a sci-fi and slightly more adult take on that, then Rock & Rule would be your bag. It’s an underrated film from the early-’80s with some great music and fun characters driving a pretty simple story with fantastic animation. This is one of those gems from my childhood that’s not tarnished with age.