There was a time in the 80’s when the future of Disney animation seemed somewhat uncertain. Films like “The Great Mouse Detective” and “The Black Cauldron” had not been as well received as many of the Disney films of the past. Many people felt that stronger work was to be found in the films of former Disney animator Don Bluth. Then in 1989, Disney released “The Little Mermaid,” and the tide shifted. Now it was Bluth’s films that struggled to find an audience, including today’s film, which was based on a story that was once considered by Disney…1991’s “Rock-a-Doodle.”
The movie is loosely (actually VERY loosely) based on Edmond Rostand’s play “Chantecler.” It concerns the rooster Chanticleer (Glen Campbell), who’s Elvis-like singing brings up the sun every morning. He is the hero of the barnyard. Of course, a group of owls, led by the Grand Duke (Christopher Plummer) don’t like that the sun comes up every day. The Duke ends up sending another rooster to fight Chanticleer. Though Chanticleer wins, he forgets to do his morning crow. Much to everyone’s surprise, the sun comes up anyway. Now, the other animals end up rejecting the rooster, so he leaves the farm.
Now, the film takes a strange shift. We go to live action footage of a little boy named Edmond (Toby Scott Ganger) whose mother is reading him the story of Chanticleer one stormy night. The storm is huge, and the family farm is flooding. So, Edmond decides that Chanticleer needs to come back to bring up the sun and drive away the storm. This angers the Duke, who shows up and turns Edmond into a kitten…presumably so he can eat him. Enter the animated animals who all agree they need the rooster back. Among them are the hound dog Patou (Phil Harris), Peepers the mouse (Sandy Duncan), and a magpie named Snipes (Eddie Deezen). While the other animals fend off the owls with flashlights, Edmond, Patou, Peepers and Snipes head for the city to find Chanticleer.
They find him playing nightclubs as “The King,” doing a vegas style act. Performing with The King is the Jessica Rabbit-ish pheasant, Goldie (Ellen Greene). The gang tries to get Chanticleer to come back, but it’s no easy going. They have to tangle with The King’s shifty manager, Pinky the fox (Sorrell Booke…yep Boss Hogg), and the Duke’s mischievous nephew Hunch (Charles Nelson Reilly).
I’m a big animation fan, but my view of Bluth’s work has always been a bit mixed. I remember enjoying his earlier films like “The Secret of Nimh” and “An American Tail.” But for me, ever since “All Dogs go to Heaven,” I just haven’t found his work to be as appealing. A big part of it is that, in general, many of his films feel…well…dark. And I don’t mean “dark” in terms of subject matter…I mean they look dark. The colors are dreary and faded, even in the scenes that are supposed to be bright and colorful. For example, the opening barnyard sequence in this film is supposed to be vibrant and cheery, yet the film looks like it was sent through the laundrey machine for a few cycles.
I also don’t care much for the character designs in this film. Many of the characters are unpleasant to look at, some are downright grotesque. Even the characters that are supposed to be cute and cuddly are a bit ugly. Take the trusty hound dog Patou, his face is hard and grizzled, and for some reason he has large warts on both his jowls. Not exactly lovable sounding. I also really struggled with the choice of voice actors. Chanticleer is voiced by Glen Campbell, understandable for the singing, but as a character voice it’s too laid back and not very distinctive. Phil Harris voices Patou and though he has a great voice, there is a problem. Harris famously voiced two iconic Disney animated characters…Baloo from “The Jungle Book” and Little John in “Robin Hood.” Patou’s voice ends up being pretty much the same voice as was used for those other characters. All this succeeds in doing is bringing to mind those other two, far superior, films. The only voice I really enjoyed was the great Eddie Deezen as the magpie.
It’s clear from watching this film that it had production problems. Patou’s narration is clearly tacked on and ultimately unnecessary. Plus, many of the narration segments come on top of some of the songs, which indicates that some test audiences must have found the songs to be weak. The editing is also choppy and frantically paced…not aided at all by the very crowded and busy looking background art. You may get dizzy watching this film.
I’m sure many young kids will enjoy watching this film, but the true test for an animated film is if audiences of all ages can enjoy it together. I don’t think “Rock-a-Doodle” quite makes it in that regard.