Sunday, July 24, 2011

Diversion 2.0 Thirty Day Movie Challenge -- Day 7

Day 7 – A Movie from Your Childhood That You Hated

It’s tempting to always look through childhood memories with rose-colored glasses, but sometimes this can be a big, fat lie. Kids struggle to get by just as much as anyone, and there’s a good chance that your time as a young’n wasn’t all sunshine and butterflies either. It’s with this mindset that we’re looking at a film from my childhood that, frankly, wasn’t worth my time, let alone how often I rewatched it.

Rock-A-Doodle (1991)

Don Bluth was once a legend in animation. Reared by the Disney studios in the 60’s before famously leaving, due to the Mouse House’s obvious down-the-tubes progress, Bluth has created some of Gen Y’s best-loved animation classics, such The Land Before Time, An American Tail, and All Dogs Go To Heaven. His work during the 80’s lit a fire under Disney’s ass the likes it hadn’t felt since the 50’s, and arguably contributed to its eventual about-face in quality. Diversion 2.0 even did a cross-over blog with Popped Density to cover his work, and his place in history is doubtlessly secure.

I don’t really care for him that much.

It’s not as though I’ve never seen a Don Bluth film I like. On the contrary, I enjoyed the hell out of The Land Before Time, and even liked parts of An American Tail (though once I saw Fievel Goes West, that movie went right out the window). I’ll also acknowledge the level of artistry he was bringing to the table at a time when Disney was looking to cut corners in as many places as possible. There are just several elements to his films that drive me up the wall.

Bluth's tale of rags-to-riches-to-rags is a torrid, fascinating one. It's a shame a guy so talented should have produced something like A Troll in Central Park.

For one, Bluth animation has certain legacy issues that I’ve never, ever found attractive. It’s mostly small, silly things that don’t gel well with me, most notably, the big, flouncy movements that give every character the sensation of moving underwater. I’m also not a big fan of the effects animation he uses, and find the smoke trails, water splashes, and goopy stuff in his movies rather off-putting. Lastly, while Bluth isn’t too bad with his main characters, the guy is absolutely terrible with child actors—be it a main character or a supporting role, the man is simply incapable of creating a compelling, non-obnoxious child character in any of his movies (minus Judith Barsi, but that says more about her talents than Bluth’s).

Which leads us to Rock-A-Doodle. Bluth’s previous projects before Rock-A-Doodle, while sometimes annoying or flawed, were all ultimately worthwhile films. With Rock-A-Doodle, Bluth had begun to slide from the side of artistry and passion to, well, his later work. As woeful as those products may be, however, there are none that frost my cookies more than Rock-A-Doodle. It’s stupid, overambitious, and proudly shows-off the worst qualities in Bluth’s animation. I’ve harped on it before, but, dammit, I’m about to do it again.

Awww, here it goes!

A recap for those fortunate enough to have missed this film. Rock-A-Doodle tells the story of Chanticleer (Glen Campbell), a rooster whose job it is to wake the sun with his country-western twang. This generally pisses off the Grand Duke of Owls (Christopher Plummer), who’d just as soon have everything dark and gloomy. The Duke hires a thug to prevent Chanticleer from crowing one day, and the barnyard is shocked—SHOCKED—when the sun comes up without his assistance. Dejected, Chanticleer leaves for The City, and, after six months of rain and darkness, the farm animals decide that, hey, maybe that rooster guy was good for something after all.

The movie then Tarantino’s us, and we find that the opening five or so minutes of footage have been a storybook read to an insufferable snot rag named Edmond (Toby Scott Ganger), whose overlong sleeves, Davy Crockett hat, and “r”-deficient speech pattern all but guarantee us that this character was built by a committee to be cute and loveable. Edmond’s mom is called away to help with the recent flood, and after trying to call for Chanticleer, Edmond is visited by the Grand Duke of Owls and turned into a kitten for eating purposes. Just when it looks like Edmond won’t make it to puberty outside of an owl pellet, he is saved by Patou (Phil Harris), a dog who wears tennis shoes for his bunions. Edmond chases the owl away with a flashlight, and he and the rest of the farm animals strike out on a quest to find Chanticleer, apologize, and get him to crow so that everyone can go back to singing Johnny Nash.

Baby come back!

There are many reasons to rag on this movie, and I’ve already started on one. Seriously, I can’t understate how much I despise Edmond. On top of his character design and poor vocal performance, I find his woe-is-me-I’m-too-little personality rather irksome. Sure, it’s a character flaw that he’s meant to overcome, but, far from making him sympathetic, it turns me off to him completely. Edmond is a perfect storm of character tics that bug me: ugly-looking animation, badly conceived character personality, and grating voice acting, and I’ve yet to find a character in all of cinema who gets my ire up as much as him.

The supporting cast doesn’t fare much better. Edmond is joined by Snipes (Eddie Deezen), a magpie who keeps finding creative, obnoxious ways to eat, and Peepers (Sandy Duncan), a bespectacled mouse with a superior intellect and a holier-than-thou attitude. Even the affable, pleasant voice of Phil Harris is wasted on Patou, whose shoe-tying bit gets old after the second of 37 mentions. On the villain’s side is Hunch (Charles Nelson Riley), a skittish, hyper-active sidekick with a penchant for getting maimed and yelling VERY LOUDLY. And on, and on, and on.

No two people are not obnoxious in this shot.

Lastly (for my own sake), the story just makes no damn sense. Edmond’s live-action world is clearly a regular, human-type place, so why is the City populated with chorus girl chickens and frog club bouncers? Did the Grand Duke’s magic turn everyone into animals? How long has it actually been raining, and is it dark the whole time or just overcast? Perhaps the whole thing is a dream, but what’s with the ending, where Chanticleer, Patou, and the rest of the gang take Edmond to the animated farm? Are we watching him being committed?

Oh yeah, and the music sucks. Let’s not even talk about it.

Am I being harder on this movie than I should? Probably. I’m just bitter, though, for being forced to watch it in daycare as often as I did; the lady hardly bothered to swap out the tape for a different one, let alone buy anything new, so I became quite familiar with tales of Frontier Edmond and the Search for the Elvis Impersonator. Too many repeated viewings can ruin any movie, even a good one, and watching a crappy movie ad nauseum the way I did turned it into a form of Chinese water torture. The next time anyone tries to tell you what a master of animation Don Bluth is, and that he should be directing all of Disney’s new features, remind them of Rock-A-Doodle.

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