Deneb does Rock and Rule

“Oh, what will the signal be/For your eyes to see me/Watching offside as I wait/Just in case you need me/So I still will set the stage/Send my thoughts to you/I’m receiving every wave/that sent love, sent love through…”

The Scoop: 1983 PG, directed by Clive A. Smith and starring Paul Le Mat, Susan Roman, Don Francks, Dan Hennessey, Greg Duffell, Chris Wiggins, Brent Titcomb and Catherine Gallant.

Tagline: The Beauty… The Beast… The Beat!

Summary Capsule: Post-apocalyptic mutant dog rock star wants to summon a demon through the power of rock, and… do you really need to know more?

Deneb’s Rating: Four mutants out of five.

Deneb’s Review: You know, it’s been a while since we’ve had any really weird animated films coming our way.

Think about it. The last one that was truly oddball (that I’m aware of, anyway) was The Triplets of Belleville, and that was A: almost a decade ago, and B: French, so what do you expect? (I love ya, French folks, but you’re tied with the Japanese in the category of ‘World’s Most Bizarre Collective Subconscious’.) Now, of course there’s always the experimental, avant-garde film-festival stuff, but those tend to be about ten minutes long and often made by just one animator. The full-length, mainstream weirdos? Those tend to be somewhat rarer – as in, a lot.

It wasn’t always this way, though. Back in the late ’70′s and early ‘80’s, there was a brief rash of something strange and wonderful in the world of animation. Something bubbled up from the bottom of the cauldron, and gave us things that were dark and rich and new. These were films that dared to experiment, to push the boundaries of what animation could do and get away with, that dared even to suggest that some day, maybe, there could be animated movies that weren’t just for kids.

It didn’t last for long. None of them were terribly successful, and the industry shrugged its collective shoulders and went back to making family-friendly fluff (which, for the record, I like, but still.) But before the bubble burst, we got films like The Secret of NIMH, Heavy Metal, The Black Cauldron – and, oh yes, Rock and Rule, the movie we are about to discuss.

The movie starts out with a narrative scroll explaining that The War finally happened (as just about everyone knew it was going to at the time). The only survivors were street animals, a motley collection of cats, rats and dogs which eventually wound up mutating into a gestalt humanoid species that more or less resemble the Dognoses from Donald Duck comics. Flash forward to a goodly length of time after that, and society has reformed into something more or less resembling the early ‘80’s, albeit with stuff like hover-cars and the like.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the power of Rock ‘n Roll. One of the biggest names in this future’s music industry is Mok (Don Francks), an aging rock star known for his bizarre and theatrical performances. Well-known though he is, however, his career seems to have peaked some time ago, and he’s had trouble regaining momentum. Hmm. Looks like he might have some spare time on his hands. Maybe he should take up a hobby.

Well, how about summoning a demon? Yeah, that’d do. Mok has become obsessed with the notion of bringing forth a creature from the underworld to do his bidding – just what he wants it for is a little unclear, but he’s bound and determined to do it, nonetheless. (None of these are spoilers, by the way, as this is also all described in the opening crawl.)

The trouble is, he can’t do it alone. He requires a specific vocal tone, a unique voice that will complete the ritual and allow him to carry out his dark plans. He’ll know it when he finds it, but he’s been looking all over the place for such a voice, and so far he’s had no luck.

This all changes when he returns to his hometown of Ohmtown and encounters a small-time rock band made up of Omar (Paul Le Mat), Angel (Susan Roman), Dizzy (Dan Hennessey) and Stretch (Greg Duffel). Omar and Angel are the lead singers, and a couple. It’s somewhat of a bumpy relationship – he’s a bit too focused on his career, and not enough on hers – but they do seem to get along well otherwise.

In any case, Angel winds up taking the lead on the night that Mok comes calling. Wouldn’t you know it, she’s the one that he’s been looking for – she’s got the voice! He’s just got to have her, and quickly sets out trying to seduce her into his employ.

Angel, however, isn’t having any of it. Her career with the band may not have gone as smoothly as it might so far, but they’re her friends, and she’s not going to desert them just as they’re starting to have some success. Mok isn’t taking no for an answer, though – if he can’t recruit her willingly, he’ll simply change tactics and make her work for him.

And make her he does, spiriting her off before she has the chance to do anything about it. Omar and the others smell a rat in all this, and follow the two to Nuke York (yes, “Nuke York”), where Mok is hard at work making preparations for a mammoth concert. At this concert Angel will sing, and his demon will be unleashed at last.

Will our heroes succeed in finding her? Will Omar and Angel ever manage to patch up their differences? And can the world’s most evil rock star be stopped? Well… maybe. Yeah, that’s a definite maybe.

There seems to be something about Rock music that draws filmmakers like flies to honey, and causes them to make these grandiose movies themed around it. This is already the third review of this particular subgenre I’ve done for this site (the others being Phantom of the Paradise and Streets of Fire), and I have no doubt that there are many more entries in it out there waiting to be discovered.

What’s different about Rock and Rule, of course, is that it’s animated, which allows the filmmakers to get really out there with the story and visuals – and oh, they are out there; we’ll be getting to them soon enough. But there are other differences besides that; oh yes. Lots and lots.

To start with, Rock and Rule may be the first Rock movie set in its own little universe that plays by a set of rules all its own. One could, of course, point to Heavy Metal as a counterargument, but from what I’ve seen of it, that’s more of an anthology film – it has lots of little stories that are only tenuously fit together. R&R, on the other hand, is one story, one narrative, one world – and oh, what a weird and wild world it is.

That, really, is the key to what makes the film stick in the head – the world. We may technically be dealing with the distant future here, but it feels almost like a nostalgia piece, up until you get into the flying cars and the weird post-apocalyptic stuff and the whole mutated animal thing, and… well. Just about everything else, really.

But that’s the genius about a movie themed, not just around music, but around the feel of music – music creates its own worlds, and ones that are not necessarily tied to strict reality. Music, after all, is not logical, it is emotional, and the more intense the music gets, the more powerful the emotions, and the more fantastic the mental images. And if you tried to capture early-‘80’s Rock and put it onscreen, you might not exactly get Rock and Rule, but you’d probably get something awfully close.

Which brings us, of course, to the music. I’m honestly not too familiar with this type and era of Rock, but if you do happen to be a fan of it, I’m sure you’ll be satisfied. The movie isn’t exactly a musical, per se, but there are a number of original songs written for the movie that are worked into it in a natural sort of way, and sung by some pret-ty well-known people. I mean, Debbie Harry, Cheap Trick, Iggy Pop, Earth Wind and Fire? Even I’ve heard of these guys (I don’t know a hell of a lot about them, but I’ve heard of them), and music-wise, they deliver. Not all of the songs are really my thing – some are a bit too raucous for my liking – but I do like most of them, and they’re all very appropriate in terms of character, mood, tone, etc. In any case, they all fit the film perfectly, which is not something you can say for all soundtracks.

So that’s how it sounds – how does it look? It looks pretty damn awesome. Considering the time when it was made and the tight budget involved, Rock and Rule is a minor triumph of animation. It’s not always perfect, but it’s consistently good, and even when there is the occasional glitch, chances are you’ll be too caught up in the dark, brooding visuals to notice. The cityscape of Nuke York, for instance, is a lovely bit of gritty post-apocalyptic hellhole-ishness, and every time Mok shows up, it’s likely that there’ll be some darn nifty stuff to goggle at. The demon sequence, for instance (oh come on, that’s not a spoiler; it’s all about summoning the thing) looks spectacular, and is worth waiting for.

Right – Mok. Let’s talk about Mok. I know that normally the villain goes second in these reviews, but while he may not technically be the protagonist, the entire film revolves around him, so he’s worth bringing up first (not to mention that there’s a lot to say about him, so better now than later).

Mok is, first and foremost, a really great villain. He’s got all the traits a classic bad guy needs – he’s cunning, manipulative, theatrical, absolutely evil and possessed of enough power to make going up against him a really tough proposition. Moreover, the man runs on pure ego; he’s obsessed with maintaining his rock star image to the point where he has his minions work as a special-effects crew so that he can dissolve into a cloud of sparkles or something if he thinks it’d impress somebody. While it’s never outright stated as such, it’s implied that this is his motivation for the demon-summoning – he may still be one of the biggest names in the industry, but if he can’t be the biggest, he’s going to punish all those wretches who refuse to recognize his magnificence by sending a monster from Hell after them. That’ll show ‘em!

Furthermore, he’s got one of the most distinctive looks I’ve ever seen in an animated character. Conceptually he’s something like an evil hybrid of Mick Jagger and David Bowie, and while that would have worked perfectly well on its own, the animators went a step further and gave him an image that is unmistakably his. He’s tall and cadaverous with great big long fingers and wears a succession of cool I’m-an-evil-rock-star outfits, but the real genius went into his face, or, more specifically, his lips. Mok’s lips are just fascinating – I don’t think I’ve encountered anything like them in animation before. Most characters with noticeable lips tend to possess ones that are pouting or puffy, but not Mok. His lips slope inward, in a manner that looks disturbingly like they were carved into his face with a chisel, and seem to have more articulation in them then some people have in the rest of their bodies combined. It’s difficult to articulate just why this is so mesmerizing; it just is – you’ll have to see it to understand it. Combined with a whopping mouthful of teeth and his oddly rectangular eyes, Mok draws your attention like a magnet every time he’s onscreen, and it doesn’t leave him until the movie is finished. If you remember one thing about this movie, it’ll be him.

Also, one should mention his voice. While I’ve never encountered Don Francks before, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for his stuff in future – between this and being a fill-in voice for Dr. Claw in Inspector Gadget, the man has talent. He provides Mok with a resonant, purring grate of a voice that honestly surprised me at first, as I had been expecting something more Tim Curry-ish. Still, what works works, so I ain’t complainin’.

Following him, the “real” protagonist of Rock and Rule would probably be Angel, who is also a pretty good and memorable character. At first glance it might seem like she’s a typical damsel-in-distress type that the hero has to rescue, but really, nothing could be farther from the truth. As voiced by Susan Roman, Angel is gutsy and determined, with a take-no-crap attitude and a refusal to compromise her standards for money or power. She’s loyal to her friends, devoted to her craft, and while she does remain Mok’s prisoner throughout most of the film, that’s because he’s, well, Mok – against a more conventional foe, one gets the impression that she would have just kneed him in the tender parts and gotten away. She is, in short, a genuinely positive female role model, and her helpless situation only serves to accentuate this – it takes a good character to keep one’s interest and respect even while they’re not in an active role.

Next up, we have Omar. A lot of people don’t seem to like Omar very much, and while I can see why, I don’t really agree. Sure, he can come across as a bit of a jerk sometimes, but that’s not really who he is – he’s more of an Angry Young Man. One must remember that for a good chunk of the film he’s semi-convinced that Angel has deserted him for Mok, so while his petulance can get a bit over-the-top at times, it’s a realistic way that someone like him would react; he’s the sort of guy who deals with his problems by angrily going “who cares?” and then going off to kick a wall. The thing is, though, that he does care – he genuinely loves Angel, and while it’s sometimes difficult to understand what she sees in the big meathead, he does ultimately prove himself worthy of her, and as voiced by Paul Le Mat, he’s got a certain James Dean-ish charm. Even if you do want to slug him sometimes, he’s an OK guy.

Moving on to the supporting characters, we have Stretch and Dizzy. Stretch is a jittery goofball, and as such serves as the main comic relief. He’s nothing too revelatory character-wise, but he does have a few good lines here and there, and never crosses the line into outright annoying. Dizzy is kind of an awkward nerd, which also makes him a bit of a stock character, but he serves an ancillary purpose by acting as the conscience of the group. When Stretch is too busy freaking out and Omar is too busy sulking, Dizzy’s the guy who gets things going by saying something like “look, we gotta get moving; Angel needs us!” He’s not terribly deep, but as a supporting character he works fine.

Finally, back on the bad guy side of things, we have the Schlepper Brothers, Toad, Zip and Sleazy. They serve as Mok’s dim-witted goon squad throughout the movie, filling the usual roles of the heavies. However, they are a little bit deeper than that, and ultimately wind up having hidden depths that I won’t go into here. As minions go, they’re fairly memorable.

So, to wrap things up, is Rock and Rule a perfect movie? Well, no – it does have its flaws. For one thing, if you’re expecting that this is something you can watch with the kiddies just because it’s animated, you’re wrong – there’s swearing, some (mild) drug use and implied sex. (Mind you, I’m sure there are plenty of kids who would love it, but it’s really more for early-teens on up.) The story is nothing to write home about, basically being “Mok’s gonna summon a demon, and until he does, here’s stuff that happens”. Also, the characters (aside from Mok) are by-and-large nothing new, and sometimes seem a little overly cartoonish for all the sturm und drang that’s surrounding them. (Oh yes – and the whole “evolved animals” thing? Doesn’t affect the plot in the slightest.) There’s a certain style that the movie has, and if it doesn’t click with you, then you may not like it very much.

However, if it does, you’re in for a treat. I mean, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that people watch movies like this for the plot or the characters; they watch them for the ride, man! And the ride on this one is ultimately pretty cool. The animation was great for its time, and remains darn pretty even today; the soundtrack is fairly impressive even if it’s not your thing, and the whole shebang just has a bizarre rock n’ roll sci-fi edge to it that makes it fairly unique. If you’re in the mood for something dark and rich and weird, then Rock and Rule’s your baby.

Go ahead and check it out. And rock on!

“Oh come now, Angel; you’ve been swayed by false rumors. I mean, I’ll admit that my rise to the top wasn’t ENTIRELY done without a bit of judicious murder and bribery here and there, and yes, I do enjoy a good round of torturing kittens and puppies every now and then, but evil? That’s a bit of a jump, don’t you think?”

Intermission!

  • There are several scenes in the film that feature what look like vintage computer graphics. In fact, these were largely animated through more traditional means, using overlays lit from underneath.
  • The film was originally to be named “Drats”, and aimed at a younger audience.
  • Mok’s full given name was originally ‘Mok Swagger’, something that Mick Jagger’s lawyers objected strongly to. Therefore it was not used, but it was in the comic book adaptation, and many fans of the movie have adapted it as the character’s ‘real’ name. Personally, I think just plain Mok is more elegant, but whatever.
  • At one point, the band’s car drives under a sign reading “Bridge to Aitch”. If you pause at this point, the rest of the sign can be read: “One Way Only (and this ain’t it). No doing anything on bridge.”
  • The various shots of the Ohmtown cityscape from above were done using a multi-plane camera, with lights shining through a matte painting during nighttime scenes. The cars driving through it are real model cars traveling along the painted streets.
  • This was the first animated film made in Canada. It was also the last such film that Nelvana ever made, as it flopped at the box office and nearly bankrupted the studio. Their subsequent efforts have all been less ambitious, more family-friendly fare.
  • The process of animating the demon involved smearing cow brains on the camera lens.

Groovy Quotes:

Mok: When I want your opinions, I’ll give them to you!

Angel (singing) Oh, what will the signal be/For your eyes to see me/Watching offside as I wait/Just in case you need me/So I still will set the stage/Send my thoughts to you/I’m receiving every wave/that sent love, sent love through…

Officer Quadhole: (repeated line) Sliiiime!

Dizzy: You’re just nervous. Take a deep breath.
(Stretch does so)
Stretch: Hey, it woiked! I’m not noivous! I’m scared!

Mok: No Santa Claus, no Tooth Fairy, and no Uncle Mikey!

Mylar: Fabuloso!

Mok: (singing) My name is Mok, thanks a lot/I know you love the thing I’ve got/You’ve never seen the likes of me/Why, I’m the biggest thing since World War Three!

Omar: Hold onto yer privates, generals!

Mok: What did you think of my last album?
Angel: I loved it!
Omar: I bought it, too. My gerbil uses it for a room divider.

Video game voice: We’ve got company at twelve o’clock.
Stretch: But the house is such a mess!

Angel: I couldn’t leave them for anything.
Mok: I didn’t offer you anything – I offer you everything!

Toad: Ya gonna apologize, rude-boy?
Omar: I’m sorry, dogbreath.

Mok: Yes – good, clean fun! All work and no play makes Mok a dull boy!

Dizzy: Nuke York’s only three days away.
Stretch: It’s gonna take us six days. We only got half a car left.

Mok: Evil spelled backwards is ‘Live’ – and we all want to do that.

Officer Quadhole: What are ya doin’ in a public fountain?
Omar: We give up, Quad – what are we doin’ in a public fountain?

Toad: Words to the wise, guy – be nice, or be dogfood. Follow?

Mok: She can sing, or she can scream! But she’s still pissed me off.

Stretch: Don’t let him get us! He’ll put a heck on me!
Dizzy: ‘Hex’, Stretch – ‘Hex’.
Stretch: Oh, two of ‘em! That’s even woise!

Mylar: Thanks, guys. I too love the sound of cats in boiling water.

Mok: My beast, their nightmare – all mine for a song!

Stretch: Oh no! Magnetic for-ces sllllloowwwing down myy brrain… Help mmee…

Angel: You’re… you’re totally crazy!
Mok: Thank you.

Dizzy: So you wanna play rough, eh? That’s what I was afraid of…

Newscaster: Survivors described the destruction as “evil”, “spooky” and “wow, bad karma, man”.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Phantom of the Paradise
  • Streets of Fire
  • Wizards
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7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Deneb does Rock and Rule « Mutant Reviewers From Hell | Weird Cars!

    • I wouldn’t be surprised – it is kind of surreal that Nelvana devoted themselves pretty much entirely to kiddy stuff after this. It IS kind of their roots, though – they’d never made anything like Rock and Rule before, and they never would again. Kind of makes you wonder what we’d know them for if the movie HAD been a success, doesn’t it?

      • I wouldn’t say THAT exactly – I mean, they did DO it; they did make the thing. It wasn’t put aside, they MADE that puppy. They gave it their best and hoped it would make money, and, well, it didn’t. It’s certainly a shame that it didn’t spark off more projects like it, but at least we got what we got.

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