Wednesday, June 8, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, sociological*

I confess that I'm probably too old for most of Don Bluth's films, given that they're a little heavy on the trope of "helpless little critters struggling against adversity." I gave minor plaudits to 1982's THE SECRET OF NIMH, but I'll admit that I might find Bluth's chosen storylines more effective if I'd been seeing them as a little kid, who might identify with the little critters more readily.

ROCK-A-DOODLE, one of many financial and critical failures in Bluth's late period, at least boasts a more interesting concept than many of his works. The story, scripted by Bluth and four other writers, is an amalgamation of ideas taken from the folklore-character of Chanticler-- a rooster who believes that his crow makes the sun rise in the morning-- as well as literary treatments of the rooster ranging from Chaucer to Edmund Rostand.

A short version of the plot comes down to this: "Chanticleer leaves his happy farm when the villain convinces him that he can't crow forth the sun: the rooster's farm-friends must retrieve him from the perils of the Big City in order to stop the villain's depredations." The "farm-friends" to me are the least interesting thing in the film, though at least they're not all as ootsy-cutesy as other Bluth-protagonists. Chanticleer, described as "not too bright" and patterned after the young Elvis Presley, is also not a particularly compelling character, and the "Country Mouse/City Mouse" plotline strikes me as from hunger.

The one thing that makes ROCK-A-DOODLE interesting is the way the script approaches the reality-defying idea that a rooster's crow might call forth the sun. While some versions of the traditional tale make it clear that there is no correlation, in one tale a villain really does want to prevent the sun's rise by disgracing Chanticler-- and it's that idea that influences the metaphysics of ROCK-A-DOODLE.

I should note that the film alternates between cartoon-sequences and some very minor live-action scenes. In the latter, young farm-boy Edmund is read the story of Chanticleer and his humiliation as if it's just a story, though he extends the story to the animals he knows on his farm, including the local rooster. While his parents don't believe in magical roosters, Edmund does-- and his belief apparently allows the villain, "the Duke of Owls," to materialize out of the story-book. The cartoon-owl knows that real-boy Edmund wants to bring back the Duke's enemy, so he changes Edmund into a cartoon-kitten in order to eat him. The farm-dog Patou, also played by a cartoon, intervenes to save Edmund, and then the dog, the kitten, and various other critters go in search of Chanticleer-- while the Duke and his minions continue to harry them. In the end, Chanticleer is awakened to the power of his crow, and he uses it to dispel the darkness cherished by the Duke.

Then Edmund awakens, back to being a live-action boy. Was it all a dream, a la WIZARD OF OZ? But no, the rainstorm that beseiged the farm since Chanticleer left has vanished, allowing the sun to reign once more. I don't think for a moment that Bluth wanted to make a film about the metaphysics of belief, but in a rather haphazard way, that's what he ended up doing-- at least in the eyes of someone too old to identify with kittens and field mice.

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