Rock and Rule is a film that I’ve noticed out of the corner of my eye for years now, but I never got around to watching it until recently. It looked like a movie after my own heart, with some fluid and trippy animation, an awesome rock and roll soundtrack, and an adult tone that set it apart from animated movies for kids. It read like a mix between a Ralph Bakshi production and the film Heavy Metal (1981), and I’m happy to confirm that that’s essentially what it is. However, as much as I enjoy Heavy Metal, I can’t deny that it’s an absolute mess of a movie. Rock and Rule is, unfortunately, in that same boat. Funnily enough, the animation studio that made Rock and Rule, Nelvana, was offered to help work on Heavy Metal when it was in its developing stages. But Nelvana declined in favor of focusing their attention on making Rock and Rule. Heavy Metal would end up doing decently at the box office, while Rock and Rule bombed. Maybe they should have taken the offer.
Rock and Rule takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity wiped themselves out through nuclear war. The world is now inhabited by dogs, cats, and rats who evolved into human-animal hybrids via nuclear radiation. Mok (Don Francks), an aging rock musician, is looking for a singer whose voice is so magnificently beautiful, that they can break the barriers of space and time and summon a demon from another dimension. Once that’s done, Mok will use the demon to destroy the world. Why does Mok want to do this? Because he’s upset that his last concert didn’t sell out and he’s not as popular as he used to be. I think that’s a bit of an overreaction, but maybe I’d understand better if I was a rockstar. Mok manages to find the voice he’s looking for in his hometown of Ohmtown. That angelic voice is attached to the aptly named Angel (Susan Roman), who aspires to become a rock and roll star with her bandmate and lover Omar (Greg Salata). Mok promptly kidnaps Angel and takes her to Nuke York (No, that’s not a typo) to commence the summoning, which is also a concert. It’s up to Omar and his other bandmates, Dizzy (Dan Hennessey) and Stretch (Greg Duffel), to rescue Angel from Mok’s evil clutches and cancel the second apocalypse.
I don’t know what the writers were going for in terms of the story and characters. If the intention was for me to not like or care for anybody, then mission accomplished. While every character is competently animated and designed, I can’t get attached to most of them because they’re either bland, obnoxious or poorly acted. Omar, the supposed main character of the movie, is one of the worst offenders because of how much of an unlikable jerk he is. He’s unnecessarily moody, unsupportive, a defeatist, and his actor couldn’t sound any more stilted even if he were actually on stilts while recording his lines. No matter how many trials Omar goes through to save Angel and how grandiose the last confrontation is, none of it feels earned or satisfactory because he’s the same awful person that he was at the start, and he frankly doesn’t deserve her. The only person I had any attachment to was Mok. Not because he’s in any way likable or original, but because he’s fun to watch. He’s like a cartoonishly evil amalgamation of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed (The last two artists provide Mok’s singing voice), and he’s as enjoyably hammy as that sounds.
Even though this movie isn’t that long, clocking in at about an hour and eighteen minutes, there’s still a great deal of the plot that could be cut. Not much of substance happens outside of Angel’s kidnapping and the demon summoning. Most of the runtime devoted to Nuke York feels pointless in hindsight because nothing of consequence occurs there, and the climax of the film is in Ohmtown, where the movie started, so it feels like the film is wasting time. Granted, Nuke York makes for some pretty decent animation eye candy, but it’s not a very well developed setting. As far as post-apocalypses in movies go, it’s not particularly engaging. I suppose the downside to cutting Nuke York is that there would be fewer scenes of Mok, and can’t take that deal with a clear conscience. He and his musical segments are the only things that keep me invested.
Speaking of music, Rock and Rule is technically a musical, with the diegetic and non-diegetic music supplied by Cheap Trick, Debbie Harry, the before-mentioned Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, and even Earth, Wind and Fire. These musical interludes were original songs made for the movie, and they’re pretty solid! Some creative and psychedelic animation frequently accompanies them, and I notice that the animators appeared to be fond of morphing and shifting effects befitting a 1970’s style music video, but with an overall 1980’s aesthetic. Over three hundred animators worked on this film, and the result of the musical portions shows the effort they all put into it. Although I think the sound mixer for the film might have disked the characters as much as I did because whenever the music is playing, and somebody is talking, you can barely hear them over the music. That would typically be a problem for me, but if it drowns the bad dialogue out, then I’m cool with it.
Rock and Rule is narratively disjointed, has a weak cast and premise, and is a bit too out there to appeal to a broad audience. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a little fun with it. Like I said at the beginning, it reminded me a lot of Heavy Metal, and even though it’s technically not a good movie, I admire it for its creative and well-drawn animation, its strangeness, and its excellent music. Rock and Rule manages to peak my 70’s and 80’s rock interest and tickle my Ralph Bakshi style niche just enough for me to give in to its base charms, but I will admit it’s not a movie everybody will enjoy. If you’re into adult-oriented hand-drawn animation and rock and roll, then I would recommend this to you as a historical curiosity. If you’re not into any of that, then you’re probably not going to dig this very much.