There was a brief resurgence of animated film in the mid 1980’s starting with Ralph Bakshi’s trippy peon to American popular music, American Pop (1981), and ending around 1985 with Daewoo Film Company’s 3D Sci Fi Flop, “Starchaser: The Legend of Orin”. Coming at the pinnacle of this creative period springs Canadian animation company Nalvana’s Rock and Roll opus “Rock & Rule” AKA “Ring of Power” and resembles the more kid friendly fare for which Nelvana was known (Care Bears Saturday morning cartoons) but hanging the story on a framework much more attuned to the explosion of music video and the integration of popular music in film.
Rock & Rule is first and foremost a music movie in that the characters, plot, and setting all revolve around a garage band and their singers Angel and Omar. The film provides a nice setting to hang some really nice original tracks by Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Debby Harry and Chris Stein, and finally Cheap Trick, while fleshing out a sort of standard quest fantasy that owes visual cues to both Don Bluth and Warner Brothers.
We learn from screen crawl that several thousand years have passed since World War 3 and that the survivors, the “street animals”, cats, dogs, and rats, have mutated and evolved to take our place.
And take our place they have as rock and roll stars, drunks, cops, tattoo artists, etc… in fact this could have very easily been cast using human models and it would not changed the dynamics of the plot by even a single atom. I am assuming that Nelvana/Clive Smith chose to use anthropomorphic creatures to … um... I have no idea really. But like just about any non-Disney animation of the time the most human looking of the cast are our heroes. These are Omar and Angel the lead part of a quartet that plays Cheap Trick songs (Cheap Trick did a couple of originals just for this purpose) and are trying to make their mark in the Ohm City music scene.
Things are not going well though as Mylar, the very ratty looking (in that he looks like a rat and not a person) doesn’t think the band has a shot.
Enter Mok, the biggest selling star in Rock and Roll. Well, formerly, you see he didn’t even sell out his last concert. Mok is insane and has spent much of his considerable fortune deciphering a manner to bring a giant demon to Earth to do his bidding. And what is his bidding? I have no idea. But when the demon finally shows up in the last act Mok appears to want his audience dead as the demon immediately starts eating them…
Anyway, Mok needs a specific voice of a specific pitch and tone to complete a key that will open a portal and bring this hungry demon to Earth.
Angel is that voice.
Mok spots her at the Ohm City talent show (Omar stalks off when the rest of the band starts to play Angel’s song (Sung by Debby Harry) rather than his. Mok sets his plan to kidnap her in motion.
Omar and his band mates Dizzy and Stretch (both looking more animal than human) set off to Nuke York to find and retrieve their female vocalist.
Okay, that’s pretty much all there is story wise to Rock & Rule, the script by John Halfpenny and Patrick Laubert is effective to bring us into the story. There are some goofy elements and some plot holes and even what appears to be a missing scene in the narrative (the concert in Nuke York that failed and caused a catastrophe, which we learn about in a news broadcast rather than seeing the event). But these things aside, there is still ample entertainment in the scant 77 minutes of film.
The story is only half of the goods in any animated feature film, the other half, of course, is visual design. Now, I mentioned already that Nelvana went for the anthropomorphized look for the character design and it suits the material well enough, but where Rock & Rule really shines is in the incredibly detailed backgrounds and extremely fluid animation.
The Nelvana team really put their heart and souls into each frame here. The real triumph is Mok, who looks like something that would emerge from the Seth Brundle Transporter were Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, and an anorexic rat bleeped across the room at the same time. The amount of detail in Mok’s facial expressions is staggering and I found myself looking forward to scenes of him talking.
The dystopic visuals of both Ohm Town and Nuke York City rival those of Katsuhiro Otomo’s work in Akira for detail and composition. That’s high praise from me as Akira is one of the best looking, if not the best looking animated films of all time. Considering Rock & Rule was animated between 1981 and 1983 I would not be at all surprised to learn that a copy of Rock & Rule sat in the Akira Committee Company vault.
The voice talent of Paul Le Mat (Omar), Susan Roman (Angel), and Don Francks (Mok), do a better than serviceable job with their parts. Here’s some trivia for you, Paul Le Mat only appears as Omar in the American version of the film; some other guy gives Omar his pipes in the Canadian one.
The DVD from Unearthed Films is absolutely flawless 16x9 anamorphic widescreen print remastered and struck from an original film source, 5.1 surround sound, and it’s absolutely stacked with extras including an original 1983 making of documentary/promo piece that looks like it was targeted at distributors, a directors commentary with Clive A. Smith, a character sketch gallery (that amazingly doesn’t suck) offering about 25 pictures of each character showing their design evolution from almost all animal to mostly human (and used in the final film), and a cool remastering comparison showing before and after shots from the source and final version of the film. Finally, there is a paper insert describing the problems that plagued both Nelvana and Rock & Rule during production.
Although Rock & Rule sort of vanished from the world not long after it’s release in 1983, appearing on Laser Disk and VHS, but long, long, long out of print in either format, it’s really great to see it again in such a clean and well-presented package.