Rock and Rule:
Heavy Metal Canadian Style, eh?
In a recent jaunt around the various websites that keep me well supplied with the rare, forgotten and hard to find, I happened across this gem from the forgotten era when western animation was truly a thing of beauty. You see back in the early 1970s western animation (meaning animation from USA, Canada, UK) sort of went through a transformation, it became a sort of outsider art, aimed at the growing subcultures that evolved from the 1960s beliefs in sex, drugs and rock and roll, outsider animation was hot, and for the next decade and a half or so, would bring us such grinhouse classics as Fritz The Cat, Heavy Metal, Watership Down, The Secret Of NIMH, and this lovely gem, Nelvana's first animated film Rock And Rule, which not only set the pace and took the crown from Heavy Metal as being THE film for outsider animation, much like its fellow Canadian film My Bloody Valentine took the crown of slasher films from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it also took the fading concept of the rock opera, and gave it one final mindblowing finale. This thing is a wonderful all around piece of work, from the story, to the casting, casting Debbie Harry as the singing voice of the lead female was just brilliance at the time, to the very well done animation, even frame looks like a picture that moves, but you can hang on your wall and be snooty to your friends because you have art and they don't, its so very striking and just a joy to watch, and with songs by Cheap Trick, Blondie, Earth Wind and Fire among others, its also a joy to hear.
The plot follows the same line as your average rock opera, a post apocalyptic world set after a nuclear war, in this one the human race completely wiped itself out in world war 3 after the United States and Soviet Union made the cold war a hot one, and the new dominate creatures on the planet evolved from Dogs, Cats and Rats, and though they've built a vast technologically advanced society built on the back of all the technology we've left behind, they also took from the now gone human race, the power of rock and roll, because lets face it, if something is gonna survive a nuclear holocaust, its gonna be rock and roll, and much like every other rock opera, rock and roll has become the music of rebellious youth, who live for it. And that is how we meet our cast.
Omar, Angel, Dizzy, and Stretch are all members of a small time rock band that though not financially successful, have a good size following playing clubs and concert halls and the like in their home town of Ohmtown, they stick together like a family because they seem to be all that each other has, they live and play together, as is the case in most films of this nature, rock and roll is their life, and the life of those who could come to see them play. When they were playing a show one night, they catch the ear and eye of the most popular rock musician in the world Mok Swagger (simply called Mok in the film, the comic book adaption revealed his full name), Mok though seen as the greatest rocker of all time even as he starts to feel his age, is secretly a master of the dark arts, which he invokes in his concerts, though no one watching is aware, they just believe its all part of the theatrical aspect of his shows, Mok has been searching the world over for "the one voice", a voice that will be able to summon an ancient demon from the netherworld, which he hopes to use at the highlight of an upcoming concert in Nuke York City's Carnage Hall (thats New York City's Carnegie Hall to us pre-nuclear war folks) which he plans to be the greatest show of all time. When he hears Angel singing with the band, he believes he's found the voice he needs. Mok offers Angel to join his band, saying that he can write her songs and with him and his band backing her, can make her even more famous then himself, Angel refuses because the offer is only for her, and not the rest of her band as well, Mok continues to try and get her to come with him, and when she continues to refuse him, he simply has his men kidnap her, so he can force her to sing the song that will summon the demon for him. Once they find out what Angel has gone, Omar, Dizzy and Stretch steal a cop car from a local police officer they know and set out for Nuke York City to get her back, along the way finding out what Mok's plan is, and realizing they aren't just saving Angel, but the whole world from the demon that Mok is going to unleash on the land, ofcourse, using the power of rock and roll to do so.
From there the film, like most rock operas takes you on a twisted and at times dark ride through the surreal and the unexplainable, as most of these types of films do, ranging from the disturbing to the steampunk to the cyberpunk and then back to what it knows best. And though thats very common in rock opera, to see it done in a way thats just so beautiful to the eyes and ears is just breathtaking. And I was alittle let down that the characters who sing weren't voiced completely buy those who to their singing; Angel's singing voice is Debbie Harry of Blondie, Omar's singing voice is Robin Zander of Cheap Trick, and Mok has two singing voices, first Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground but is then replaced by Iggy Pop when Mok invokes the demon. I'd have really enjoyed them doing the roles through the whole film, not just the musical numbers, but having someone else do the singing for a character in animation is, and always has been, common practice, but either way, thats really the only downside I could find to this wonderful forgotten classic from the tail end of the grindhouse era. The art is beautiful, bright and pretty even when its ment to be dark and ugly, the cast and story itself is great and just like other well known rock operas (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tommy, Zepher, Cottonpatch Gospel, ect..) the songs don't seem forced or placed in the film simply to place them in the film, which is something I just love, I hate when a film forces something on you simply to make it fit the genre its aiming to be in, thankfully you'll never get that feeling with this. So seriously, if you haven't had a chance to see Rock and Rule, or you vaguely remember it from your younger days, by all means go about finding youself a copy, order some pizza or something, and sit back and enjoy yourself, you won't regret it. Also, a heads up, Amazon has a an anniversary edition coming out on blu ray in September... Alrighty got mine pre-ordered.
And for those that are interested, here is the trailer...