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Rock and Rule: A Wild and Unforgettable Ride Through the Gritty Heart of Animated Rock 'n' Roll


As we languish in our post-Pixar heyday lull of animated films, finding respite in serial adventures and mature content imported for our pixelated enjoyment, this is the time to revisit and rejoice in the 2D cel creations of yesteryear. A time when cult classics were not designed from nostalgia but created from blind ambition and a large helping of hubris. A mostly forgotten era when the lines were blurred, and a parental guidance stamp could usher in the visage of post-apocalyptic worlds rife with adult situations, profanity, sexual situations and demon worship. Although the technology of the times had its limits, the imagination and determination of these filmmakers to tell their stories far surpassed the obstacles set before them. One such film that would be rightly debated as a kooky, gritty curiosity time capsule from the early 80’s family entertainment genre is the inimitable rock opera Rock and Rule. Swarming with a most eclectic mixture of ingredients, this 1983 Canadian import may be the best example of just how wonderfully weird and funky entertainment geared for younger audiences was in the ‘80s. Rock and Rule is the story of a down-and-out rock band led by Omar and Angel, who cross paths with Mok Swagger, a legendary rock musician, in search of a very special voice whose frequencies can unleash a powerful demon from another dimension. Mok (whose likeness and name are a jab at Mick Jagger) invites the band to his palace and conspires to split them up and use Angel’s voice to raise his demon from hell to ensure his return to Rock ’n’ Roll royalty.

In essence, Rock and Rule pulls heavily from its animated predecessors. The character animation crudeness of Ralph Bakshi, the dystopian undertones akin to Don Bluth’s “The Secret of NIMH” or the animated adaptation of Richard Adam’s harrowing “Watership Down” mixes feverishly with the sci-fi rock ’n’ roll insanity of the legendary anthology film “Heavy Metal”. With such influences permeating throughout the foundation of the visual and auditory presentation, director and Nelvana studio animations studio co-founder Clive A. Smith envisioned a down-and-dirty alternate universe populated by talking street vermin who survived humanity after an undisclosed war and mutated to talking, walking, singing an partying beings. This story exposition was not too far-fetched from many of its contemporaries as almost every animated feature showcased talking vermin within the decade preceding it. The script also borrows heavily from age-old tales like “Cinderella” and even has subtle nods to Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining”. For all of its

emulations, Rock and Rule breaks from the mold by regaling a fully- fledged rock-royalty soundtrack and musical experience that would be impossible to imitate or match. The film features Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick, Lou Reed and Earth, Wind & Fire. The soundtrack may be the standout for most who experience Rock and Rule, as the bar/garage band rock tracks flow freely throughout the film as underrated treasures that only hardcore fans may have knowledge of. The idea that Harry, Iggy Pop and Reed played such a huge part in this film, writing and performing for the

The characters featured make it even more of a cult oddity. Rock and Rule, or Ring of Power as it is known outside of the U.S., had surmountable star power in terms of musicality and an eight-million-dollar budget. But the film had its share of problems stateside as well. When the film was picked up by United Artists to be distributed in America, the executives were dismayed at the expletives used by the lead character (Omar) played by Canadian actor Greg Salata. United Artist opted to dub over Salata’s performance with a “name” actor,

choosing Paul Le Mat who had been riding off the acclaim from winning the Golden Globe for New Star of the Year for his portrayal of John Milner in George Lucas’ pre galactic coming of age comedy “American Graffiti”. Keeping the rest of the voice acting intact, which also included Heavy Metal and future Canadian dubbed Sailor Moon alumni Susan Roman and Schitt’s Creek comedic mastermind Catherine O’Hara, Rock and Rule was released in its newer redacted and redubbed version to American audiences and flopped. The film, now equipped with a snazzy new prologue inanely explaining talking

vermin, was rushed to VHS and Laserdisc. The film found its cult status through cable television, where preteens and teens embraced the quirky rock and roll fable.

Rock and Rule had an opportunity to reconnect with its fans and was given a last chance to pull itself from obscurity when it was re-released on Blu-ray for its 25th anniversary. Since the discs have been discontinued, owning a copy of Rock and Rule could set interested

parties back anywhere from three hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars. There is also a Marvel Comics adaptation of the film floating around for the die-hard fans of the rock shock fantasy.

Rock and Rule takes a journey that is both unexpected and familiar. It’s a quick study, moving rapidly through its narrative while overachieving in its animation department, presenting memorable images that have the ability to sear into the brains and hearts of folks who can dig it. The music stands the test of time, not dating itself while simultaneously showing the passionate effort of artists who could have, but didn’t phone their performance in. The film rocks. And, in all actuality, it rules.

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