"Rock-A-Doodle" is a gigantic miscalculation of an animated film. It's the kind of film that while I was watching it I kept scratching my head at just how misguided this film was and it's a film where Don Bluth slipped entirely. As the 1990s were just getting started, animation had finally found its grip again with studios like Walt Disney Animation Studios finally were starting their climb back to the top. However, Don Bluth who had powered through the 1980s with a lot of great animated films couldn't keep his footing and slipped. While you could start to see his tight grip slipping a little on "All Dogs Go To Heaven", there was a lot more good in that film that I thought helped keep it afloat. Unfortunately, Bluth dropped the ball entirely here. This film is such a mess and it just left me baffled by the end.
A young boy named Edmond (Toby Scott Ganger) is being read the story of a rooster named Chanticleer (Glen Campbell) who lives on a farm and crows every morning to raise the sun and get the day started for the animals that live there. One day though, a henchman sent by the Grand Duke of Owls (Christopher Plummer) to distract Chanticleer from crowing so the sun won't come up. The plan ends up working as the sun comes up without Chanticleer and the animals immediately ridicule him which forces him off the farm and ends up starting a never-ending rainstorm. Meanwhile, in Edmond's world, a rainstorm is also occurring which threatens his parent's own farm and he decides to call out to Chanticleer to bring back the sun. It ends up getting the Grand Duke's attention who turns Edmond into a cat before he's saved by the dog Pantou (Phil Harris). Pantou explains to Edmond that the animals feel guilty for abandoning Chanticleer and need his help getting him back. So Edmond, Pantou, a magpie named Snipes (Eddie Deezen), and a mouse named Peepers (Sandy Duncan) head off to the city to get back Chanticleer where he's become an Elvis-like singer known as the King and have to try to win him back from his slimy manager Hunch (Charles Nelson Reilly) and girlfriend Goldie (Ellen Greene).
This film is such a gigantic mess that I really just was left baffled at just how miscalculated it was. If anything, this was really a huge step backward for Don Bluth and it really made me feel sad. The same magic that Bluth brought to "The Secret of NIMH", "An American Tail", "The Land Before Time" and even "All Dogs Go To Heaven" is sorely missing here with the story falling apart rather badly. This film is loosely based on the play Chanticleer by Edmond Rostand and it was a story that Bluth's former employer Disney tried to tackle back in the 1960s. However, the studio abandoned the tale as they couldn't figure out how to turn the play into a film and made "The Sword in the Stone" instead. It turns out Disney made the right call because Bluth couldn't crack the story either. Instead, it feels rather empty and safe and lacks any of the darkness that made his previous films so noteworthy. I think it could be due to "All Dogs Go To Heaven" being a little too dark, but at least that film still had some tenderness to back it up. This film on the other hand is so watered down and safe that it felt exceptionally stale and sometimes sappy. There aren't a lot of stakes on this journey and I just thought the character's challenges were far too easy and didn't have any risks on their journey to get back Chanticleer and it also built up to an underwhelming climax which left me with very little. I also heavily disliked some of the choices Bluth used to tell the narrative. One instance was having a narration of Pantou over the story which I found was added in post-production as test audiences kept getting confused about what was happening in the story. This narration was so infuriating as I could follow the story just fine and the film was doing nothing but explain to us what we already knew. I hate that kind of narration as it talks down to the audience and doesn't let us figure things out ourselves. The other choice Bluth decided to use was a framing element where he combined live-action scenes with the animation. He claimed to have done this after seeing "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and while it worked so well in that film, it doesn't work well here. The mixing doesn't work as it looked exceptionally poor. There was one cut where it went from the live-action set to an animation background and it was confusing that I thought we went back to Chanticleer's story even though we were still in Edmond's world. I don't understand why Bluth felt it was necessary to add this framing device. It just left me feeling confused by the end. I will say that the animation does look nice for the time even if it doesn't do anything new. The character animation still has that charm Bluth put in his previous films and the backgrounds are simply amazing. They're larger than life and stand out spectacularly. I loved looking at how detailed the whole film was. I wish I could say the characters were that good too, but they're not. In fact, they easily are the biggest problem with the film. None of them stand out in the slightest with Chanticleer not having anything stand out except that he can sing like Elvis, Pantou's whole character is trying to figure out how to tie his shows, Peeper is the smart but sassy mouse, and Snipes is the snooty magpie obsessed with lasagna. The villains are also exceptionally lame as none of them have any malice whatsoever and their main goal of eating all the characters was lousy. Then there's Edmond and unfortunately, he's easily the weakest character of the film. His character is made to be very cute and it's way overblown and far too sappy. The film also tries to give him an arc about conquering his fear, but fails to justify it as it's only brought up two times in the film near the beginning and near the end. I also thought all the song numbers in the film were very forgettable and not well written. They really lacked the energy that made the songs in "An American Tail" and "All Dogs Go To Heaven" shine.
And sadly, "Rock-A-Doodle" also fails to shine badly as a whole. Despite the animation being nice and having stellar backgrounds, the story is sappy and lacking in energy and the characters were one-dimensional and boring. I don't recommend this film at all and it's an easy film in Bluth's catalog to skip. This is a film that doesn't really rock as the title says.