Saturday, November 26, 2022


Angel & Omar

There is nothing like getting yourself to watch a DVD copy of a film you haven’t watched yet, by telling yourself you are going to write about it.

“Rock & Rule”, a 1983 Canadian animated film that mixes a post-apocalyptic landscape, pop music and dog-like mutant humanoids, while being targeted at a more grown-up audience, has been covered as thoroughly online as another film I have talked about, “Animalympics” [link], creating enough furries from its audience for that term not to need inverted commas anymore. I am not a furry, but I love animated films, as apparently do the Germans – both DVDs I own of “Rock & Rule” and “Animalympics” are from Germany, having no UK release beyond VHS, although the BBFC gives “Rock & Rule” a PG rating, advising it “contains mild language and sex references”.

The plot involves a rock star supervillain, Mok, who retires to Ohmtown, a ravaged place whose power plant could help him secure immortality. From the opening crawl, “high in the hills above Ohmtown, Mok’s computers work at deciphering an ancient satanic code which could unlock a doorway between his world and a darker dimension while Mok himself searches for the last crucial component – a very special voice.” 


The correct voice will have just the right frequency for the plan to work, much like Ella Fitzgerald breaking a glass in the ads for Memorex tapes [link], but by this point, we have already been told the film features the voices of Cheap Trick, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Earth Wind & Fire... and Debbie Harry of Blondie. Unless they surprise me and Maurice White’s voice fits the plan, it will be Debbie Harry.

As it turns out, the voice is found in an Ohmtown band featuring Angel, their keyboard player, and Omar, its lead singer and guitarist. Angel’s voice is identified by an audition, leading to Mok kidnapping Angel and taking her to Nuke York by airship. Omar mistakes this for ambition being placed over their relationship, until he gets caught up in Mok’s machinations and sent home – by this point, it has become clear that another voice could disrupt Mok’s plan, but there is also no one that can be found to fit that description, until Omar makes his way back.

Unfortunately for me, the mutated humanoids – the film’s American release explained that humanity had been destroyed and replaced war – border on obnoxious most of the time. Angel, as the heroine, is spirited but bland in a “damsel in distress” manner, until she sings, and the English-accented Mok approaches a Disney-type villain, but many supporting characters are noisy and abrasive, and even Omar begins as such, making the film feel longer than its hour and twenty minutes.

The art direction, however, is impeccable. The ruined cityscape and street level grime are reminiscent of “Blade Runner”, not yet a classic, but far away from the run-down, unsafe 1980s New York – it is both fanciful and lived-in, with suitably muted colours. If rotoscoping was not used to exact the characters’ movements, I will be surprised.

Ohmtown, at night

Despite this, you may be here for the music more than the story. Just as with the soundtrack by 10cc’s Graham Gouldman on “Animalympics”, the songs in “Rock & Rule” were written by the performers, like Mok’s grandstanding numbers “My Name is Mok” by Lou Reed, and “Pain & Suffering” by Iggy Pop, just as Debbie Harry’s songs as Angel were co-written with Chris Stein of Blondie - both of Mok's songs are the highlights, of course, and are perfect examples of each artist's qualities being infused into one villain. Earth Wind & Fire’s “Dance Dance Dance”, essentially the background to a nightclub scene, was also written and recorded for the film. However, with the recording artists being signed to different labels, no soundtrack album was released, and only a few tracks have surfaced commercially, with the version of “Pain & Suffering” not being released until 2019.

“Rock & Rule” was produced by Nelvana, the studio that made a big splash by animating the introduction of Boba Fett in the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special”, later producing the series “Droids” and “Ewoks”. The failure of “Rock & Rule” at the box office, released on few screens with little publicity, nearly bankrupted Nelvana, but their subsequent concentration on children’s shows, most notably the “Care Bears” film series they instigated, built the company into the major force it remains today, although nothing as adult as “Rock & Rule” appears to have been attempted since then, which is a shame when considering the attention it has received since.

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