Rock-a-Doodle is a 1991 live action/animated musical film loosely based on Edmond Rostand's comedy "Chantecler." Directed by Don Bluth and written by David N. Weiss, Rock-a-Doodle is an Irish, British and American venture produced by Sullivan Bluth Studios and Goldcrest Films.
The film features the voices of Glen Campbell, Christopher Plummer, Phil Harris (in his final role before his retirement and death), Charles Nelson Reilly, Sorrell Booke, Sandy Duncan, Eddie Deezen, Ellen Greene and Toby Scott Ganger in his film debut.
"Rock-a-Doodle" was released in the United Kingdom on August 2 1991 and in the United States on April 3, 1992.
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the entire movie.
Chanticleer is a rooster, whose job is to wake the sun up every morning, but the Grand Duke of Owls, who hates sunshine, sabotages him to make it look like the sun comes up on its own without Chanticleer's crow. Detested by the farm animals as a result, he leaves the farm to look for work in the city. Afterward, perpetual darkness and rainfall threaten the farm with flooding.
Turning out to be a story read to a young human boy named Edmond, it seems that the flooding has found his family and when his mother goes to help them stop it, he calls out to Chanticleer and is heard by the Grand Duke himself, who takes a dislike to Edmond's attempts to foil his plans.
He turns him into a kitten to devour him, but he is saved at the last second by Patou, a bloodhound from Chanticleer's farm. He is accompanied by Snipes, a claustrophobic magpie, and Peepers, an intellectual field mouse, as well as several animals from the farm, hoping to find Chanticleer and apologise to him for their behaviour.
Edmond accompanies Patou, Snipes and Peepers to the city, while the rest of the animals remain at Edmond's house. En route, they are attacked by Hunch, the Duke's diminutive nephew, assigned by him to stop Edmond and the others from finding Chanticleer. They narrowly escape and enter the city.
Chanticleer has risen to fame in the city, thanks to his manager Pinkie Fox, employed by the Duke to keep the rooster in the city. At a show featuring an Elvis-type theme, he is introduced to Goldie Pheasant as a distraction in case Chanticleer's friends come to find him. Goldie soon grows genuinely attracted to Chanticleer and realises Pinkie's true intentions when he captures Edmond and the others trying to get a letter to Chanticleer.
Meanwhile, the Duke and his party stalk the farm animals at Edmond's house, who continually use a flashlight to drive them off as long as the batteries hold out. Realizing that she is in love with him, Goldie confesses to Chanticleer that his friends had come to see him, and Pinkie blackmails Chanticleer to attend his show or never see his friends again.
Chanticleer goes on with the show, Hunch inadvertently frees Edmond and the others, and they help Chanticleer and Goldie make a grand escape in a helicopter, foiling Pinkie's plans and destroying his Cadillac at the same time. They return to the farm.
After their batteries run out, the denizens of the farm are nearly made a meal of by the Duke and his minions when they are driven off by the helicopter's spotlight. Chanticleer confronts the Duke, but realises he has forgotten how to crow.
The Duke taunts him and tries to drown him, but Edmond refuses to lose hope and starts chanting Chanticleer's name in hopes to revive his spirit. The Duke grows tired of this and magically strangles Edmond to his assumed death.
Patou starts to chant Chanticleer's name, followed by everyone else, and the Duke transforms himself into a massive, violent tornado to silence them. Chanticleer finally remembers how to crow, and begins to sing for the sun to emerge; his cries are heard and the sun rises, driving the Duke's minions away and shrinking him to a very minuscule size. Hunch barely recognises his uncle, but uses this to exact revenge by chasing him with a fly swatter.
Edmond transforms back into his human form in front of the others, who realise he was telling the truth about being a little boy. As Peepers tries to wake him, he does so in his own room, with his mother watching over him after an accident where a tree collapsed into his room.
The sun is shining outside and the floods have ended, but his family does not believe him about his adventures and he is told to get his rest. He picks up Chanticleer's book and thanks him for coming back, before he is magically transported into Chanticleer's world, where he witnesses the rooster singing to make the sun shine.
- Toby Scott Ganger as Edmond, the son of a human farmer and the main protagonist of the film. He is transformed into a kitten by the Grand Duke as punishment for trying to summon back Chanticleer, and is the one who organises the farm animals to bring Chanticleer back to the farm after the flooding starts. He slowly begins to learn the errors of his ways and he stops being afraid.
- Christopher Plummer as the Grand Duke of Owls, a magical owl who despises Chanticleer, and the main antagonist of the film. He overhears Edmond's call for Chanticleer in the real world and transforms him into a kitten as punishment, planning to eat him. The Duke hates his nephew and threatens several times to kill him if he fails. The Duke is a malevolent powerful creature of the night, with a penchant for eating smaller animals as meals and commanding other villainous owls to do his bidding. He hates sunlight, like all owls, and recoils when light shines on him. Also, he possesses magical breath that can transform anyone into any creature, as exampled when he turns Edmond into his kitten form.
- Glen Campbell as Chanticleer, the protagonist and a rooster who lives on a farm with many other animals, who are fond of and love him. When the sun rises without his crowing, his friends, believing he was lying to them about how his crowing brought up the sun (a fact he himself thought was true), leave him, leading to the adventures of Edmond and the others. In a miserable state, he goes to the city and becomes a popular singer. Through his manager Pinky, he meets Goldie and falls in love at first sight with her. Soon though, his friends come to the city and apologise. He and Goldie are then brought back to the farm, so he can save it. He is also based on the superstar Elvis Presley.
- Ellen Greene as Goldie, a pheasant and singer also in Pinky's employment. She initially dislikes Chanticleer for stealing her spotlight, but falls in love with him upon becoming more acquainted with him; in one part of the film, Pinky told her that Edmond was a bad kitty, but he was not.
- Phil Harris as Patou, a Basset Hound who's a good friend to both Chanticleer and Edmond, and plays the narrator character of the story. He despises the Grand Duke and is dedicated to Edmond's cause to bring Chanticleer back home. He is brave and reasonable, but somewhat temperamental. His endeavour to find Chanticleer is hampered by the fact that he does not know how to tie his shoes (which he wears because of bunions). However, in the end, he finally figures out how to tie them right. It was Harris' final film role, before his retirement from acting and his death in 1995.
- Eddie Deezen as Snipes, a magpie. He, Edmond, Patou, and Peepers travel to the city in a toybox floating on the floodwaters, with Snipes more interested in exploring the city and its sights than actually helping his friends. Being claustrophobic, this poses a problem when he pokes holes in the box trying to escape and reach open air. He dislikes garbage and dirt, but loves the food served in the city when they go inside a restaurant where Chanticleer sings, particularly lasagna.
- Sandy Duncan as Peepers, a mouse. Because of this, she is initially terrified of Edmond, but he tries to convince everyone that he used to be a boy. She was willing to accept him for being a cat if he took her and the others to the city. It is not until the very end of the film that she believes him and comments "He was a little boy... oh, he was a handsome little boy..." She has a lisp and very round glasses, and is constantly arguing with Snipe's chauvinistic views.
- Charles Nelson Reilly as Hunch, the Grand Duke's pygmy owl nephew and lead henchman. Hunch enjoys rhyming words with "aggravation" and humming "The Ride of the Valkyries". He is dimwitted, but extremely aggressive. He carries an all-purpose Swiss Army Knife in a lidless soda can strapped to his back and uses its various bladed objects, tools and household objects (like a flyswatter) as weapons. A small running gag in the film was that whenever the Duke would breathe on him, his magic would transform Hunch into a randomly different creature.
- Sorrell Booke as Pinky, an obese fox who favours golf. He is also Chanticleer's manager in the city. His job is to ensure that Chanticleer never feels the compulsion to return home by convincing him that his friends hate him, making it easy to profit off of Chanticleer's singing skills. He secretly works for the Grand Duke of Owls and he lies to Goldie about Edmond being the bad guy, This is Booke's final film role.
- Will Ryan as Stuey, a chronically nervous pig. Whenever anybody mentions the owls, he starts to freak out, and he will sometimes snort and whimper.
- Dee Wallace as Dory, Edmond's mother
- Stan Ivar as Frank, Edmond's father
- Christian Hoff as Scott, one of Edmond's older brothers
- Jason Marin as Mark, one of Edmond's older brothers
Plans for an animated version of the Chanticleer tale dated as far back as the early years of the Walt Disney Studios, where several of its artists were interested in combining elements of the story with those about an anthropomorphic fox named Reynard.
Though character designs by Marc Davis survive, Walt Disney personally rejected the pitch, and the film was never put into production or animation tests. In the late 1980s, as a response to the success of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the proposal was revised by a former Disney animator, Don Bluth, who wanted to tell the rooster's story through live action and animation.
Originally, the story's first and last scenes were to be shot in black and white, similar to 1939's The Wizard of Oz. The film's opening (which took place at a farm) had Edmond's mother reading the tale of Chanticleer to him.
Victor French from "Get Smart" and "Highway to Heaven" was set to direct these scenes, but terminal lung cancer forced him out of production. Bluth, who had never done anything in this field, took over from this point. However, very little of this footage made it in the final cut.
However, the live action footage was filmed at MGM Studios in Hollywood, California. When the live action footage was finished during the production, Goldcrest Films recruited Sullivan Bluth Studios to animate the rest of the film. Animation took place in both Burbank, California and Dublin, Ireland.
Chanticleer's girlfriend, Goldie the Pheasant, was designed to have attributes similar to Roger Rabbit's girlfriend, Jessica Rabbit (as seen in the original trailer). In response to reactions from mothers during test screenings of her scenes, Goldcrest Films requested that Sullivan Bluth Studios reanimate the scenes by covering her chest with feathers as cel overlays, or simply painting her cleavage out.
To avoid a potential PG rating, Bluth edited out the showing of the Duke's "skunk pie" (the pie is not seen in full view in the final version), the animators had to replace Chanticleer's glass of wine with a transparent cup of soda in the "Kiss and Coo" sequence, and had to draw coloured effects into the Grand Duke's breath to make him less scary for young audiences.
Test audiences also felt confused by the storytelling so the filmmakers decided to include narration told by the dog character, Patou, voiced by Phil Harris. The crew, because of these changes, had to work overtime to finish the film by Thanksgiving 1990.
The film was originally going to be released by MGM-Pathé Communications Co., but studio partnership was facing financial difficulties, so Bluth rescheduled "Rock-a-Doodle" for a release on Christmas Day 1991 and selected The Samuel Goldwyn Company as the film's distributor.
However, that date was further moved to April 1992 to avoid competition with Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Feature Animation's Beauty and the Beast and also to avoid competition with Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment's An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (a sequel to An American Tail in which Bluth himself was not involved).
"Rock-a-Doodle" was the first feature-length family live-action/animated film since 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but unlike the live-action characters from that film sharing the screen with animated characters like Roger Rabbit, Edmond is the only live-action character to share the screen with the animated farm animals; this was at the beginning where the Grand Duke would have to answer Edmond before being turned into an animated cat and at the end where Chanticleer is singing a reprise of Sun Do Shine like he does at the beginning. Don Bluth chose this direction because he was influenced by Roger Rabbit.
The live-action and animation sequences were filmed in two separate aspect ratios. The animation was shot on an open-matte fullscreen negative, meaning the top and bottom of the image was cropped to fit the theatre screen. However, the live-action scenes, including all animated elements, were shot in hard-matted widescreen.
When the film is viewed in widescreen/fullscreen, all the animated sequences (except for parts of the finale) can be seen in full, but the live-action segments lose information on the sides.
"Rock-A Doodle Doo" debuted at #10 at the box office, grossing $2,603,286 in its opening weekend. Domestically, it grossed $11,657,385.
The film's $11.6 million take at the US box office forced Don Bluth's studio into liquidation half a year after its release. A Hong Kong company, Media Assets purchased Bluth's next three films: Thumbelina, A Troll in Central Park and The Pebble and the Penguin, but none of these films did any better than "Rock-a-Doodle" commercially or critically.
All of the films preceded Bluth's comeback hit, 1997's Anastasia.
Rock-a-Doodle received generally negative reviews from film critics. The film maintains a Rotten Tomatoes "rotten" rating of 25%.
The staff of Halliwell's Film Guide commended its "excellent animation", but complained of the "poor and confusing narrative" that "rendered [it] pointless".
In a positive review, the Washington Post wrote: "The young ones, who certainly don't give a sticky-fingered hoot about animation production values, are likely to have a good time with this. There are many passing delights. Composer T. J. Kuenster has some funny songs. They're not Ashman and Menken (The Little Mermaid songwriting team), but they're sprightly. The best is probably a Bach-like fugue number, in which the Grand Duke and his owlish goons sing "Never Let Him Crow" around a church organ. But in a movie like this, it ain't over till the rooster sings."
In Roger Ebert's review, he gave the film a two-star rating and wrote: "The movie has some good songs and some lively animation, but what bothered me was that most of the interaction between characters was on the level of violence. Why do almost all problems in family movies have to be settled through strength and scheming? Is there any other way to create dramatic tension and excitement?"
Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote in his review of the film: "You Love Rock N Doodle in his action packed comedy animated musical of the year you and your family will love it."
Desson Howe of the Washington Post wrote in his review of the film: "If this Irish-made movie doesn't display the high-budget trappings of a Walt Disney picture, it doesn't lack for memorable animal characters or a diverting tale."