There were a few formative commercial works in the early years of furry fandom—we’re talking around two decades ago—that took the idea of “funny animals” and treated them in serious, adult fashion. (“Adult” in this case simply means “not aimed at children,” although the arguments about the place of sexy critters in the fandom started, well, before the fandom did.) Mostly, these were comics: “Albedo Anthropomorphics,” “Usagi Yojimbo” and “Omaha the Cat-Dancer.” You’d occasionally hear novels mentioned—Spellsinger, or The Pride of Chanur.
Animation, though, not so much. Fans liked cartoons where lines for the adults were snuck in, too, and found shows that could be appreciated by an older audience, like Disney’s “Tale Spin.” But animation was—and remains—resistant to stories that aren’t aimed at younger audiences, and the idea of using animal-based characters for such a story would likely be laughed out of the studio. (At least for Western studios. And, remember, Japanese animation was still largely unknown here in the mid-’80s.)
The great exception to this: a little-known Canadian film called Rock & Rule.
Rock & Rule can be described, facetiously but not unfairly, as what the Heavy Metal movie might have been like if it had been given a plot. (No, it was a collection of unconnected stories. No, the Great Ball of Evil wasn’t a plot. Don’t even pretend.) It takes place in a dim, grungy future after a great war has wiped out humans, and the Earth is populated with “mutants” who rose from the animals. The storyline concerns an eccentric rock musician staging a comeback concern during which he plans the “effect” of summoning a demon—magic for which he needs to find one special voice.
Yes, this meant it was a musical, but a musical in which the characters were, well, musicians. The songs generally made, y’know, sense. And, incredibly enough, they recruited interesting musicians for this: Mok, the villain, was sung by Lou Reed; the band he pursued was performed by Cheap Trick, with a female lead sung by Debbie Harry. All the musicians wrote their own music, original to the movie.
Now, with dystopic science fiction, mutants, satanic magic, and a quasi-punk soundtrack, how can you possibly vanish without a trace? As it turns out, you can’t even get a proper theatrical release. United Artists, the releasing company, had undergone a management shift, and the new MGM/UA had no interest in the movie at all, performing their duties to the absolute bare minimum of the contract.
So, the last time I saw this movie, it was a third-generation VHS bootleg. That’s the way most fans saw it, if they’d seen it at all. MGM/UA did release a videotape, for an exorbitant price and with a mediocre, pan-and-scan transfer; I’m given to understand there was also a videodisc released in very small numbers.
A few months ago, though, it was released on DVD by a company specializing in cult movies, from a newly restored print, with a remastered digital 5.1 soundtrack. I couldn’t resist buying a copy.
It’s usually the case that things you remember from the past aren’t as good as you remember them to be, and frankly, I didn’t remember Rock & Rule as being that good—I remembered it more as being in the “interesting failure” category. But as it turned out, it’s better than I remember: the script is better and the animation is considerably better than my memory.
This is still the stuff of cult followings: the storyline is downright weird, the soundtrack is not pop radio friendly, and the animation veers more than once to the psychedelic. But if you’re the sort of person who might like a trippy post-apocalypse rock-and-roll fairy tale—with the sexiest mutant mouse girl ever as the lead (granted, there’s not much competition in the field)—it’s definitely worth seeing.