Rock & Rule, released in 1983 by the Canadian studio Nelvana was in many ways ahead of its time. And it proves that the old proverb “Pioneers get killed while settlers prosper” is true.
Rock & Rule is an adult animated musical inspired by the cartoon The Devil and Daniel Mouse. Several popular musicians of the ’80s, including Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick, and Lou Reed wrote and performed songs specifically for that movie.
The movie was made at a time when most animated features were either intended for children or created “for adults only” like the R-rated Fritz the Cat). Rock & Rule fits in between. It possesses mainly adult themes, but at the same time the character design and overall feel of the movie make it feel like a Disney film.
The movie tells the story of Mok, a legendary super-rocker who realizes his fame is fading. He decides to end it with a bang by summoning a being from another dimension, which will allow him to create the ultimate performance in the history of the world.
To summon the being, Mok needs to activate an ancient artifact called the Armageddon key, which can be activated only by the frequencies of a very special voice in the possession of the female protagonist Angel.
Mok discovers her, telling her to quit her band and work for him. Instead, she refuses, and Mok kidnaps her. The rest of the movie is focused on her bandmates’ attempt to find her.
And her band mates were cartoony in of itself. We have the voice of reason in Diz, we have an air headed nice guy in Stretch and a stereotypical bad guy singer in Ohmar.
I think everyone would agree that this reads like the plot of a saturday morning cartoon. And in many ways it is, but the thing is that the world which the characters inhabit is filled with sex, drugs and occultism. (Which probably is a reference to the book by Robert Anton Wislon with the same title.)
And while those particular themes were even present in the animated version of Batman, I think the thing that really disallowed this movie to be marketed to kids is the fact that there are numerous sexually implying scenes throughout this movie. In the Canadian version Ohmar even uses the term “dick-nose” to insult Mok’s henchmen. And in one scene the main characters are looking for a girl called “Cinderella” and their only lead is that she has a heart tattoo on her skin. While searching for this tattoo one of the characters is flashed by a female. No nudity is shown, but implied. And at that time implied nudity was enough to disallow a movie from being marketed to children. This movie also has implied drug use, as one character in a club says “I have poppers and downers, screamers and shouters”.
Because of that the marketing department of Nelvana failed to promote it well and almost lead the studios to bankruptcy.
But for what it is I it’s a great movie. The story is interesting and engaging, the songs are amazing and I personally found it to be one of the most enjoyable movie experiences I ever had.
The characters are well designed and in my opinion at the same level as many Disney characters. And definitively think that Mok is as well made as any Disney villain
Another strong point of this movie is that it has a great number of very interesting visual scenes you simply can’t experience in any other movie. Almost all the songs in the movie are accompanied by stunning visuals which on their own make the movie worth watching.
If I was to market this movie from the beginning I would just market it as a “Disney film for a more mature audience”, because that’s what it is. Nothing more, nothing less. This just an enjoyable cartoon that’s just not as family friendly as other animated movies that were created at the same time.
It doesn’t have a deeper meaning like some of the adult animations of that time, and it definitively has elements that wouldn’t be understood by children but I’m sure that if it was released in the year 2000 it would be met with a much warmer welcome, and after some minor edits might even be marketed to children. Just like the television series Cybersix, which contained almost all the things that Rock & Rule was made adult for, was. I think Rock & Rule would definitively would not get a higher rating than pg-13 if it was released now.
I think that if you’re a fan of 80-90s animation, and want to feel nostalgia without watching a movie made for kids or just want to watch a very enjoyable and interesting animated movie that’s specifically made for you as an adult. I think this kids movie made for adults would be perfect for you. It was for me