Double feature from hell: Rock-A-Doodle (1991) & Bully (2011) / by Aaron Bouchard

Movies call to us to watch them. They call to us because we only know one fact about them but it is an intriguing fact. Other times we know everything about the project and are still excited to be immersed the world it offers. Results will always vary, but that never stops us from closing our eyes, listening to the winds with the hope of finding a gem to call our own. We all seek that film forgotten by time or misunderstood by its audience, something so unique that we feel embarrassed that it has more personality then ourselves.

Most times though, we are masochists. We go for the new or shiny things because we enjoy being overwhelmed by horrible decisions we have made. After we view it, we like to blame everyone involved, but really it is our own fault. Did anyone believe that visionary auteur John Moore’s fifth joint A Good Day to Die Hard was going to be his beak out hit? As of writing this, ~$53,000,000 worth of people did believe this. No one to blame but themselves.

Bully is a film I have been hearing about for a while and begrudgingly knew I should see. Rock-A-Doodle is a special kind of insane, the ‘take-off-all-your-clothing-and-punch-the-dog’ kind of insane. Separated by two decades and brought together by my lack of motivation and its close friend Mr. Carlo Rossi, I ventured down a road that I wished would be like Oz kind and not McCarthy.

When discussing Bully with anyone, you have to preface: the film is a film and the content is a bonus. Bully’s sordid history is well documented. Not wanting to take an ‘R’ rating, the filmmakers fought the MPAA for a PG-13, finally conceding to cut several words that children do not already often hear on the playground or on the long, sweaty rides to grandpa’s house. Much like Wiseman’s film, Lee Hirsch and his team silently observe and follow the subjects of the film. Much unlike Wiseman’s film, Hirsch protects all the children subjects, going so far as interfering in the narrative he has attempted to structure by alerting parents and authorities to what is happening to one of the children. Right or wrong? Depends on how rare you want your documentaries. Hirsch likes his well-done with extra pepper-jack. The five children all begin the film with different sets of issues, but by the end, all the issues have been resolved and nothing is left to chance. We do not actively see the cycle of bullying continue so the call to action is rendered pointless. One child subject obviously has a severe social disorder but it is never discussed or touched upon. Another family talks about their child who took his life because he was bullied, and according to the Hirsch, bullying is the only reason this happened. One of the female subjects early says she was offered a chance to leave “But if I leave, they win.” she wisely says.

The filmmakers cheapen her resolve by later playing a clip of the same young woman, after an incident at school and deciding to leave, saying “Maybe I can make change somewhere else” right before the film splashes text on screen suggesting that it takes just one voice to speak up and stop bullying. I cannot help but wonder what this film would have been like had Kirby Dick made it; a little less fearless and a little more interested in its subjects.

To be fair, at least Hirsch tries to say something important, Don Bluth’s Rock-A-Doodlesays many different things, most of which sound like the ramblings of an insane man. Based on a script that I am fairly certain was adapted from John Doe’s note books, Rock-A-Doodle is the story of a rooster who cannot make the sun rise so he leaves, then the farm floods, then the owls threaten to take over, then a live action boy is turned into an animated cat, then the batteries that will keep the owls away are going to run out, but no one knows where the rooster is, but he is probably in Vegas, etc… That is the first fifteen minutes of a sixty-five minute long film.

I know Bluth’s catalogue well. Secret of NIMH, Land Before Time, & All Dogs go to Heaven were used repeatedly by my mother to gently explain how the world is a crueland unloving place. Bluth & company were blazing a trail that Disney dared not follow during the 1980’s, one that looked like it might have consumed The Mouse whole during the 1990’s had they trusted their gut. Rock-A-Doodle unintentionally bucks basic film rules: plants for plant & payoffs are abandon, the main character spends three-quarters of the movie absent or unconscious, and the basic message of the movie is not entirely clear. Much like anti-comedy, this anti-animation (‘antimation’ if you will), does not seem concerned if you have a good time because the makers are having a much better time laughing at you while you watch. Either a simple narrative teased out to be an exercise in anti-industry, a middle finger to The Mouse or just a sexist, face-numbing mess of a film with no trajectory.