I’m a 28 year old (baby) man, but I still regularly look out into the rain and yell “Chanticleer! Chanticleer!” If you know what I’m talking about, you probably just did the same thing, and if you don’t PLEASE join me on this throwback review of the 1991 (1992? Depending on your geographic location) cartoon movie classic, “Rock-A-Doodle”.
This is where I stop really quickly, having already given away one “Rock-A-Doodle” spoiler, and mention that this review will be LOADED WITH SPOILERS ABOUT THE MOVIE. If you haven’t seen it yet, try to watch it first! I want to make sure you are able to enjoy the movie- and then my review- to its fullest. And thankfully I actually have a link for you this time, because the full movie is currently available, totally free, on YouTube! You just have to skip ads that pop up every now and then, but in this economy I’m cool with that. And it’s a certified “YouTube Movie”, so it doesn’t feel bootlegged or anything. It’s also only 75 minutes long, which one could argue is the length of most HBO episodes these days anyway.
I feel like my mother just randomly picked it up from a cheap-movie-bin somewhere when I was a baby. The poor woman. How could she have guessed that the VHS would be blaring through our TV screen daily when I was a little kid. But I was taken. The songs, the animation, and the characters all held my heart so tightly. Especially Goldie!
But before we get into the story of the movie, I’m going to be a history nerd for a minute. Wikipedia calls it a “1991 British-American-Irish live-action/animated musical comedy film”, which is definitely a mouthful. To clear that up a little bit, it’s an animated musical, that does have live action aspects, and is a comedy film (but that’s redundant). It was mostly American produced, but was also partially produced in Ireland, and was originally released in the UK. It was released in the US in 1992. Rock-A-Doodle is actually loosely based on an old French play called “Chantecler” by Edmond Rostand. The idea of making a “Chantecler” adaptation was in discussion since the early days of Disney, and (according to Wikipedia) was even “personally rejected by Walt Disney.” Oop. So, “Chantecler” sat on the back burner for a number of years, until the early 80’s, when a Disney animator, Don Bluth, picked up the project and started toying with it again. It was never made while Don was with Disney, but he had grown successful with his own movies like “The Secret of NIMH”, “An American Tail”, “Land Before Time” and “All Dogs Go To Heaven” (All AMAZING movies that have a special place in my childhood. He also did “Thumbelina” in 1994 and “Anastasia” later in 1997), so he was able to produce the “Chantecler” adaptation- now “Rock-A-Doodle”- on his own.
If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that there are scenes at beginning and end of the movie that mix animation and live human actors. This was actually done to emulate the wildly successful 1988 movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. However it proved to be more difficult than Don originally imagined, so most the movie stayed animated, with just those few live action scenes making it into the cut. I thought this was an interesting tidbit, since “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was also in our family VHS library.
It also has some bigger names of older days. The star, the rooster Chanticleer, is played by Glen Campbell, an American Country star who sang “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Gentle On My Mind”. The movie’s narrator and one of our main characters, a basset hound named Patou, is voiced by Phil Harris, who you would probably recognize the most as O’Malley in Disney’s “The Aristocats”. And Ellen Green, a personal favorite, is the pinup pheasant Goldie. Ellen was the original Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, both in the Broadway cast and in the 1986 movie. And her character, Goldie, was based off of Jessica Rabbit as another attempt to harken back to the Roger Rabbit success. But those are just a few names, it also includes other notable older actors from the golden days of stage and film like Christopher Plummer, Sandy Duncan, and Eddie Deezen.
We start out rolling through some of the credits (the tell of a movie pre-2000’s era) in a galaxy scene, until we fly over to our little rock- Earth- and down to a farm where Chanticleer, a crooning Rooster, has started his crowing song to wake the sun up and bring it around for the rest of his farm. This launches us into the first song of the movie, “Sun Do Shine”, where Chanticleer dances around the farm, bringing the sun and waking up his friends on the farm as well, who all greet him with a smile.
But one morning, while it’s still dark, Chanticleer is woken up by an intruder on the farm, another rooster who has come to fight him. They tussle, and Chanticleer wins the fight, but loses the larger battle. You see, the rooster was just a distraction sent by the Grand Duke of Owls, and it had worked. Chanticleer was so busy fighting the other rooster that he forgot to crow for the sun, but it still came up without him. This crushed Chanticleer, and he started to wonder if his crow had ever actually raised the sun before. Feeling like a fake, and because he lost his reason to crow, he left the farm, headed to find work in the big city. But without Chanticleer, the sun didn’t come up on the farm again, and a very heavy rain started.
This is where we cut to one of the live action parts of the movie, and are introduced to Edmond, a little boy who’s getting ready for bed while his mother reads him the Chanticleer story. Edmond lives on a farm of his own that’s also facing a lot of rain, as a bad storm moves in and his father and brothers run out to stack sandbags to prevent flooding, and make sure the animals are safe. He wants to be a big boy and go help his brothers, but his mother says to stay back and keep reading his story, while she goes out to help them instead, and the storm worsens. He throws open the window and calls out the famed “Chanticleer! Chanticleer!” into the rain, but a lightning bolt hits a tree near his room, and the crash throws him back in bright swirling colors.
This is where we get one of the hardest mixes of animation and live action, when a tree limb, that looks like a frightening claw, crashes through Edmond’s wall and brings with it the Grand Duke of Owls, who uses his power to transform Edmond into a little kitten, so he can eat him! Fun fact, in initial viewings the Duke’s face was deemed “too scary”, so they gave his magic a glittering quality to try to distract the younger children. I’m not sure if it made him less scary or just fancier.
As he gets turned into a kitten, the magic transforms his whole room into animation, leaving behind the world of his farm. And just as it looks like the Duke is going to eat him, a dog jumps in through the hole in the wall and bites the Duke, and they start to fight. Edmond finds a flashlight and shines it right at the Duke, knowing Owls hate the light, and the Duke screeches and flies away. Once he’s gone, we meet our first character companion, Patou the Basset Hound, and Edmond discovers that he's been turned into a kitten, even though he should be a little boy.
As the other farm animals come into the room following Patou, they lament about losing Chanticleer, and Edmond has his own lament about being turned into a kitten, and being away from his family. They decide they should help each other out, thinking that going to the city and finding Chanticleer will be the solution to everyone’s problems. As the rain waters flood into Edmond’s destroyed room, he climbs into a chest with Patou, a tough-as-nails mouse named Peepers, and an irritating Magpie named Snipes (not shown in the picture below) and they float off downstream towards the big city.
We join the Grand Duke of Owls once again back in his lair, surrounded by his minion owls. His main lookout spy, Hunch, comes back and lets him know that the group is headed towards the city to find Chanticleer, and the Duke tells him to make sure they don’t bring Chanticleer back to the farm, no matter what.
The group of farm animals takes a treacherous trip through an Aqueduct pipe that takes them straight into the city, and when they’re there, they can’t find Chanticleer anywhere. Until they realize they’ve been looking for the wrong person. Out here, Chanticleer is going by a new name, The King, and he’s everywhere, being the city's new rising star. They find him in a big performance of his new song, “Rock-A-Doodle”.
After the performance, Chanticleer goes off in a big helicopter with his producer, Pinky, a southern fox. He talks about missing the farm, and Pinky tells him to forget about that rural life. There’s also a fun catch during this scene where Chanticleer sucks on his thumb (like some other big babies who might be reading this).
We then get a couple of quick scenes that show the other animals back at the farm, who are using the last of their batteries for the flashlight to keep the circling owls away. Their batteries are close to running out though, and they’re in danger. And then we go to the Duke’s lair again, where we find out that he has a hold over Pinky as well, making sure he keeps Chanticleer employed in the city, and away from the farm of tasty animals.
We join the main 4 back in the city, as they sneak into the next Chanticleer performance. They try to get a letter to him, but it doesn’t work, and we’re taken back to Chanticleer’s perch (home) in the city, and he sings a love song to Goldie, a chorus girl Pheasant with a Betty-Boop-Babydoll voice, who was supposed to be helping with Pinky’s plan, but has started to truly fall head over heels for Chanticleer- or The King.
Thinking that Goldie might be the ticket to getting to Chanticleer, the group heads to Pinky Productions- where The King’s new movie is being shot- and Edmond goes to Goldie’s dressing room to ask her for help. Initially she’s reluctant, thinking they’ve been sent to hurt Chanticleer. She screams and reports the group to Pinky who captures them in a net. But realizing she may have done wrong, she tells Chanticleer about the letter, and he realizes it’s from his friends on the farm, who need his help.
Pinky tells Chanticleer again to forget all about them, but Goldie tells him they're trapped in Pinky’s trailer, and the 2 birds make a break for it to save them. They all steal Pinky’s Cadillac to get home and a suspenseful car chase ensues which takes them through a broken water tower and into Pinky’s helicopter from before, which Peepers pilots back towards the farm.
The group gets to the farm just in time. The flashlight has run out of batteries and the owls have the farm animals held hostage, ready to start eating. They’re able to wrestle the owls away, but Chanticleer is still very nervous that his crow won’t actually bring up the sun, and he isn’t able to do it. During the fight, Edmond is knocked unconscious by the Duke’s magic, which enrages all of the other animals, and they chant for Chanticleer to crow, to bring the sun and defeat the Duke once and for all. Finally, with the waves of emotion and rainwater washing over him, Chanticleer lets out a humungous crow, that rockets around the globe and brings the Sun to their farm, friendly and warm once again.
The light defeats all of the owls, including the Duke, who has been reduced to smaller than the size of a mouse, so he can’t eat any creatures ever again. The farm animals are safe and celebratory, until they realize that Edmond hasn’t woken up. They all surround him and in front of their eyes he transforms back into a boy, just like he said he was the whole time. All of the animals call for him to wake up, but we’re suddenly transported back into the real world, on Edmond’s farm, where his mother is the one calling to wake him up.
Once he’s awake, it’s implied (but never outright stated) that in his world a tree branch had broken into his room, the storm had raged, and he had caught some illness that left him with a fever. Everything that happened with Chanticleer and the farm animals was just a vivid dream. Thankfully though, his family is safe, he’s back to being healthy, and they’re working to rebuild the farm after the storm. We leave on a hopeful note for Edmond and his family.
But that’s not without one more quick visit to the farm, as Edmond joins the cartoon animals in another live-action/animation hybrid scene to dance in a closing rendition of the opening song “Sun Do Shine”.
Watching it now that I’m older, the story is a bit of a whirlwind, and it definitely leaves some open ended questions at the end that feel uncomfortable. Sure, from the closing song we’re supposed to infer that the animals’ farm unflooded and everything went back to normal, but we don’t get to see that. The last storyline moment we get with the animals is when they’re all sadly calling out to Edmond to wake up, who they think is dead. And that’s unsettling for sure. Critically, the film didn’t do very well when it was released in the US in 1992. It was thought of as confusing, visually rigid, and a little cheap with its attempt at special effects. (the gif I’ve included below is one of my favorite examples of those effects). It was a hard sell in its time period, being up against the other Don Bluth films I already mentioned, and some of the Disney hard hitters of that time like The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991).
But as a kid, I didn't know it was bad to the “critics”. I just knew it was fun, it was very colorful, it had great songs, and some unforgetable characters- like Goldie, who gets her happy ending with Chanticleer on the farm. Although the movie isn’t a love story, and is supposed to be about Chanticleer’s belief in himself, the parts with Chanticleer and Goldie are what I always touched down on the strongest. I read somewhere once that Americans need a love story to stay interested, which is why the American “Office” focuses so much on the Jim and Pam relationship. I think this idea can be summed up in one of the lines that stuck out the most to me as I was watching it back, spoken by Peepers, the mouse. While they were watching Chanticleer and Goldie sing together on the floating couch she said, “Oh, isn’t it romantic? When Roosters fall in love they lose all reason.”