Rock & Rule

Nelvana (1973)

Rock & Rule is an acclaimed, animated rock & roll feature about an aging superstar, Mok, who plots to raise a demon and unleash its powers for his own diabolical ends. Mok’s plan to release the demon involves a search, a kidnapping, a singer named Angel, and a trip to the post-apocalyptic metropolis known as Nuke York. The action takes off when Angel’s band, led by Omar, attempts a daring rescue. Rock & Rule features original music by Cheap Trick, Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop as well as a special appearance by Earth, Wind and Fire.

Rock & Rule is a 1983 Canadian animated musical science fiction fantasy film from the animated-film company Nelvana, and it was the animation studio’s first ever feature film. Rock & Rule was produced and directed by Michael Hirsh, Patrick Loubert, and Clive A. Smith with John Halfpenny, Patrick Loubert, and Peter Sauder at the helm of its screenplay. The film also features the voices of Don Francks, Greg Salata, and Susan Roman.

Centering upon rock and roll music, Rock & Rule includes songs by Cheap Trick, Chris Stein and Debbie Harry of the pop group Blondie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Earth, Wind & Fire. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States populated by mutant humanoid animals. Though initially unsuccessful at the box office, the movie has gone on to become a cult classic.

Rock & Rule was a heavily derived spinoff of Nelvana’s earlier TV special from 1978, The Devil and Daniel Mouse. United Artists was to distribute the movie, but when they were purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the new management team had no interest in it. As a result, it was never released in North America except for a limited release in Boston, Massachusetts. It received minor attention in Germany, where it was screened at a film festival. It was funded in part by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which had obtained the Canadian TV rights. A hard-to-find VHS was released at that time, followed by a laserdisc release. The film developed a cult following from repeated airings on HBO and Showtime and the circulation of bootleg VHS copies at comic book conventions booths (with Ralph Bakshi incorrectly named as director). In 2005, Unearthed Films released a special two-disc edition DVD of the film.

Rock & Rule was Nelvana’s first animated feature film, and it was also the first Canadian animated feature to be produced in English. Le Village enchanté, a 1956 production from Quebec, was the country’s first overall. The film spent several years in production and underwent many changes from the original concept, which was titled Drats! and aimed for children. The cost of production, $8 million in studio resources, nearly put Nelvana out of business. Over 300 animators worked on the film.

The animation was of unusually high quality for the era, and the special effects were mostly photographic techniques, as computer graphics were in their infancy. Computers were used to generate only a few images in the film.

Prior to its completion, Rock & Rule was picked up by U.S. film studio MGM/UA in April 1982. However, they did not care about the animated feature and only gave it an extremely small limited release in theaters. Due to some scenes involving adult themes such as sexuality and profanity, the film was uniquely marketed.

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