Movie review – Jock loses its African spirit

2011-07-29 09:21

Film: Jock of the Bushveld (Ster-Kinekor)
Director: Duncan MacNeillie
Featuring: Bryan Adams, Helen Hunt, Donald Sutherland, Ted ­Danson, Sylvaine Strike and ­Desmond Tutu
Rating: 5/10

All South Africans, and a good many non-South ­Africans worldwide, love Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s classic Jock of the Bushveld, a tale of courage, friendship, adventure and triumph.

I haven’t read it for a good ­couple of decades, but I do ­remember the demise of the ­fearless Jock at the end, which is why I was surprised to find him still panting as the credits rolled after the screening of this 3-D ­animated version.

Endlessly billed as South Africa’s first home-grown 3-D film, which may be enough to bring in a first wave of the curious, but word of mouth will soon stem the tide. ­

Unfortunately, if you are making animated feature films anywhere in the world, the benchmark is Disney and Pixar.

If you deliver anything less, your audience will be disappointed, home-grown or not.

While the live action version in the 1980s starring the late Jonathan Rands is one I remember well and enjoyed, this animated version isn’t in the same league.

Weirdly enough though, it is made by the same director – only this time, obviously his focus is on selling it to knee-high cinema-goers worldwide.

So the story of a man and his dog becomes the story of a dog ­interacting with an increasingly weird array of creatures – from the bad-tempered baboon to the racing warthogs and a French ­poodle injected into the narrative to create a love interest.

This search for international audiences accounts for the peculiar mix of nationalities voicing the characters and the blandness of the setting.

Most bizarre of all is Canadian pop star Bryan Adams voicing Jock, stripping the Staffordshire terrier of all his Africanness.

Then there’s Helen Hunt voicing his ill-fated mother, Jess, and Ted Danson as Pezulu, the rooster who takes the young Jock under his wing.

The South African voices are kept to a minimum, with the most noteworthy being Desmond Tutu as the wise Baba, and Theo Landey gets to voice the young Fitz, who is possibly the ugliest ­animated character I’ve ever seen.

Shame.

I was predisposed to enjoy this film because it is a well-loved classic made with local talent, and I tried valiantly to do so.

In the end though, I was vanquished by its ­attempt to universalise a distinctly African story, which included a cringe-worthy moment when Basil the performing monkey breaks ­into a rap song!

In fact, the whole soundtrack paled when compared to Johnny Clegg’s Spirit of the Great Heart, which was written for the live-action Rands’ version.


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