How many big-budget rock and roll movies were made by Canadian animators in the early 1980s? How many of them featured at least one cast member from SCTV, the voice-over work of journeyman Don Francks, and a song by Cheap Trick? Well, at least two.
Heavy Metal is the quintessential animated science-fiction rock film; a attention-deficit-friendly collection of intergalactic vignettes brimming with hard rock (Blue Oyster Cult, Grand Funk Railroad) and familiar funnymen (Eugene Levy, John Candy).
Rock & Rule, which was released two years later in 1983, traded Stevie Nicks and Sammy Hagar's sun-bleached smiles for Debbie Harry and Lou Reed's Lower East Side sleaze, set in a Blade Runner-esque post-nuclear cityscape, inhabited by wet-nosed mutants equipped with electric guitars and expertly blow-dried hair. And after 25 years (and then some) Lou, Debbie, Iggy Pop and Cheap Trick are finally released on Blu-Ray by Unearthed this week. Trailer and more inside.
Despite its bleak setting Rock & Rule was the more family-friendly film of the two. Its plotline and animation style forms a strange link between Fritz the Cat and Thundercats–boobs but no nipple, drugs but no needles. The plot revolves around a four-piece rock band whose songs are provided by both Cheap Trick and Blondie.
Angel, the confident heroine of the story, is kidnapped by Mok, an aging rock superstar resembling Mick Jagger, circa 2065. She is kidnapped because her voice has the ability to summon a rather cumbersome fire demon with a penchant for Debbie Harry and glowing pentagrams. The rest of the band set out for Nuke York to rescue her with a little participation from Iggy Pop and Catherine O'Hara, the Jane Curtin of Canada.
Most of the songs composed for the film are kind of forgettable; tossed-off tracks from middle-aged downtowners, restless and a little too hungry for work. Cheap Trick kick it off with a anthemic bang and Debbie Harry has a few good ballads. Lou Reed's main contribution is a driving monotone rocker complete with Brill Building girls “sha-la-la”ing behind him but the standout track, oddly enough, is Earth, Wind, & Fire's funky club jam “Dance, Dance, Dance.” It's a mixed bag of rock songs that was at least worthy of an official soundtrack album. Alas, funds dried up long before that point.
For all the work that went into the film ($2 million a year in studio costs over four years) it never saw wide release in North America. By the time they were ready for distribution all of their studio champions had moved on to other jobs and it ended up shelved for over twenty years; surfacing only as fill-in material for HBO and Showtime in the '80s and circulating on bootleg VHS tapes often incorrectly crediting Ralph Bakshi as the director. (It was Clive A. Smith.)
It wasn't until 2005 that the film was granted a home video release. This week it is being released on Blu-Ray in a special 25th anniversary edition–two years too late. Still: definitely one of the top two barely released Canadian rock and roll cartoons from the 1980s.