By Jack Dignan
The first Red Dog movie, released back in 2011, is considered by many to be a modern Australian classic. It made big money here in Australia, even getting mostly positive reviews. I like the film. It’s a sweet and emotional true story of an iconic Australian dog. A fictitious prequel that creates the story of Red Dog’s origins seemed like a strange idea, but I was willing to give it a go. I was hoping for the best. I had a little faith in it, especially since it reunites the creative team of the original movie. Alas, Red Dog: True Blue is a disappointing and unneeded story that’s not worth checking out.
The film opens in 2011, with a father named Michael (Jason Isaacs) taking his sons to see the original Red Dog. While disinterested at first, when the movie starts, something hits him. It hits him hard, stirring up emotions deep inside. When he gets home, he explains to his kids that Red Dog was, many years back, his dog. He was the dog’s first owner, and from here, we watch as Red Dog’s origins play out on screen, Michael now played by the young Levi Miller. He’s sent off to live in the outback with his grandpa (Bryan Brown), getting tutored by a young woman named Betty (Hanna Mangan Lawrence), and throughout, we watch as he bonds with Red Dog and forms his first real friendship.
First thing’s first, Red Dog himself is just as adorable and loveable as ever. He’s a cheeky, outdoorsy dog who settles for nothing but the best, getting a priority over everyone. You want to sit on the couch? You’re just going to have to hope that Red Dog hasn’t claimed the couch first. He’s a gorgeous dog, having fun and loving life, and you can really feel the bond he has with Michael. The two have excellent chemistry, and they’re able to craft emotion when emotion is needed, which is mostly in the film’s final moments.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot else to love when it comes to this movie. It has a few fun moments, mostly thanks to Red Dog (or Blue, as he’s called in this movie). The entire film is 90 minutes of disconnected, unrelated character beats, none of which have any flow. Some of them can be a lot of fun, whereas others drag out the pace drastically. It feels more like an extended montage than an actual movie, with very little characterization and a plot that’s completely non-existent. It has some good ideas, but the filmmakers aren’t able to get it to work as a cohesive, linear movie.
The screenplay by Daniel Taplitz is just straight up awful. Not only is he unable to form any sort of plot, but also on top of that, the dialogue ranges from mildly okay to unbearably bad. It’s corny and full of exposition, never feeling authentic or believable. There are moments where he attempts to raise certain plot points through dialogue-heavy scenes, but then never touches any of them ever again. When a lot of the scenes finished up, I felt almost as if I’d wasted my time watching them. I was constantly begging for them to focus things back up on Red Dog.
While a lot of the actors in this movie are actually decent actors, none of them were good enough to salvage the dialogue, and henceforth their performances do feel wooden from time to time. Australian actor Levi Miller was fine in last year’s Pan, but his performance there is amazing in comparison to what it is in Red Dog: True Blue. He certainly tries, and the third act does manage to get a pretty good performance out of him, but everything else is very, very forced. There’s a few scenes involving a mysterious rock in a cave, and the acting and writing in these scenes were truly horrendous.
Even just looking at the filmmaking craft on display, ignoring the performances and writing, it’s not that good. The cinematography is average at best, and the film doesn’t know what sort of style it wants to go for. It tries to be fast and stylized at times, but then just a regular movie at others, and the two don’t work well together. The colour pallet is vibrant and alive, which I really dug, but it’s also wildly inconsistent. There are countless scenes that need a new colour grade, as the shots don’t even look as though they’re in the same location. It’s baffling how nobody was able to fix it, as it does look extremely awful at times.
To sum up, Red Dog: True Blue is an unnecessary and uninteresting prequel to an iconic Australian family movie. It’s a bland and forgettable movie, the performances and writing both below average. I’ve heard mumblings of a third movie. If this is to be the case, I seriously hope it doesn’t go ahead. There’s no more story that needs to be told, fictitious or not.