Jock of the Bushveld is a South African story by Sir James Percy Fitzpatrick. Written and published in 1907, it wasn't long before the tales of Jock and his master became a bestseller and South African classic, now translated into Afrikaans, Dutch, French, Xhosa and Zulu. In 1986, Jock of the Bushveld was adapted to film starring Jonathan Rands as Percy Fitzpatrick with music by Johnny Clegg. The adaptation didn't fare well with American audiences and was later re-released with a happier ending. Now just over a century since the novel was first published, Jock of the Bushveld has been adapted into a 3D animated feature.
The animated film, written and directed by Duncan McNeillie, boasts a talented voice cast including: Donald Sutherland, Helen Hunt, Ted Danson, Mandy Patinkin, William Baldwin, Michael Richards with Bryan Adams as Jock and a special cameo from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The ensemble is impressive for any film, bringing experience from all corners of Hollywood and giving the animation instant credibility.
Donald Sutherland narrates as an older Percy Fitzpatrick, allowing Jock to take centre stage as voiced by Bryan Adams, who also composed the main theme for the film. This rendition of the South African classic takes the story of a man and his dog and relegates the master to a supporting role, on screen as a supporting character and as an omniscient narrator. By splitting Fitzpatrick as character and storyteller, the film-makers have attempted to vacate the lead human character in favour of Jock.
While this decision echoes Fitzpatrick's original intention for Jock's adventures to make great bedside stories, it's no White Fang. The substitution affects the story's central dynamic between man and man's best friend. Without this pivotal relationship, there's no point of identification for the audience. The Percy Fitzpatrick character is a surrogate, Donald Sutherland's interjections are welcome, but there's no real connection between Fitzpatrick and Jock.
The film has also been cleaned up, much like the happier version, catering for an even younger demographic. Fitzpatrick doesn't save Jock from drowning and it's more a case of going through the motions as the young pup grows up... with some pretty strange additions. Instead, the film puts more focus on the animal kingdom in Jock of the Bushveld, giving apes, monkeys and wart hogs a life and voice of their own.
Jock's experiences just don't make sense without his master to relay the events. Duncan MacNeillie and Jim Cox are credited with writing the screenplay based on Sir James Percy Fitzpatrick's classic, but it's inconsistent with a soft brand of comedy. The flip side of Jock of the Bushveld is a very different world, one that seems to rely on a different set of rules, which aren't clear and consistent.
While the story is set in an age when there wasn't really such a thing as a South African accent, the choice to play Jock with an American accent is just as jarring as Kevin Costner's accent in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The hotchpotch of foreign accents may give the film more international appeal, but loses a bit of its South African identity in the process.
The 3D animation is okay, but it's not what film-goers have come to expect with Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar continually readjusting the standard. In fact, it actually feels half-baked. The design of Percy Fitzpatrick is indistinct and without enough attention to environmental detail (i.e. none of the characters leave footprints at all) it looks like a job half done. With such a sterling voice cast, you can't help but feel they could've devoted more of the budget to the animation.
The animation is disappointing for its TV quality and even the movie trailer seemed a bit slapdash. Unfortunately, this taints the rest of the production, which looks great on paper - but doesn't live up to expectations. Perhaps this is where the new Jock of the Bushveld went wrong. The idea has potential, but conceptual flaws and an attempt to broaden its audience have ultimately undone the whole project - making it fairly entertaining for the little ones - but too thin for older fans of the novel.
The 3D animated feature is a husk of the heartwarming, coming-of-age adventure story between a man and his faithful companion that made it famous. Instead one gets the impression that this film relies too heavily on marketing, armed with big names, spirited characters, a famous title and not enough passion. Jock of the Bushveld 3D is cute and will have more sway with children, but fails to capture the untamed spirit of Africa, making it a sluggish and tawdry affair for the less forgiving. Overall, an encouraging albeit flawed South African animation adventure.
The bottom line: Stunted.