The film takes place in the 1950s, where an anthropomorphic rooster named Chanticleer (whose special crow literally causes the sun to rise every morning) left the farm to become a rock star in the city. Without him, rain continues to pour non-stop, causing a massive flood all over the country. The evil Grand Duke of Owls and his birds-of-prey henchmen take over in the darkness. Chanticleer's barnyard friends, along with Edmond, a young human boy who had been transformed into a kitten by the Duke, take off on a mission to get Chanticleer to bring back the sun and save the country.
Chanticleer is a rooster, whose job is to wake the sun up every morning, but the Grand Duke of Owls, who hates sunshine, sabotages him to make it look like the sun comes up on its own without Chanticleer's crow. Detested by the farm animals as a result, he leaves the farm to look for work in the city. Afterward, perpetual darkness and rainfall threaten the farm with flooding.
Turning out to be a story read to Edmond, it seems that the flooding has found his family, and when his mother goes to help them stop it, he calls out to Chanticleer and is heard by the Grand Duke himself, who takes a dislike to Edmond's attempts to foil his plans. He turns him into a kitten to devour him, but he is saved at the last second by Patou, a bloodhound who struggles to learn on how to tie the knots on his shoes, from Chanticleer's farm. He is accompanied by Snipes, a claustrophobic magpie and Peepers, an intellectual field mouse, as well as several animals from the farm, hoping to find Chanticleer and apologize to him for their behavior. Edmond accompanies Patou, Snipes and Peepers to the city, while the rest of the animals remain at Edmond's house. En route, they are attacked by Hunch, the Duke's diminutive nephew, assigned by him to stop Edmond and the others from finding Chanticleer. They narrowly escape and enter the city.
Chanticleer has risen to fame in the city, thanks to his manager Pinky Fox, employed by the Duke to keep the rooster in the city. At a show featuring an Elvis-type theme, he is introduced to Goldie Pheasant as a distraction in case Chanticleer's friends come to find him. Goldie soon grows genuinely attracted to Chanticleer, and realizes Pinky's true intentions when he captures Edmond and the others trying to get a letter to Chanticleer.
Meanwhile, the Duke and his party stalk the farm animals at Edmond's house, who continually use a flashlight to drive them off as long as the batteries hold out. Realizing that she is in love with him, Goldie confesses to Chanticleer that his friends had come to see him, and Pinky blackmails Chanticleer to attend his show or never see his friends again. Chanticleer goes on with the show, Hunch inadvertently frees Edmond and the others, and they help Chanticleer and Goldie make a grand escape in a helicopter, foiling Pinky's plans and destroying his Cadillac at the same time. They return to the farm.
After their batteries run out, the denizens of the farm are nearly made a meal of by the Duke and his minions when they are driven off by the helicopter's spotlight. Chanticleer confronts the Duke, but realizes he has forgotten how to crow. The Duke taunts him and tries to drown him, but Edmond refuses to lose hope and starts chanting Chanticleer's name in hopes to revive his spirit. The Duke grows tired of this and magically strangles Edmond to his assumed death. Patou starts to chant Chanticleer's name, followed by everyone else, and the Duke transforms himself into a massive, violent tornado to silence them. Chanticleer finally remembers how to crow, and begins to sing for the sun to emerge; his cries are heard and the sun rises, driving the Duke's minions away and shrinking him to a very minuscule size. Hunch barely recognizes his uncle, but uses this to exact revenge by chasing him with a fly swatter.
Edmond transforms back into his human form in front of the others, who realize he was telling the truth about being a little boy. As Peepers tries to wake him, he does so in his own room, with his mother watching over him after an accident where a tree collapsed into his room. The sun is shining outside and the floods have ended, but his family does not believe him about his adventures and he is told to get his rest. He picks up Chanticleer's book and thanks him for coming back, before he is magically transported into Chanticleer's world, where he witnesses the rooster singing to make the sun shine.Live actors
Toby Scott Ganger as Edmond
Dee Wallace as Dory, Edmond's mother
Stan Ivar as Frank, Edmond's father
Christian Hoff as Scott, one of Edmond's older brothers
Jason Marin as Mark, one of Edmond's older brothers
Toby Scott Ganger as Edmond
Glen Campbell as Chanticleer
Phil Harris as Patou
Christopher Plummer as the Grand Duke of Owls
Ellen Greene as Goldie
Eddie Deezen as Snipes
Sandy Duncan as Peepers
Charles Nelson Reilly as Hunch
Sorrell Booke as Pinky
Will Ryan as Stuey
Plans for an animated version of the Chanticleer tale dated as far back as the early years of the Walt Disney Studios, where several of its artists were interested in combining elements of the story with those about an anthropomorphic fox named Reynard. Though character designs by Marc Davis survive, Walt Disney personally rejected the pitch, and the film was never put into production or animation tests. In the late 1980s, as a response to the success of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the proposal was revised by a former Disney animator, Don Bluth, who wanted to tell the rooster's story through live action and animation. Originally, the story's first and last scenes were to be shot in black and white, similar to 1939's The Wizard of Oz. The film's opening, which took place at a farm, had Edmond's mother reading the tale of Chanticleer to him. Victor French from Get Smart and Highway to Heaven was set to direct these scenes, but terminal lung cancer forced him out of production. Bluth, who had never done anything in this field, took over from this point. However, very little of this footage made it in the final cut.
The live-action footage was filmed in 1990 at MGM Studios in Hollywood, California. When the live-action footage was finished during production, Goldcrest Films recruited Sullivan Bluth Studios to animate the rest of the film. Animation took place in both Burbank, California and Dublin, Ireland. Chanticleer's girlfriend, Goldie the Pheasant, was designed to have attributes similar to Roger Rabbit's girlfriend, Jessica Rabbit (as seen in the original trailer). In response to reactions from mothers during test screenings of her scenes, Goldcrest requested that Sullivan Bluth reanimate the scenes by covering her chest with feathers as cel overlays, or simply painting her cleavage out.
The live-action and animation sequences were filmed in two separate aspect ratios. The animation was shot on an open-matte full-screen negative, meaning the top and bottom of the image was cropped to fit the theatre screen. However, the live-action scenes, including all animated elements, were shot in hard-matted widescreen. When viewed in full-screen, all the animated sequences (except for parts of the finale) can be seen in full, but the live-action segments lose information on the sides.
To avoid a potential PG rating, Bluth edited out the showing of the Duke's "skunk pie" (the pie is not seen in full view in the final version), the animators had to replace Chanticleer's glass of wine with a transparent cup of soda in the "Kiss and Coo" sequence and had to draw colored effects into the Grand Duke's breath to make him less scary for young audiences. Test audiences also felt confused by the storytelling so the filmmakers decided to include narration told by the dog character, Patou, voiced by Phil Harris. The crew, because of these changes, had to work overtime to finish the film by Thanksgiving 1990.
The soundtrack for Rock-a-Doodle was composed by Robert Folk and performed by the Irish Film Orchestra, with songs written and produced by T.J. Kuenster, one of the songwriters for All Dogs Go to Heaven. Background vocals on "We Hate the Sun", "Tweedle Te Dee" and "The Owls' Picnic" were all sung by a triple-tracked Kuenster himself. The tracks "Sun Do Shine", "Come Back to You", "Rock-a-Doodle", "Treasure Hunting Fever", "Sink or Swim," "Kiss 'n Coo", "Back to the Country" and "Tyin' Your Shoes" contained background vocals by The Jordanaires, who were also known for backing up Elvis.
- "Sun Do Shine" - Glen Campbell
- "We Hate the Sun" - Christopher Plummer
- "Come Back to You" - Campbell
- "Rock-a-Doodle" - Campbell
- "Bouncers Theme Song" - The Don Bluth Players
- "Tweedle Te Dee" - Plummer
- "Treasure Hunting Fever" - Campbell
- "Sink or Swim" - Ellen Greene
- "Kiss 'n Coo" - Campbell and Greene
- "Back to the Country" - Campbell
- "The Owls' Picnic" - Plummer
- "Tyin' Your Shoes" - Phil Harris
- "Sun Do Shine" (Reprise) - Campbell
Rock-a-Doodle was originally going to be released by MGM-Pathé Communications Co., but studio partnership was facing financial difficulties, so Bluth rescheduled Rock-a-Doodle for release around Thanksgiving 1991 and selected The Samuel Goldwyn Company as the film's distributor. However, that date was further moved to April 1992 to avoid competition with Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Feature Animation's Beauty and the Beast, as well as Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment's An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, a sequel to An American Tail, in which Bluth himself was not involved.
Rock-a-Doodle was the first feature-length family live-action/animated film since 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but unlike the live-action characters from that film sharing the screen with animated characters like Roger Rabbit, Edmond is the only live-action character to share the screen with the animated farm animals; this was at the beginning, where the Grand Duke would have to answer Edmond before being turned into an animated cat, and at the end, where Chanticleer is singing a reprise of Sun Do Shine like he does at the beginning. Bluth chose this direction because he was influenced by Roger Rabbit.
It took $11,657,385 at the US box office after an opening weekend gross of $2,603,286, which forced Bluth's studio into liquidation half a year after its release. Moreover, a Hong Kong company, Media Assets, purchased Bluth's next three films, Thumbelina, A Troll in Central Park and The Pebble and the Penguin. None of these did any better than Rock-a-Doodle, commercially or critically. All of them preceded 1997's Anastasia, his comeback hit.
The film was panned by critics and maintains a Rotten Tomatoes "rotten" rating of 25% based on 12 reviews, with an average of 4/10.
The staff of Halliwell's Film Guide commended its "excellent animation", but complained of the "poor and confusing narrative" that "rendered [it] pointless". In a positive review, the Washington Post wrote "The young ones, who certainly don't give a sticky-fingered hoot about animation production values, are likely to have a good time with this. There are many passing delights. Composer T. J. Kuenster has some funny songs. They're not Ashman and Menken (The Little Mermaid songwriting team), but they're sprightly. The best is probably a Bach-like fugue number, in which the Grand Duke and his owlish goons sing "Never Let Him Crow" around a church organ. But in a movie like this, it ain't over till the rooster sings."
Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four. In his review, he gave mild praise to the songs and the animation and said the film may entertain younger audiences, but said the film "doesn't feel as bright as it should." He also called the live-action segments unnecessary.
In 2011, Total Film ranked it as 24th among the 50 worst children's films ever made.
Rock-a-Doodle was first released on VHS and LaserDisc on 18 August 1992, as well as on DVD on 20 July 1999 by HBO Video. A second edition was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on November 8, 2005. In 2010, the film was released along with The Pebble and the Penguin as a double-sided DVD. A third edition on Olive Films on Blu-ray in October 31, 2017.
A book adaptation, by Bluth and Chip Lovitt, was published by Troll Communications LLC (ISBN 0-8167-2475-X).