Few people dispute that Red Dog was a great yarn, but it was also a huge surprise. Home-grown family movies are a rare breed, so in these sequel-happy times, another catch-up with Australia’s most famous canine was always on the cards. Unfortunately, as is commonly the case with box office-driven sequels, director Kriv Stenders’s Red Dog: True Blue reminds us why they’re usually a bad idea.
We know how Red’s life ends by now, but what most don’t know is that he was originally named Blue. How does Perth businessman Michael (Jason Isaacs) know? Because the beginning of this film sees him taking his kids to a screening of Red Dog (very meta) and being moved to tears by a strangely familiar face. As he later recalls to his son, Red was once Michael’s own dog when family circumstances dictated that 11-year-old Mick (Levi Miller) move to his grandfather’s (Bryan Brown) station in the Pilbara. It was a lonely time in a strange place for a young city kid, but with Blue at his side and a wide cast of characters, the wide expanse had more in store than dust and things that bite.
A lot of people in the Australian film industry would really like to see this film replicate the success of its predecessor, and there’s a lot of goodwill around it. Sadly this only makes its flaws all the more disappointing.
The immediate impressions of True Blue don’t set it on a good path. Firstly, the decision to have a normally British Jason Isaacs put on an Australian accent, even if it’s a good accent, seems an odd choice. Secondly, the overt recognition of the first movie’s success is disconcerting and self-congratulatory. That the creators would subvert the legend of Red Dog by inserting themselves into the story seems like lazy storytelling. And while it is intended to be a fondly felt reference, the result is tacky in the same way Baz Luhrmann’s Australia was – as if this film is attempting to sell the Australian film industry while neglecting to develop the story itself.
The plot has its moments but ultimately feels aimless. With scenes flitting between domestic slapstick, pointless horse chases and dreamtime-inspired adventure with such irregularity, it’s hard to discern a cohesive plot apart from the loose coming-of-age tale for Levi Miller’s Mick. As a result, it’s an overly confected atmosphere that sets the tone for a clumsy finale.
On the plus side, the scenery is magnificent and importantly Miller’s boundless enthusiasm and great chemistry with the dog keep things light. Sadly he and his supporting cast don’t have much help from Daniel Taplitz’s script, which focuses more on exposition than on wit or subtlety. Perhaps that is understandable with a younger age bracket, but it is telling that the strongest presence in this unnecessary prequel is the titular character in a speechless role. Red – or Blue, depending on which movie you prefer – is the main attraction and is probably reason enough to take the kids along.
Red Dog: True Blue is in cinemas 26th December through Roadshow Films.