In 2011, Red Dog was released. On the outside, it was a nice true story about a legendary dog who had roamed the Pilbara and made many friends, becoming a facet of the local folklore. But inside, it was a wonderful exploration of life in the outback, and the Aussie spirit of mateship and camaraderie that exists in the most remote pockets of our country. And due to that, it became one of the greatest Aussie films ever made. I don’t know if it is the greatest – I don’t know what the greatest Australian film is, but if you were debating it, Red Dog should definitely be in the conversation.
It’s this level of expectation that we now place on this new prequel, Red Dog: True Blue. Does the new entry about the intrepid Pilbara wanderer reach the heights set by its predecessor? Or is this an unlikely cash grab from Screen Australia, a group that hasn’t even seen cash for a few decades?
The answer, as it were, is somewhere in between. It’s an unnecessary movie that will keep you entertained for a little while, but fails to live up to the original.
The prequel to Red Dog is mostly the story of Mick, a young boy. Following the death of his father and the admittance of his mother into a mental institution, Mick is sent from the comforts of city life to go and live on the other side of the country on his grandfather’s homestead, just south of Dampier in Western Australia. While not the outdoors type, Mick finds a friend in a puppy that washes into the property following a cyclone. Naming the puppy “Blue” (though an entire town would later call him “Red”), Mick starts to grow up and learn to live in the rough and lonely landscape of the Pilbara with his dog by his side, while entering puberty and developing feelings for the young tutor, Betty, that his grandfather hired.
The cast is fine for what they need to do. A number of veteran Australian actors lent their talents to this film, including Bryan Brown, Justine Clark and John Jarratt, who complemented the young child actor Levi Miller (Pan) and the dog itself. Jason Isaacs even comes down to join the cast (presumably they ran out of Australian actors and Lucius Malfoy was the nearest thing they could find).
Yep, that’s Australian enough.
The problem with the film is that it too often forgets to be a Red Dog movie. When the famous kelpie is on screen, the film comes close to capturing the magic that the original film had. But they ignore the character far too often, and the supporting cast – mostly made up of stockmen and homestead staff, lack the charm or the fleshed out characterization of the town in Red Dog. They are merely 1-dimensional cut outs, despite the best efforts of the actors.
The film also takes a lot of its plot points from the Indigenous dreamtime, where a number of misfortunes are said to be the result of a magic stone that houses the soul of a long dead Indigenous outlaw. Now, I know that the Dreamtime is a very interesting concept, and it is one that I would like to see portrayed in film in a respectful manner one day. But here it feels forced in, and so tonally distant from the original film that it just doesn’t work. It’s jarring.
One last complaint is that, in an effort to feel like the original movie, the story is again told in flashback form. In the original, the story is told by the townsfolk of Dampier as they sit in the bar and celebrate the life of Red. Here, the grown up Mick tells his son the story, after they’d just been to the cinema… to see Red Dog. Again, very jarring, and by having the original movie appear in this movie, as a movie, is a little bit unusual and off-putting. If anything, it felt a little bit like an appendix to the first movie, rather than a true follow up, as a result.
Of course, like the original, Red Dog: True Blue does benefit from a killer soundtrack, featuring a number of classic Aussie tracks and other hits from the early 70’s, as well as a closing montage to one of my favourite songs, “End of the Line” by the Traveling Wilburys.
And, whenever the dog is the center of the story, it’s impossible to dislike this film at all. Red, or Blue, or whichever colour we are meant to call him now, is a classic and loveable film character and even for the many flaws that this film has (and there are many) it’s always worth popping in and saying G’day to Red.
No! Not that Red Dog!
3.2/5 – A fun family film that will keep you entertained, but certainly not without its flaws and nowhere near as great as the first film.