By Daniele Foti-Cuzzola
Boxing Day is the biggest day at the Australian box office, when studios release their biggest titles to cash in on the holidays.
This year, Brad Pitt in Allied will face off against singing animals in Sing, a loved-up Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in Oscar frontrunner, La La Land, and a Disney Princess in Moana.
But the biggest underdog at this year’s holiday box office is the story of a dog itself: Red Dog: True Blue. Directed by Kriv Stenders, True Blue is a prequel to the 2011 hit Red Dog and gives audiences a rare chance to see a WA story on the big screen.
Set in Perth in 2011, a workaholic father, Mick (Jason Isaacs) reluctantly takes his children to watch Red Dog and realises that the titular dog that inspired the film was originally his pet dog Blue. After a heart-to-heart with his son, Mick tells him the story via flashback of his extraordinary friendship with his first mate, Blue.
After his father dies and his mother suffers a breakdown, a young Mick (Levi Miller) is sent off to a remote farm in rural WA, to go and live with his grandfather (Bryan Brown). Mick doesn’t fit in in the country but that changes when he befriends a lost canine, who he affectionately names Blue. The two become best friends, but when Mick’s beautiful tutor, Betty (Hanna Mangan Lawrence), comes to town, Mick is instantly smitten.
In order to win her heart, he steals a sacred rock that awakens an Indigenous spirit and chaos ensues. It’s up to Mick and Blue to save the town and restore the rock before it’s too late.
True Blue is a must see for any West Australian. It’s not every day we get to see our city skyline on the big screen. From the hustle and bustle of the Perth CBD to the unique red dirt tracks and sweeping shots of the vast country landscape, director Senders truly highlights Western Australia’s beauty and charm in every frame.
The film references some of Western Australia’s most iconic figures including a hilarious cameo from John Jarratt as mining magnate Lang Hancock, who delivers one of the film’s best performances and one of its best lines, which is an amusing reference to his daughter Gina. Miller is excellent as young Mick and the bond between him and his canine friend is believable. But the real star of the film is the four-legged lead, Phoenix, who took over the role from the original star, Koko, who passed away in 2012.
While the cinematography and actors deliver, the story feels rather clunky, particularly when Mick is emotional while watching the original film. The scene feels like a self-indulgent product placement that reinforces how great the original was. While the scene works after watching the entire film, it definitely takes you out of the film and would ruin any cohesion in watching the two movies back to back.
Despite being a family film, Red Dog had some profound moments, but the prequel is skewered to a much younger demographic. The film is rather anti-climactic. Mick’s crush on his tutor is innocent and amusing, but takes up much more screen time than necessary and doesn’t work as the catalyst for the film’s climax. Considering he is too young for her and that she is dating the older Stemple (Thomas Cocquerel) makes the climax feel redundant and there is no reason for us to root for Mick and his endeavours.
While the story falls short, True Blue offers a rare opportunity to see a local story and our beautiful state on the big screen. The four-legged lead will captivate children of all ages, but the plot may leave older viewers wanting more.