South African literary classic "Jock of the Bushveld" has been turned into the country’s first 3D animation film and features the voices of global celebrities like Bryan Adams and Desmond Tutu.
The film, which opened pm Friday in southern Africa, is based on the 1907 bestseller by Percy Fitzpatrick who details his true-life bush adventures during the 1880s gold rush with his pup Jock, who became a national icon.
"Everyone loves dogs, it’s an inspiring story," said director Duncan MacNeillie.
The book traces Jock’s transformation from a sickly Staffordshire Bull Terrier pup to a brave companion in the wildlife-rich Eastern Transvaal, now called Mpumalanga.
MacNeillie had brought Jock to the big screen with a 1986 movie that made a splash in South Africa but ignored everywhere else due to the cultural boycott of the prevailing apartheid regime.
More than two decades later, he has resurrected the story as feature-length cartoon complete with musical score and 3D technology to capture the vibrant South African bush, and to appeal to children around the world.
"It’s still based from the classic," he said. "It’s from the dog’s point of view… There is a happy ending and good inspiration."
The film drew top names with the narrator "Fitz" voiced by Donald Sutherland, Oscar-winner Helen Hunt playing Jock’s mother, and South Africa’s "white Zulu" singer Johnny Clegg and English lyricist Tim Rice working on the music.
Global peace icon Tutu voices a wise African "Tata," which means "father" in South Africa, and his involvement led to Canadian rocker Adams’ signing up to play the brown-coated, white-socked lead.
"I went down to Cape Town to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has a small voice segment in the film," said MacNeillie.
"When I got there, there was Bryan Adams sitting in Tutu’s home having tea."
The film tells the story through the eyes of Jock, who remains a puppy through to the end, sparing him the book’s harshest knocks: he does not go hunting with his owner, does not lose his hearing after a kick from a kudu, and does not die at the end.
Instead, a French girlfriend and a best friend rooster voiced by sitcom Cheers star Ted Danson have been added, and Jock’s escapades even involve an unlikely disco with dancing warthogs and baboons in an abandoned mine.
The film took five years to create by a small team in Johannesburg.
"We did not want it to be just a prettified, generic outdoor African setting. We were very careful not to make it look like Disney’s The Lion King," said MacNeillie, who himself lives in the region where the film is set.
But the producers have clearly borrowed a page from Disney’s marketing techniques, with a raft of merchandising already flooding South African stores, which should help the film turn a profit.
Marketing manager Andy Rice said the movie was "an opportunity to bring South Africa on the 3D map."
"It’s all about courage, faith, self-confidence, believing in oneself," he said.
While the budget is confidential, a spokeswoman estimated it to be roughly 10 percent of a typical animated production.
The film has been made for export and has been sold to a Hollywood-based marketing and distribution and when asked the desired target, MacNeillie simply summed up: "The world!"