In 2011, the film RED DOG was released in Australia to good reviews and box office success. It told of an ownerless dog, a kelpie cross, who was beloved by the people of Western Australia’s Pilbara region. Based on the true story of a dog who was known to wander vast distances in the 1970s, Red Dog became something of a legend. Pilbara dwellers and travellers would try to piece together where Red Dog had come from and where he journeyed. This history with gaps is part of the fascination that Western Australians have had with the tale. There is a statue in his memory in the town of Dampier and several books have been published covering different aspects of Red Dog’s story. The first film is based on a book by English author Louis de Berniere.
It’s five years later, and we are gifted with a prequel called RED DOG: TRUE BLUE. In it we discover the origins of the intrepid canine. We meet Red as a pup being rescued after a flash flood. His first owner is Mick, a city boy who has recently arrived on his grandfather’s (Bryan Brown) cattle station in the Pilbara. Both puppy Red and Mick are strays who bond through mutual need. He calls the pup Blue.
Mick and Red’s adventures are varied. They face wild animals, natural disasters and supernatural powers. Mick is still a kid, but he also deals with a family tragedy and first love. This eventful tale is related to us in flashback by the adult Mick (Jason Isaacs) in a slightly odd meta sequence that unites the story of the first film with its prequel.
The team for RED DOG: TRUE BLUE remains the same behind the camera; director Kriv Stenders, writer Daniel Taplitz and producer Nelson Woss create a companion piece that has some of the same feel as the original, but is told in a more straightforward fashion. In front of the camera, there is eleven-year-old Levi Miller as Mick and Phoenix playing Blue. The rest of the cast includes Hanna Mangan Lawrence as a young teacher from the Perth, Steve Le Marquand and Kelton Pell. The production values are high, the performances are solid, the story is adequate (John Jarratt’s cameo is a weird highlight), the landscape is ravishingly shot and Phoenix is a joy to watch. If you’re a dog lover, you will take something away from the movie. The audience who enjoyed the first film will find much to like here.
RED DOG: TRUE BLUE opens wide in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day. It runs for 88 minutes. (3/5)