KOKO: A RED DOG STORY, Australia, 2019. Starring Jason Isaacs, Felix Williamson, Sarah Woods, Toby Trustlove, Kriv Stenders, Carol Hobday, Nelson Woss. Directed by Aaron Mc Cann, Dominic Pearce. 78 minutes. Rated G (Mild themes and coarse language).
This is a story to please those who enjoyed the original Red Dog as well as the sequel, Red Dog: True Blue. It is a film for dog lovers. It is for a family audience. Critics, on the other hand, were singularly unimpressed and unmoved.
Since dogs cannot be interviewed, filmmakers have to create a situation for them to exhibit their personalities and engage with audiences. This was certainly the with Koko, the dog who was chosen to portray Red Dog in the film. This reviewer remembers going to one of the previews in Melbourne and the dog himself was a star attraction before the screening.
This documentary is part reconstruction, part interviews. Toby Trustlove portrays the younger version of the film director, Ruth’s tenders, while Felix Williamson portrays the younger version of the producer, Nelson Woss. Sarah Woods portrays the younger Carol Hobday, the owner and trainer of Koko.
Before focusing on the dog himself, this documentary gives some substantial background to the original red dog, memories of him in the Pilberra, the statue dedicated to him, the tourists who visit the statue.
In the re-created sequences, the director, Kriv Stenders, goes to great lengths to search for a personable dog to portray the role, finally going to a Victorian town, encountering an owner and trainer with her husband, some pleasant banter re-created to illustrate the rapport between the two, the initial counter with Koko and some other dogs, the attraction of their personalities, some auditions (which were actually used at the time for promotion of the film), the training, the filming of various scenes of the film. When the initial dog, Kamir, was dyed red, he came out in blotches which left the way open for Koko.
There are interviews re-created by director and producer the time, and then interviews with the real director and producer inserted. After the filming, Carol Hobday gave the Koko to the producer, Nelson Woss, and there are scenes of him with the dog, with his daughter and the dog at home, taking the dog to the vet, his performance at the previews and promotion, his collapse and death.
Some time also given to discussions about finding a star for the film, the eventual contact with Josh Lucas, his coming to Australia, his being interviewed about his rapport with Koko.
Which means then that there are a lot of pleasant scenes between humans and dogs, a pleasure for the ordinary audience, reminding them of their response to the film, certainly an entertainment for dog-lovers.
The film is narrated by Jason Isaac, the English actor who played the father in the sequel, Red Dog: True Blue.
And a pleasing tribute to and memorial of Koko himself.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.