Australian family films are rare, and Australian sequels even more so, which makes Red Dog: True Blue an absolute cinematic stand-alone. Originality aside, it’s also a solid reference point on how to craft a follow-up, retaining the feel and mood of its predecessor, but offering something fresh in the story department. 2011’s Red Dog was a true movie bolter, coming out of nowhere to trample the box office and race into the hearts of Australian audiences. Its mix of broad humour, moving sentiment, and bravura visuals marked an impressive move into the mainstream for director, Kriv Stenders, who had made a name for himself with brilliantly grim indies like Boxing Day, Blacktown, and Lucky Country. Stenders’ natural audacity infused Red Dog with an indefinable raucousness, which he thankfully also brings to Red Dog: True Blue.
The sequel begins with a wait-a-sec-what’s-happening-here meta flourish as harried businessman, Michael Carter (Brit import, Jason Isaacs, doing a top notch Aussie accent), takes his two young sons to the movies…to see Red Dog! After the screening, Michael reveals to his young son that he was actually the first owner of the pooch that would eventually become famous for uniting the disparate residents of a WA mining town. The film then unfolds in flashback, as we meet young Michael (Pan’s charming talent on the rise, Levi Miller), who is shipped off to the remote farm of his grandfather (Bryan Brown in a wonderfully taciturn but deeply sensitive turn) when his father dies and his mother suffers a nervous breakdown. There, he learns about Aboriginal customs and land rights through indigenous farm-hand, Taylor Pete (the engaging Calen Tassone); romance through his comely tutor, Betty (the lovely Hanna Mangan Lawrence); and the rigours of male competitiveness through macho helicopter pilot, Stemple (the charismatic Thomas Cocquerel). But mainly, Michael learns about the joys of companionship that a canine like Red Dog (originally called Blue) can bring.
With its pre-adolescent hero and near plotless coming of age narrative, Red Dog: True Blue instantly announces itself as a more distinctly family friendly affair than its predecessor, but it’s still loose and freewheeling in the best way possible, jumping from plot point to plot point at will, and continuing with its surprising meta-fictional push, with John Jarratt dropping in for an amusing cameo as a very famous Australian figure, complete with winking gags. In any other film, such narrative playfulness would feel odd, but here, it just adds to the film’s colourful individuality. Coupled with a hard-edged sweetness and lots of humour, it makes for a winning mix. A classic boy-and-his-dog tale, Red Dog: True Blue has a big heart and bundles of charm…just like its eponymous canine hero.