Koko: A Red Dog Story
Directed by Dominic Pearce and Aaron McCann
78 minutes, rated G
First there was the tall story of the kelpie with no name who spent his life wandering the red dirt of the Pilbara, looking for his master. Louis de Bernieres turned it into a novel, and that became a likeable hit film in 2011, followed by a less likeable sequel in 2016. Now comes the doco of the dog who played the real dog in the movie. Surely, Son of a Red Dog can’t be far off.
I can see how the story of Koko, born in 2005 in Victoria to a line of champion kelpies, might make a pleasing documentary. Kelpies are lovely animals and a straight telling of Koko’s story might have done him proud. That’s not this film: this is a misbegotten attempt at dramatised comedy, a weird hybrid in which the real participants tell their stories to camera, which are then recreated in parallel drama, where each is played by an actor (even Koko).
So we have Carol Hobday, the original breeder, talking about how he stood out from the rest of the litter; then we see Hobday played by Sarah Woods in scenes recreating the dog’s infancy and initial success in dog shows. Then we have Nelson Woss, the producer of the original film, getting emotional on screen as he describes the way he fell in love with the dog during the shoot (with Felix Williamson playing Nelson in the movie within the movie). Then Kriv Stenders, who directed the original and sequel, talks us through the troubles of the shoot, in which he had no lead actor until after shooting began – and worse, a terrible allergy to dogs that made him overdose on anti-histamines. Cue Toby Truslove as Stenders, gobbling pills and stomping around set – a cliche of a director in search of a comedy.
To confuse things more, the doco directors throw in real footage taken at the time of the original shoot, featuring the real Koko. Then they cast another dog to play Koko in the recreated scenes. Then they start cutting between the two until we have no idea whether we are watching the real Koko or his stand-in. Worse, the real participants are initially encouraged to “act” in their interviews, stretching their stories for comic effect. This has the effect of undermining their credibility, because we can see they are gilding the lily. This becomes problematic later, when the original Koko gets sick, and the film has to quickly change gears for emotional effect.
The new documentary will be used to raise funds for dog rescue. That’s a fitting tribute to Koko, who was a special dog. Alas, this film doesn’t do him justice.