A Dog Named Dog: The Footrot Flats Story

I remember the first time I watched The Dog’s Tale. I was eleven years old and I thought it was the best animated film I had ever seen. My brother didn’t share my enthusiasm: he thought it was “too ordinary” but that was exactly what I liked about it. Instead of superheroes, secret agents, wizards, dragons or aliens, there were just a local farmer, his animals, neighbours and friends. There was also his funny little dog, very emotional and very thoughtful, but not like the anthropomorphised animals from some other cartoons. He was the most important character of all, but was still just an ordinary dog, and that was even his name – Dog.

The Dog’s Tale was ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. It was a comedy, it was a love story, it was an action film, it was a sports drama, it was everything an eleven-year-old needed. I watched it on TV and I didn’t see the title, so I started asking my friends about it. Every time someone mentioned cartoons or movies, I would ask the same question: – Have you seen that one? The one about a dog named Dog? – And every time I would get the same answer: – What? – My best friend even asked me if the film existed at all. He thought I was just trying to get the attention of our beautiful schoolfriend. – You’re a genius, man – he said. – She’s crazy about dogs.

It seemed that no one else had watched it so I stopped asking around, hoping I would see it on TV again. It never happened, but a few years ago it crossed my mind again and I googled the description. It took me some time, but I finally found it. The film about a dog named Dog was Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale, the first feature-length animated film produced in New Zealand. It was co-written and directed by Murray Ball, and it was based on his comic strip Footrot Flats. The strip ran from 1976 until 1994 in various newspapers, and was very popular in Australasia. The film was released in 1986, and there was also a stage musical, and even a theme park based on it in Auckland.

Ball has said that he has always wanted his cartooning to have an impact. And it has certainly had. Footrot Flats has become the most popular New Zealand’s comic strip ever. Generations of Kiwis have grown up reading it and watching its characters getting older too during the eighteen-year run of the comic strip. Ball has created a whole little universe, a humorous reflection of the real world surrounding him and his readers. Millions of books have been sold in Australia and New Zealand, and it has been translated into several different languages. And a distant eleven-year-old boy liked the animated version so much that he has never forgotten it. He grew up and enrolled in an animation school in Dog’s homeland.