Why Phoenix was the perfect pooch to play the new Red Dog.
Before the Pilbara’s famous wandering kelpie there was Phoenix
THE new Red Dog film True Blue is a prequel with a fresh spirit thanks to its two young stars.
This follow-up to 2011’s hit outback adventure imagines the origin story of the Pilbara’s infamous wandering kelpie that is now part of urban legend.
The film begins in the near present day when the Red Dog film is in cinemas. Michael Carter (Jason Isaacs with an impressive Aussie accent) takes his two young sons to see the film, which brings memories of his pet dog Blue flooding back.
The story flashes back to Mick’s childhood, when he is sent to live on a cattle station with his stoic grandfather (Bryan Brown), who reluctantly lets him keep a puppy found after a cyclone blows through the area.
The boy and pup form a close bond and get up to all sorts of mischief while Mick is supposed to be focusing on his school work by correspondence.
“It’s completely stand alone in an original concept and part of the reason we wanted to do that is we have young children,” producer Nelson Woss tells Weekend.
“Kriv (Stenders, the director) has a young son and I have three children under the age of eight. We love American films and grew up passionately watching them but we think it’s important for our own kids to have a balance and to see some of their own stories on the big screen. Red Dog is about finding your home.”
Red Dog was the first collaboration between Stenders, best known for Boxing Day and Kill Me Three Times, and Woss, who also produced the film Ned Kelly starring Heath Ledger.
The men bonded over their childhood memories of going to the cinema to see films like Stand By Me, Empire of the Sun and Storm Boy.
“As a kid I could go to the cinema and for 90 minutes I could lose myself and go on a journey,” Woss says.
“Some of the films I watched during that time inspired me to be involved in films and have a career in films.
“Kriv and I had the same exposure to films (growing up), even though he was on the east coast and I was on the west coast.”
Woss says Red Dog’s creative team, also including writer Daniel Taplitz, wanted to keep the DNA of the original film and that’s literally the case with True Blue’s new four-legged star Phoenix.
“He is a distant relative of Koko (the original Red Dog), and like Koko he has that same star-like quality where he can change the temperature of a room when he walks into it,” Woss says. “Koko had this roguish quality where he was giving the orders, but Phoenix is much more a member of the team and gives a more nuanced performance.”
To thank the Pilbara community that hosted the film, Red Dog: True Blue had its world premiere in Karratha.
“Most people see the Pilbara as just a place where they dig up iron ore, but we feel it’s rich with legend and myth that is just as valuable as those resources,” Woss says.
“At the premiere they were chanting ‘no red carpet just red dust’... we love when people from the regions say it’s authentic.
“We also worked really closely with the traditional land holders. Every line of Aboriginal dialogue is done in the Nyamal dialect. In the sequence with Taylor Pete when he draws the story out on the sand, we had traditional landholders next to the camera to make sure we got it right. It would not be an Australian film for everybody if it wasn’t their story too.”
Despite the original film’s success and Red Dog: True Blue’s recent invitation to screen in the kids section of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Woss believes True Blue will be the underdog at the box office on Boxing Day. “We’re going up against Star Wars and Disney,” he says. “We don’t have the marketing budget they do, but what we have is heart and soul.”
Red Dog: True Blue opens nationally on Monday.
Levi Miller and the dog Phoenix in a scene from Red Dog: True Blue.