Rockford’s Rock Opera is a Gorgeous Children’s Story in Music App Form

Geek Culture

The children’s storybook is a timeless art form. With artistically drawn or painted imagery and captivating, fantastical stories, they help young imaginations explore new worlds during the nightly reading ritual. There’s nothing like a soft soothing voice going on about dragons or curious primates to help kids fall asleep, and maybe learn something first.

The storybook continues to thrive in the iPad era, as hundreds of apps utilize the clear display and ability to connect to speakers wirelessly to surround kids and their parents with beautifully produced audio. With the technology of the iPad at everyone’s fingertips, the opportunity to expand upon the storybook formula is huge — and to the naysayers: Hey, at least it’s not television.

Enter Rockford’s Rock Opera, an imaginative storybook for Apple iOS that, featuring a rock musical some adults will enjoy too, thanks to lush 3D graphics and a cautious-yet-hopeful message about the environment and the realities of extinction.

Developed by British creative team Sweetapple, this 2.5-hour app adventure (in four installments:1, 2, 3, 4; the first one’s free, the rest cost $5 apiece) concerns a friendly, curious dog Rockford and Moog, his human companion. They visit the magical island of “Infinity,” where the last member of every species goes to live, forever.

The twist: Rockford accidentally registers himself as extinct, causing all dogs in the real world to vanish. Oh, no! With the help of many fictional creatures, Moog and Rockford must reverse the extinction of the canines. Along the way they learn valuable lessons, of course, about the preservation of life on earth.

Clearly, there’s a message, but as entertainment, an app like this relies heavily on its imagery. Fortunately, this story is told by beautifully-rendered still pictures and and exciting animation sequences that would make the folks at Pixar jealous. Sweetapple’s creatures seem familiar and real; the Herculous Bird, for example, is a gigantic yellow character with two sets of wings, a whale-like tale, and a huge puffer fish-like stomach that it fills with air and expels like a balloon (or like a bodily function that might provoke childish chortles).

Then, there’s the music, which you won’t find in any traditional children’s book. This smartly-written, artistically-composed rock opera has children as its target but adults as its bulls-eye. The lyrics are whimsical and easy to understand, with simple rhymes and irresistible choruses — perfect for singalongs. These compositions will recall to the older crowd great rock opera and musical composers like David Bowie, Queen, and Harry Nilsson. (Nilsson fans will hear a strong influence from his own campy production of The Point!).

Sweetapple have done what many aspiring children’s music composers want to do: make music that truly appeals to all ages. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for two weeks now (really) and the songs haven’t grown old. (In fact, while I was writing about the Vans Warped Tour festival app, I had Rockford’s Rock Opera playing over and over again in my head.)

As parent and child enjoy visually- and aurally-engaging world, the narrator does a fine job of bringing it all to life. He is our guide, a close friend who wants us hear about every single detail of the story, and he sounds like a combination of dry British humor and an elementary school teacher. Each character, both human and beast, come off as real individuals with unique quirks. The aforementioned Herculous Bird, for example, is clearly not just a prehistoric creature, but also an old buddy from the East End of London, Cockney accent and all.

At the end of this musical adventure, it was clear that Rockford’s Rock Opera is more than the sum of its impressive parts. It manages to upgrade the basic children’s storybook to the 21stcentury, without losing the magic. We’re not suggesting that apps like this replace books, but they’re a nice change of pace, and I honestly enjoyed it quite a bit. Don’t believe me? At least the first edition’s free, so you don’t need to drop $15 on the whole thing unless you (and yours) get hooked.

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