Koko: A Red Dog Story Review – This Canine Flick is an Easy Best in Show

Australian cinema isn’t known for franchises. Sure, there’s been Crocodile Dundee and the Mad Max films, but that’s about it. Which is part of the reason why the Red Dog film is such an odd film to have been turned into a franchise. After all, spoiler alert, the titular dog dies at the end. But, for the canine lovers out there, we’ve been blessed with a trilogy of great films. 

Kriv Stenders first Red Dog film is a treat. Even though the film was titled Red Dog, it worked best as a wonderful ode to the outback of Western Australia and all the larrikins who call it home. The sequel, Red Dog: True Blue, worked as a brilliant ‘yes and’ to the first, amplifying  everything that made the myth of Red Dog shine, and spotlighting the relationship that kids have with dogs. 

And now we have Top Knot Detective directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce’s unexpected third film in the series, Koko: A Red Dog Story. This is a documentary about the red cloud kelpie star of the first film, Koko, and the effect that this expressive canine had on everyone he encountered. In this exceptionally joyous, heartwarming, and downright hilarious documentary, that myth of the wandering Pilbara dog is furthered by the way Koko embodies everything that made Red Dog who he was. 

Koko tells how director Kriv Stenders went on a nationwide search to cast his lead canine actor, encountering kelpie breeder Carol Hobday and encouraging her to send her prized canine off to live a life as an actor, all the while dealing with his increasing allergies to dogs, and trying to find a human actor to work opposite Koko. Every mishap that occurred with the making of Red Dog is presented with sublime comedic timing, with dramatised re-enactments being used to help amplify that laugh ratio. 

This is as much a celebration of the importance of dogs in our lives as it is for Koko. 

From the opening moments, I had tears streaming down my face – not because it’s sad (although, there are certainly those moments too), but because Koko has so much love and affection for dogs in every frame, celebrating their eccentricities, like how they nudge against your hand for a pat, or select the people they love the most. The specificity of Koko’s story, and his subsequent relationship with producer Nelson Woss, makes for a supremely relatable story. At every beat, I couldn’t help but think of the relationship I have with my dogs, thinking about how they interact with people, how they bring smiles to everyone they meet.

On the filmmaking front, Koko makes a salient point about the difficulties that Australian films face when it comes to being released into the marketplace. Sure, Red Dog is one of the most financially successful Australian films, but it was originally scheduled to release around the same time as Thor came out. This caused Red Dog to be delayed five months to be an August release. But now with superhero films appearing at every major date of the calendar year, it makes it harder for the Red Dog’s of the world to be successful. With that in mind, Koko: A Red Dog Story is a film that will thrill and excite you as much as those technological marvels. It entertains and enlights in ways that blockbuster films don’t. I don’t say this to establish an ‘us vs them’ debate, but more as a way of reminding that everything you loved about Red Dog is here in spades, and if you love that film, then you should definitely head along and support this film to show that these stories are important and needed in the world.

I was a huge fan of Top Knot Detective, so I was curious what Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce would do next. What I didn’t expect was a film that showed as much affection for dogs as they showed for the obscure late night SBS shows of the nineties. Every frame will leave you grinning like a fool, with the highly entertaining characters making this more than just a making of documentary. With that in mind, I can’t wait to see what McCann and Pearce bring to filmmaking going forward. There’s a hint of Christopher Guest’s hilarious mockumentaries here, except with a distinctly Australian aesthetic. With Top Knot Detective, this director team provided an exciting new voice to Australian comedy, but with Koko: A Red Dog Story, they’ve cemented themselves as two of the most original and invigorating new filmmakers to keep an eye on.

Koko: A Red Dog Story takes the framework of a documentary, and ensures that you’re not just delivered information, but are also entertained at every point. Even if you’re not a dog lover (it’s ok to love cats folks), you’ll still be swept up by this brilliantly empathetic canine tale. It works as a new answer to the question, ‘name a sequel that’s better than the original’. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. This is fun for the whole family, and once it’s over, you’ll want to rush home to give your dog a hug. And if you don’t have a dog, then you’ll be swinging by the Shenton Park Dog Shelter to give a rescue dog a home.

I love this film completely. It’s a beautiful love letter to cinema and to dogs. It’ll easily sit up there alongside all the best dog films, and it deserves every accolade it receives.  

I’ve limited my dog pun jokes in this review, even though I could have gone wild with them, but I can’t contain this one:

Koko: A Red Dog Story is the best in show. It’s a genuine dogsterpiece of a film. 

Directors: Aaron McCann, Dominic Pearce

Featuring: Kriv Stenders, Carol Hobday, Nelson Woss

Writers: Aaron McCann, Dominic Pearce, (story by Nelson Woss)

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian film and culture. He is the co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association, a Golden Globes voter, and the author of two books on Australian film, The Australian Film Yearbook - 2021 Edition, and Lonely Spirits and the King. You can find him online trying to enlist people into the cult of Mac and Me.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Curb on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!