Full screen
Video quality

Low 0 MB

High 0 MB



Footrot Flats

Film (Trailer) – 1986

Parental Guidance

A Perspective

Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale, made in 1986, was New Zealand's first animated feature film, developed from Murray Ball's widely syndicated newspaper cartoon Footrot Flats.

The strip is told from the wry perspective of ‘Dog', a nameless border collie adopted by a farmer, Wal. It follows Wal's bumbling rural adventures running a farm on Footrot Flats: lusting after the bulging hairdresser Cheeky Hobson, whitebaiting with his greenie neighbour, Cooch, being terrorised by the Murphy Brothers and daydreaming of becoming an All Black.

In 1981 Murray Ball was approached by producer Pat Cox, who had the idea of making a movie from the strip. Ball was eventually won over, and over the ensuing years writer Tom Scott came on board to work with Ball on the script, while Cox joined forces with John Barnett to get the project financed and off the ground.

Through his work making commercials, Cox knew Sydney animator Robbert Smit, who, as animation director, would be crucial in getting the look and animation right. As a faithful (if leisurely) record of the inhabitants of Footrot Flats, it is undeniably accurate.

It's great to see the world of Footrot Flats given such affectionate attention. Like John Clarke's Fred Dagg (Clarke provides the voice for Wal), the world of the comic strip played off nostalgic stereotypes that, even at the time of screening, were more fond myth than the reality of an urbanised, multicultural New Zealand. Here are the cabbage trees and paddocks of the flats, rusting corrugated iron etc. To see these familiar landscapes animated rather than photographed postcard-style was something new for audiences.

For the makers there was an inherent challenge with converting a mute, black and white strip from the daily paper into a talking feature. Murray had always expressed Dog's thoughts in thought-bubbles and gave Dog alter egos, but in the end he was always just a dog. Readers of Footrot Flats would have formed their own ‘voices' for the characters. So the task of adapting the characters to the screen and remaining true to how readers imagined them, was a tough one.

But the voices for the characters were a starting line-up of New Zealand comedy and acting talent of the time, and audiences suspended disbelief and enjoyed the recognisable repartee. Other than Clarke, the cast includes Peter Rowley, Rawiri Paratene, Fiona Samuel, Peter Hayden, Dorothy McKegg, Billy T James, and Brian Sergent.

There are some shortcomings: the film's soundscape, despite some classic original songs from Dave Dobbyn, feels sparse; and the script's narrative reflects input from energetic individuals coming at the project from differing experiences. But the laconic, finding-humour-in-adversity spirit of the comic strip remains; the film leveraged the large comic strip readership to attract big audiences on both sides of the ditch.

Footrot took $2.5 million at the local box office, making it the most successsful local feature of the 1980s. It was also a rare Kiwi feature to win wide release in Australia (60 prints). Dobbyn created two huge hits for the soundtrack: 'You Oughta Be in Love' and 'Slice of Heaven', the latter alongside band Herbs. 'Slice of Heaven' spent four weeks atop the Australian singles chart in 1987, and became known as the unofficial New Zealand national anthem.

Successful commercials producer Pat Cox would go on to make the iconic Speights "onya mate" and Mainland Cheese ads. In Footrot Flats he was mining the same golden weather territory. Six years in development, 15 months in the making, Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale brought Murray Ball's world to a new audience; its popular success was just reward for Cox's tenacity.

- Tony Hiles spent a decade working for state television, before setting up company City Associates with partner Judith Fyfe. Since then he has directed documentaries on everything from architects to flying contraptions, and an extended series of films on artist Michael Smither.  

If you liked this, you might also like...


The Sheep Collection

New Zealand is said to have earned its prosperity "off...


NZ Book Collection

This collection features screen adaptations from New...


The Animation Collection

From talking chickens to dancing Cossacks, feast on this...


Best of the 80s

This 1980s collection shows the screen icons from the...


Cats and Dogs

A collection of screen cats and dogs. The purrfect canine...


The NZ Film Commission turns 40

A collection celebrating 40 years of the NZ Film...

The Making of Footrot Flats

The 'making of' documentary on the film

Goodnight Kiwi

Another animated pop culture icon


Documentary on Kiwi farmers and their dogs

The Frog, the Dog, and the Devil

A hand-drawn animated film featuring a dog

Sensitive to a Smile

Another classic Herbs song

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy

Another iconic Kiwi dog

A Dog's Show - 1981 Final

The classic sheepdog sports show


Directed by Fiona Samuel, voice of Pongo and Cheeky Hobson


Moa's Ark

Produced and directed by Peter Hayden (voice of Cooch and...

Separation City

Another script from Tom Scott

The Best of The Billy T James Collection

A collection of classic skits from the Billy T James Show

Homegrown Profiles: Dave Dobbyn

Interview with Footrot Flat's composer Dave Dobbyn

Lynn of Tawa - In Search of the Great New Zealand Male

Screenwriter Tom Scott features in this

Came a Hot Friday

Billy T James in another Kiwi classic

bro'Town - Honky the Wonder Horse

Another iconic Kiwi animation

Extraordinary Kiwis - Colin Meads

Another celebrated NZ man of the land

Outdoor Dogs

Real working dogs in the ‘50s

Bryan and Bobby - SNAP

Another of NZ's favourite canines

Gliding On - Mastermind (Series Four, Episode Five)

More 80s comedy

Radiradirah - First Episode

Features more animated comedy

Face to Face with Kim Hill - John Clarke

Interview with the man who voices Wal


Another animated feature involving Kiwi talent

Bloopers - Animals

Features another famous Kiwi dog, Dexter

Dog’s Best Friend

Trailer for a film about a dog rehab centre

Dog Squad - First Episode

A show following working dogs