Monday, January 3, 2011

All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)

Title: All Dogs Go to Heaven
Year: 1989
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Burt Reynolds as Charlie B. Barkin
Dom DeLuise as Itchy Itchiford
Judith Barsi as Anne-Marie
Vic Tayback as Carface Carruthers
Charles Nelson Reilly as Killer
Loni Anderson as Flo
Melba Moore as Annabelle
Ken Page as King Gator

A dog returns from the dead looking for revenge on his killer and uses an orphan girl who can talk to animals to gamble.
Based on: Apparently an original screenplay.
Setting: New Orleans, Louisiana, 1939.

But not all dogs stay there!

Andrew's First Viewing: First semester of sophomore year, fall 2007
Jordyn's First Viewing: August 27, 2010 on Netflix.

Andrew's Comments
Unlike our previous two films (and, according to its VHS sales, a great many other kids who grew up in the 90’s), All Dogs Go to Heaven was never part of my film-watching repertoire. I first saw when my friends Lauren and Eugene were watching it it one night during my second year of college. I had heard of it prior to that, maybe saw some footage here and there, but left ultimately unimpressed by Don Bluth’s fourth major animated release (and first to be completed in his new animation studio in Ireland).

Perhaps it was the setting, perhaps it was the songs, but something about the film just didn’t grab me in any nostalgia-defying way (and since there was no nostalgia to defy, I was able to get the full brunt of what I thought was a very mediocre experience). Since then, I feel like my opinion of the movie has increased, though marginally.

The plot concerns Charlie B. Barkin (because apparently Charles Barkley was
already taken) escaping from the pound with the help of his pal Itchy and reestablishing himself at his old junkyard casino (yes, casino. More on this later). The only problem is that his old partner, Carface (the latest in the movie’s series of I See What You Did There’s), doesn’t want to split the profits with Charlie anymore. So after entirely longer than is necessary for a movie called All Dogs Go To Heaven, Carface has Charlie bumped off by running him over with a car.

Charlie arrives in heaven pissed off that he was killed, so he jacks the pocket watch that keeps him in heaven and hurls himself back to Earth, with the cryptic warning that he “can never come back.” While trying to get revenge on Carface (I forget the exact details), Charlie and Itchy stumble on a little girl named Anne-Marie, who apparently can talk to animals (at one point in the movie she is literally a horse whisperer). Carface uses Anne-Marie to get an edge in gambling, so Charlie and Itchy liberate her from captivity and (why not) use her for the exact same purpose, but with the white-lie that they’ll use the money to help the poor. All the while, Charlie grows from reluctant caretaker of Anne-Marie to eventually growing to care about her.

Insert obligatory "awwwww..." here.
The story itself is a bit suspect in places, but still works reasonably well, due in large part to its cast. Burt Reynolds has a roguish charm as Charlie, and Dom DeLuise is fairly good as Itchy (apparently the two had been in movies together before, and it shows in their banter, which was allegedly improvised in places). The real shining star, though, is the late Judith Barsi, who gives Anne-Marie a sincere childish innocence that never crosses the line into aggravating; that she never got a chance to become an even bigger star is a tragedy that is best not discussed here (though I would like to point out that this is the second time in two showings where someone brings up her father having shot her; why this movie?!).

By contrast, Carface is somewhat of a rarity among movie villains in that he is neither very threatening, nor charismatic, nor really any fun at all. Even the most ho-hum of Disney villains at least had the good sense to be comic relief; as harmless as Prince John or Madam Mim were, they chewed the scenery enough for me to feel that their presence was worthwhile. Carface seems to be cut from generic gang-muscle cloth, whose only memorable lines in the film are variations of “Shaddap,” and generally seems very boring, despite the fact that he actually succeeds in killing our hero.

And on the other side of that coin is… Charles Nelson Riley. Yes, "Match Game’s" Charles Nelson Riley pokes his head in for his first of several Aggravating Don Bluth Villain Sidekicks, this time as Killer, Carface’s lackey. He may have won the Tour de France with two flat tires and a missing chain, but he sure as heck can’t sell the stuttering, unfunny characters he’s given, and it’s made even worse by all of the flailing that goes into his animation. This movie’s Jar Jar was pretty hard to identify until Killer rolled in, but he was a shoe-in after that.

Killer and Carface, the Jar Jar and the cliche...
All Dogs looks reasonably cleaner than the previous Bluth movies; not as intricately detailed as The Secret of NIMH or realistically-moving as The Land Before Time, but it generally feels less cluttered and the characters are easier to identify. Even the waves splashes that I generally don’t like in his movies look better here. The arbitrary color change from the last movie is toned down as well (though it still bugs me that his palette is mostly limited to colors not found outside of Easter eggs).

Taste the rainbow.
On the other hand, most of the flossy effects animation that was mercifully absent from The Land Before Time return with a vengeance here; the sparks, the smoke (oh! the smoke), and a prevalence of DRIPPING THINGS distract from the rest of the film’s otherwise solid presentation. Also, this is the movie where I first really started to notice Bluth giving all of his characters dimples. Seriously, I get why Anne-Marie has them, but I hate the way almost every character in this movie immediately crinkles whenever the corners of their mouths move. And of course, the slo-mo flailing that’s been present from the beginning is still in full effect.

Seriously, it's like this.

The music was decent enough (some sort of jazzy, bluesy stuff that sounds reasonably period), but the songs are dull at best (and fairly painful at worst). Most of them are sing-talk stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rex Harrison movie (to all Rex Harrison fans, he may be able to act, but rattling off the lyrics like a limerick isn’t the same as singing). The worst of them, “What’s Mine Is Yours,” shoehorns bad songwriting, singing, and cutesy (Skittles-colored) puppies into an awful mishmash of edutainment that had me checking both my watch and my blood sugar.

I think what bothers me the most about this movie is its inability to commit to an anthropomorphic style. Charlie and Itchy are obviously modeled after very specific breeds of dogs (they even act like dogs for humans), but most of the dogs in the casino are running around in dog-sized shirts, drinking their dog-sized beer, no doubt gambling away their dog-sized mortgages.

This notion is probably a bit hypocritical of me; I love The Rescuers Down Under, which is another film that uses a parallel, smaller-sized world to good effect. The difference is in the art style: Down Under made no pretensions to their mice being anything like regular mice anymore than An American Tail did earlier, but All Dogs seems to want it both ways, with their dogs as both man’s best friend AND hard drinkin’ con men. There’s too much human stuff for these guys to ever be thought of as pets. Perhaps I’m reading a bit too into this, but for a species of animals without opposable thumbs, they sure seem to have a lot of toys.

There's something here that's not quite right.
But never mind. The movie ultimately "works" because its heart is in the right place. It may get a touch saccharine near the end, but it does so with sincerity, and I can’t fault a movie for getting emotional without talking down to the audience. That said, I don’t feel like this is worth putting into rotation beyond an initial rent, unless there’s some nostalgia behind it (which I had none of). Perhaps some will be more forgiving of the lukewarm songs or odd setting, and instead focus on the character relationships and story progression. Which is perfectly alright. This is not a bad movie, but one I don’t particularly enjoy enough to see a third time around.

Jordyn's Comments
And welcome to yet another blog post about another children's film Jordyn didn't watch in her childhood! Yes, just like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time, Don Bluth's fourth film was not veiwed regularly in my formative years. And, yet again, dear readers, you are in for a exciting roller coaster review of impartiality.

I lost my All Dogs Go to Heaven virginity just a week ago. As far as I know, this one has a pretty big nostalgia based fan group. It's considered to be "the last good one" in the Don Bluth canon, before the sudden nose dive of Rock-A-Doodle.

My biggest exposure to this movie comes from the trope "The Big Lipped Alligator Moment" named by the Nostalgia Chick for "a scene that comes right the fuck outta nowhere, has little to no bearing whatsoever on the plot, is way over the top in terms of ridiculousness even in the context of the movie, and after it happens, no one ever speaks of it again." It's named after the superfluous scene at the end of the movie where Charlie sings with a big lipped alligator for no apparent reason. So other than the brief clips of this scene, I knew nothing of this movie, not even the plot.


Forgive me, but I've misplaced my page of notes on this film. However, it's more of a blessing than a burden. This way I'll only write about what I remember! What really stuck with me!! But, sadly, that's not much. I semi enjoyed All Dogs Go to Heaven as much as I semi enjoyed the others, to be sure.

The most enjoyable thing (for me) about ADGTH is the plot. It's not necessarily "clever" but it's certainly original. Really, I mean, can you think of anything similar to this? First of all, Charlie B. Barkin is a selfish, greedy dickweed with few redeeming qualities. Considering most heroes/heroines of child-friendly fiction are Pure of Heart and Kind to All, this is a pretty interesting move. Then, he's killed off in the first act. It's not everyday you see the main character killed let alone a supposed friend!

Even though there are scads of movies about a dead character "not being ready" who tries to make up for their past misdeeds by getting a second chance at life, this is not that movie. Charlie rejects Heaven to seek revenge on his murderer. He does this by stealing little orphan Anne-Marie who is a combination of Snow White and The Rescuers's Penny. Like Andrew said, her talents of talking to animals are exploited to gain fast cash for Charlie's new casino.

Anne-Marie, in fact, is somewhere between Snow White and Penny: sweetly annoying and annoyingly sweet. What's the difference, you ask? One is a Snickers bar and the other is a Snickers deepfried in sugar, wrapped in a funnel cake, drizzled with honey. You get the picture. At times I was annoyed by Anne-Marie's cloying, simpering nature but something makes me not hate her. Perhaps its Judith Barsi's voice acting or perhaps it's pity.

Simple math.
The only song I really enjoyed was Anne-Marie's "Soon You'll Come Home". (All the other songs are fucking terrible, if you ask me). Like many songs sung by movie orphans, this one is about her desire for parents. And by the end of the movie, Anne-Marie is indeed adopted by a nice couple who show up several time throughout the movie to give her waffles and hope. During the song, we see several still photographs of what her Anne-Marie's life would be like if she had a family and wasn't being used by a money-hungry, revenge thirsty zombie dog.

My hands down favorite moment in All Dogs Go to Heaven is near the end when Charlie is explaining to Itchy that he cares nothing for Anne-Marie and that she is simply a tool in his grand scheme. Of course, Anne-Marie is listening and slowly descends the stairs, hearing every word. She is in the back ground and her face and reaction is blurred until Charlie finishes his rant. It's the first moment of this kind in the Bluth canon that has actually sparked a reaction like this from me.

Of course, Charlie is redeemed and returned to heaven after sacrificing his life/immortal soul to save sweet Anne-Marie. (Until the sequel...oh yeah, there's a sequel. Did you doubt it?) The two have a sweet goodbye moment and all is set right in the world.

Since The Land Before Time was entirely devoid of romance (children and different species, not much to go off of), I will gladly take this time to discuss the "romance" in this flick. Yes, there is a tad bit of romantic possibility in ADGTH. Unfortunately it's kind of as substantial as Justin's flirting with Mrs. Brisby (grrrr) and Tony and Bridget's disgustingly fast union. Towards the end, Charlie and Anne-Marie visit a collie named Flo (voiced by Loni Anderson, Burt Reynolds's then wife). It's revealed that Charlie isn't a total drinking, gambling jerk. He takes time to visit with the Skittle puppies that Flo takes care of. (They're not hers though! Oh no! Our adult heroine must be pure if she is to be with our hero!)

There's a possibility...
Anyway, they could be "just friends" and more power to the producers for showing an entirely platonic relationship between a single adult female and a single adult male. But if you ask me, there's just a little too much flirtation between the two. However, nothing comes of it...ever. In the theatrically released (no shit!) sequel, Charlie hooks up with some other bitch and Flo is no where to be found.

In conclusion, All Dogs Go to Heaven has its moments of utter irritation (which for my sanity, I've avoided blogging about) but also posesses moments of tenderness. The originality of the film makes me appreciate it (not like it, appreciate it) more than the others so far. Don't get me wrong, if I had to pick one to watch in my leisure time, this wouldn't be it, but for the sake of its originality, I actually understand the nostalgic fuss over this one.

"You Can't Keep a Good Dog Down" - Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise (Charlie and Itchy)
"Welcome to Doing Whatever You Wish" - Melba Moore
"Let Me Be Surprised" - Melba Moore and Burt Reynolds (Annabelle and Charlie)
"What's Mine is Yours" - Burt Reynolds (Charlie)
"Soon You'll Come Home" - Lana Beeson (Anne-Marie)
"Let's Make Music Together" - Ken Page and Burt Reynolds (King Gator and Charlie)
"Hallelujah" - Candy Devine
"Love Survives" - Irene Cara and Freddie Jackson

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