Though at times it’s easy to forget, there were animated films in the 80s and 90s that didn’t come from Disney. Remember The Land Before Time? An American Tail: Fievel Goes West? Among this generation of non-Disney films was All Dogs Go to Heaven, a pseudo-musical that had some of the necessary charm and some great animation, but ultimately couldn’t live up to Disney standards. This tale of two dogs and the little girl who could talk to animals was dragged down by miscast parts which led to some miserable songs. Looking back on it all, it seems that the title is more memorable than the film itself.
Charlie (Burt Reynolds) and his sidekick Itchy (Dom DeLuise) break out of the kennel and decide that Charlie’s old stomping ground should be their first stop. They arrive at the casino that Charlie and Carface (Vic Tayback) used to run to find that it’s managed to remain profitable off of rat races despite Charlie’s absence. When Charlie’s former partner learns of his return, he organizes a quick untimely death for the protagonist pooch. Zipping up to heaven, he discovers all canines have automatic admission past the pearly gates, gets an uncharacteristically deep commentary on free will, and then spurns paradise by winding back his “clock” and returning to Earth, alive once again. After the initial shock of seeing his late friend returned from his watery grave, Itchy helps Charlie “rescue” Anne-Marie (Judith Barsi), the enchanted little orphan girl who has helped Carface cheat his patrons by talking to animals and tilt racing odds in his favor. Using her gifts for their own ends by promising to help her find parents and that they’ll donate to charity, they soon get their fortunes back on track, only to have their high spirits dashed on the rocks as Anne-Marie realizes their immoral motives and Carface enacts his revenge.
It’s hard not to enjoy Burt Reynolds’s performance, but once he starts singing (or attempting to sing) you realize just how out of his element he is. It’s less singing than it is speaking in a way that confounds any sense of melody or harmony. Why they didn’t have a second actor do his singing parts is beyond me. He was a great fit for the roguish Charlie, and he would have been perfect had it not involved any musical talent. Other noticeable performances include Barsi as the little girl and a wasted DeLuise.
Though the voice work threatens to cast All Dogs Go to Heaven out of nostalgia’s good graces, the animation helps immensely. The rich colors and the classic style that Don Bluth’s films were known for go a long way towards reminding you why this film was a childhood favorite of so many. Even if it sometimes feels like a second-string Oliver & Company, the detail, texture, and overall quality of the animation in All Dogs Go to Heaven bring the feelings of childhood wonder rushing back. Within minutes it reminds you that CGI animation, though great, used to have a genuine contender in 2D features. It was a much more level playing ground back in those days.
Were it not for the classic animation style, this Blu-ray transfer would be pointless. However MGM’s HD render of the film makes the colors bolder and more vivid and it easily looks better than my memory ever would have let me believe.
The voice acting may be less than inspiring, but films like this have a charm that every childhood needs in its entertainment.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
The movie was ported directly from VHS to DVD back in the day, and at the time MGM didn’t deem it worthwhile to create any extras. Thus it should come as no surprise that they didn’t go the extra mile for the Blu-ray release. This is a port for the soul purpose of keeping the film available for new generations (and profiting from it), and thus there’s nothing else on the disc.
"All Dogs Go to Heaven" is on sale March 29, 2011 and is rated G. Adventure, Animation, Children & Family, Comedy. Directed by Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, Dan Kuenster. Written by Don Bluth, Ken Cromar, Gary Goldman, Larry Leker, John Pomeroy. Starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Frank Welker, Judith Barsi, Vic Tayback.