All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)
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Great with Don Bluth - a Disney competitor worth his name - hand-animated cartoon movie at its best.
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Going into this I expected a cute, childish and overall average animation effort from Disney renegade Dom Bluth. Big was my surprise when I encountered a supernatural and bleak gangster flick filled with interesting characters, surprising twists and a delightfully evil villain. This must also star the first true anti-hero of any children's animation movie. Charlie smokes, gets drunk, swindles, steals and they can't even seem to find a single good thing about him in the book of heaven. Nonetheless, we root for him and that delightful Anne-Marie, voiced by Judith Barsi, shot dead by her own father at the age of ten before the movie was released and left in an unmarked grave. This movie is testament to her unique talents.
I was born in 1990 but growing up I never got the chance to see All Dogs Go to Heaven. It didn't do incredibly well during its theatrical run but was one of the biggest sellers once it hit the home market with over three million VHS tapes sold in its first week. Ex-Disney animator Don Bluth made quite a name for himself when he left Disney and The Land Before Time is still one of my all time favourites from when I was a kid.
The release of All Dog Go to Heaven was a sad one because of the death of voice actress Judith Barsi who had also voiced Ducky in The Land Before Time. She was murdered by her father along with her mother which is just unbelievably tragic. It's hard not to think about it while watching All Dogs Go to Heaven and it makes a couple of the scenes even more hard hitting.
It's 1939 in New Orleans, and Charlie B. Barkin (Burt Reynolds) along with his sidekick Itchy Itchiford (Dom DeLuise) are in the middle of a daring prison (dog pound) escape. Successfully getting away despite some difficulties, they make their way to go see an old business acquaintance, Carface (Vic Tayback). Carface had originally set Carlie up to take over their joint casino business, so he schemes up a murder plot to "take care of him." Luckily, all dogs go to heaven...
Does the synopsis sound like a kid's movie to you? All Dogs Go to Heaven is definitely one of those movies that looks like a harmless children's movie but it ain't. Charlie as a character is a scumbag for the most part and he's got a pretty spotty past that we're not really told about. He associates himself with Carface. THE Carface, who's a hilarious pastiche of Italian gangsters (although Tony Montana is Cuban). We see dogs smoking, drinking beer and gambling. Oh, and there may be some scenes that happen in a place called hell too, nothing major.
But I like it. Kids need this kind of stuff if you ask me. The Brave Little Toaster is a great example of one of those disturbing childhood movies that traumatized everyone. I owned it and it freaked me out lots but I always wanted to watch it again from time to time. It had a huge impact on me and a positive one. The 80's to early 90's is a goldmine for these types of movies. There are definitely some scary bits and inappropriate elements in All Dogs Go to Heaven but you want your kid to grow up with some backbone no?
Parts of the storyline are probably incomprehensible to kids. The whole set up of Carface planning to kill Charlie plays like a typical crime movie which just makes it funny to me. I like the dog world that's established underneath of the human world and I find the animation to be quite good except for a few rare occasions where it's a bit jittery during high action sequences. Some things go way into silly territory too, like a ray gun being used in an ambush? That's definitely out there.
The major weakness of All Dogs Go to Heaven are the songs. There's maybe one or two of them which are alright but everything else is really forgettable. In no way do these songs compete with Disney offerings which makes me wish there wouldn't have been any songs at all. I love the song that Judith Barsi's character sings though even if I can't remember how it goes. I was probably just touched by the imagery that was being shown though.
All Dogs Go to Heaven is a kid movie that doesn't really feel like it should be watched by kids. Charlie himself is really rough but I suppose that the Itchy and Ann-Marie characters are there to soften things up. I still don't understand how there can be ten people being credited with the story of ADGtH but it comes out as cohesive enough. I missed this movie as a kid but I'm glad I finally got the chance. Although they're not the worst songs I've ever heard, the songs are what really hold this Bluth production from being a real competitor versus Disney.
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