All Dogs Go to Heaven was direct competition to Disney’s The Little Mermaid in theaters way back in the late ’80s. Both features were released on the same day and audiences headed to the movie with the teen mermaid in a shell-bra rather rather than the gambling mongrel. Though respectable during its theatrical release, the film didn’t showcase Don Bluth might like his previous features An American Tail and The Land Before Time. Still, All Dogs Go to Heaven did amazingly well when it arrived on VHS. It’s new-found popularity helped spawned a TV series and a theatrical squeal.
The film was one of those movies I never got around to seeing. Ever. There’s no particular reason why I unconsciously avoided All Dogs Go to Heaven. Perhaps it was divine intervention that my eyes never landed on the misadventures of Charlie B. Barker (voiced by Burt Reynolds), his pal Itchy (voiced by Dom DeLuise) and a girl named Ann-Marie (Judith Barsi) who had the amazing ability to carry conversations with animals. When the Blu-ray edition of the film landed on my doorstep, I was an emotional wreck. “Somehow I avoided this Don Bluth film since its original release in 1989, and now it’s here on Blu-ray complete with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 1080p resolution,” I thought to myself. “What if my viewing of All Dogs Go to Heaven kicks off a series of events which eventually leads to our little blue marble exploding with one of those cool Saturn ring effects?” Yeah, that’s probably the reason why I’ve never seen it. I was never meant to. It’s either that or I was just way too into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the time.
I got over it and popped the disc into my trusty Blu-ray player. First reaction: nostalgia. It looks just like circa late ’80s animated flicks did on the big screen complete with dirt and heavy grain. Remastered All Dogs Go to Heaven this is not and as far as the audio goes; it’s nothing to break out the Champagne for.
The story centers on Charlie, a dog addicted to gambling and booze along with a vast knowledge of picking pockets and swindling old ladies. Busting out of da’ pound with the help of his BFF, Ictchy, Charlie makes his way back to the club he co-owns in New Orleans with the nefarious Carface (voiced by Vic Tayback). Carface doesn’t want to share a cut of the action with Charlie and decides to whack him by way of speeding automobile. Badda-bing-badda-boom, Charlie heads up to Heaven because, as the title of the film gives away, all dogs go to heaven because they are caring and devoted.
Obviously, they don’t know Charlie.
Charlie, who has been a self-serving mutt all his life, is enraged by his murder. This doggy dog wants out of heaven so he can get revenge on that desterley Carface. After a short and flirty interlude with a bitch (it’s true!), Charlie nicks his “life clock,” winds it back and heads to earth to settle the score. The rub? If the watch stops ticking while he’s down there, Charlie goes straight to Hell.
While investigating Carface, Charlie and Ictchy discover that Carface has locked up a little girl in the bowels of his club. The girl, Ann-Marie, can talk to animals, which really comes in handy when one bets on the ponies. With dollar signs literally in Charlie’s eyes, he decides to take the girl for himself in order to produce enough money to start his own club. Under the guise of a rescue mixed with tepid promises of real parents, Ann-Marie runs off with the two dogs.
Ann-Marie isn’t a big fan of being used and refuses to assist the dogs with their plan. Charlie tells Ann-Marie the story of Robin Hood and the little girl is enchanted by the “helping the poor” theme of the story. “That’s what we’re doing,” Charlie says to her. “We’re just helping the poor.”
She helps the dogs wager on horse races and the trio win big, but after the dogs fail to live up to their promises, Ann-Marie runs away. Actually, the running away happens a few times with Charlie finding her and tricking her back into his criminal lifestyle.
Carface eventually learns that Charlie isn’t dead and that he has the animal whisperer. Waging a exhaustive underworld war against Charlie, our happy trio find themselves on the brink of doom. Doggy doom.
When the original version of the film was screened for test audiences, the language and imagery put a lot of parents off and the film was slapped with a PG rating. While PG ratings for animated movies are popular today, before the mid ’90s, studios were wary of arriving at the box office with a “Parental Guidance” label on it. They sliced and diced the film and eventually got it lowered to a G. It must had been pretty bad because the final cut, specifically during the Hell sequence and the conclusion, is very dark and could be somewhat frightening for little ones.
Charlie is clearly an antihero. In fact, All Dogs Go to Heaven isn’t what you would call a “warm and fuzzy family romp in the park.” There’s plenty of discussion of murder, drunkenness and a favorite bone of contention in today’s watchdog groups, smoking. Also, the kidnapping and abuse or orphans rarely means wholesome entertainment. Still, the movie manages to pull a tear or two at the end. (Not me, mind you. Other –weaker folks.)
The Blu-ray edition of the film comes with the original trailer of the film. That’s it. Looking for a behind-the-scenes or commentary? It ain’t here.
As far as I know, the End Times didn’t come after my viewing of All Dogs Go to Heaven. Watching All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 may be a different story…