Judge Clark Douglas has been called a dog many times. Clearly, heaven awaits him.
But not all dogs stay there!
"These are some of the poorest people I know. They're more broke than the ten commandments."
Facts of the Case
The year is 1939, and the place is New Orleans. Charlie B. Barkin (Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights) and his pal Itchy Itchiford (Dom DeLuise, Silent Movie) have just escaped from the pound. Charlie intends to go back to his position as co-owner of a local canine nightclub, but his corrupt business partner Carface (Vic Tayback, Alice) doesn't like the idea of having to share the profits. So, Carface murders Charlie. No, seriously.
Charlie goes to heaven, but finds the place terribly dull and uninteresting. He finds a way to sneak back to Earth, but realizes too late that this will prevent him from being able to return to heaven at any point. After returning to Earth, Charlie and Itchy rescue a young orphan named Anne-Marie (Judith Barsi, The Land Before Time) from Carface's clutches. Charlie's plan is to use Anne-Marie's unique gifts (she has the ability to communicate with any sort of animal) for personal gain, but after a while he begins to develop feelings for her. Will Anne-Marie ever find some parents? Will Charlie ever make it back to heaven?
I saw Don Bluth's All Dogs Go to Heaven in the theatre when I was a kid, but I hadn't revisited the film since. My memories of the movie were quite hazy: I remembered that it seemed pretty grim, that there were a bunch of clocks in doggie heaven, and that there was a very colorful musical number involving an alligator. Watching the film as an adult, I still found the flick modestly enjoyable…but man, this is a weird little movie.
Let us first consider the spiritual rules of this movie. Yes, all dogs go to heaven. Why? We're told that this is because all dogs are naturally good, unlike humans. That's what they say, but we don't quite believe it when we meet a dog like Carface (who seems to be 110 percent pure evil). Anyway, them's the rules. However, if you leave heaven, you're not allowed to go back to heaven. Does this mean that some dogs do go to hell? Charlie has a bad dream in which he fantasizes about dog hell and an evil hellhound-y spectre turns up late in the movie, but no dog actually goes there. The matter remains up for debate. The film's final act suggests there's a way to get back into heaven even after you've been banished, but the specifics of this are exasperatingly vague. The movie also confirms the notion that heaven is a very, very, very boring place in which the activities are limited to A) sitting on clouds and B) singing.
The film's plot is quite noirish and the tone often adopts a similar vibe, but the visuals are extremely bright and colorful. Despite the fact that the film is set in some rather impoverished parts of New Orleans, that city often looks as cheerful as heaven itself. The film's palette and generous sampling of goofy humor somehow offsets the fact that this is a movie in which the lovable main character is killed, comes back to earth and then is killed again.
A handful of curious fantastical elements seem to come out of nowhere. No explanation is given for the girl's Doctor Dolittle-type abilities; I imagine it's an easy way to set up communication between the girl and the dogs without resorting to tedious Lassie-style exercises in indicative barking. It must be noted that no other human in the movie possesses these abilities. In addition, one of the characters possesses a "Flash Gordon Ray Gun," which sets up a bit of self-contained sci-fi action (there are no other sci-fi elements in the film that I can recall). The most inexplicable element is the aforementioned alligator song: the character (and his band of tribal sewer rats) comes out of nowhere, performs a big Esther Williams-ish musical number and then vanishes. All of these disparate elements create a film that often feels like a curiously disjointed dream.
Even so, the film has some genuinely sweet moments along with a handful of rather amusing ones, and it's exceptionally easy to sit through given its predilection for visual flair. Burt Reynolds is well-cast as Charlie, bringing an appropriately raffish quality to the mangy German Shepherd. Bluth mainstay Dom DeLuise has a handful of entertaining moments as Itchy, and Vic Tayback's gravelly turn as Carface is suitably creepy. The best performance comes from young Judith Barsi, whose work as Anne-Marie is by turns adorable and laugh-out-loud funny. Sadly, it would be the promising 10-year-old's final film: Barsi was murdered by her father shortly after completing work on the movie.
All Dogs Go to Heaven turns in a 1080p/1.78:1 transfer that is anything but heavenly, offering an alarming amount of flecks, specks, dirt, and grime along with generally weak detail. The image is very soft at times and far more flat than a film this visually striking ought to be. Colors seem faded at times, too. It would appear that MGM has done almost no work in terms of cleaning up this release. Obviously, it looks better than the DVD, but this film deserves much better. The audio is similarly disappointing, as the music lacks any punch and the dialogue sounds muffled from time to time. The only supplement on the disc is a theatrical trailer.
All Dogs Go to Heaven is one of Don Bluth's middle-of-the-road efforts (not as strong as The Secret of NIMH or An American Tail, but certainly better than Thumbelina or A Troll in Central Park), but it offers enough charms to remain engaging, offbeat family viewing. Sadly, the Blu-ray release is pretty crummy.
Not guilty, even though the transfer is pretty "ruff."
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