The Animated Films of Don Bluth|
by John Cawley
All Dogs Go To Heaven
ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN debuted November 17, 1989; the first autonomous film from Don since NIMH over seventeen years earlier. No longer was he the brash Disney mutineer, he was a successful producer of animated features, with two of the industry's biggest hits under his belt. Sullivan Bluth bragged of the most modern and well staffed studios in Europe. ALL DOGS would again show what he could do on his own... or so it was hoped.
As the titles start, the picture segues from black (with titles) to light. Originally all that is seen in the light is a tunnel. The voice of Itchy, a somewhat slow-witted Dachshund, can be heard. His miner's cap soon becomes the intermittent light source. Soon another voice is heard. It is Charlie, a conman German Shepherd. Itchy is attempting to dig Charlie out of the dog pound. When the two finally have facial contact, Itchy prepares to remove one last pipe. Charlie warns him that it is a water pipe, but Itchy rivets away at it, causing it to burst.
From above ground, the water begins to spray from the Earth until it bursts forth in a geyser. The pound, which is designed similar to an island fortress, is sprayed with water as voices shout about the problem as spotlights search the ground. Cutting back underground, the water rushes through Itchy's tunnel. Itchy and Charlie have somehow avoided the water until now. Back above ground, the search lights criss cross the ground until one spots Charlie and Itchy crawling out of a hole. The guards begin shooting at the dogs.
Charlie and Itchy begin bickering as the two make an escape through a hole under the fence. Their voices continue bickering until they come up from under a sidewalk, some distance from the pound, but not far enough to avoid still being shot at by the guards. As the dogs make their way up a hill and away from the pound, they run over a hill as the film's title comes up.
The scene changes to a swamp. A sign reading "Carface and Charlie's" is seen, but "Charlie's" has been crossed out. Another sign announces a "big rat race" tonight. There is a long wooden pier leading to a dilapidated ship. A subtitle reads "Louisiana Bayou 1939." Cutting to the inside, a piece of cheese is seen racing along a rail. It's leading a group of rats who are racing after it.
The race is being watched by various dogs, as a small dog in an overhead bucket announces the race. The smallest rat, Squad Car, wins and receives a wreath. As his owner, a dog in a police hat, kisses the rat, some dogs cheer but most grumble. One remarks he thinks the house is fixed. One small dog presents his winning ticket and is given his winnings, a piece of meat. However it is quite small and "bad meat," according to the winner.
More bets are made and another race begins. The race gets interrupted by a loud howl. It's Charlie with Itchy, both in high spirits. The other dogs look surprised and one asks, "Aintcha supposed to be on Death Row?" The clients tell Charlie that things haven't gone well and that Carface isn't treating them fairly. Charlie walks up to the craps table, rolls the dice and wins. One dog comes up and asks if he can spare a couple of bones. "Why settle for a couple of bones when you can have the whole bank," asks Charlie as he wins at a slot machine. He and Itchy then break into the song, "You Can't Keep a Good Dog Down." Charlie sings and dances, as Itchy plays the piano, sings and dances.
As the song comes to an end, Killer, a mongrel, comes in and sees them, much to his surprise and is on the receiving end of physical abuse by Charlie and Itchy. After rolling on a barrel, Charlie, Itchy and Killer are knocked against a wall. The wall swings around, trapping Itchy behind it. After a spiral wipe, Killer is seen walking into a red-lit hull space and confronting Carface, a loathsome Pit Bulldog and Charlie's partner at the casino. Carface, who is sitting in the back seat of a car, tells Killer that he doesn't want to share 50% with Charlie. Killer explains that they had set up Charlie to be caught by the pound, and then offers to have Charlie's head squeezed with the pliers. Carface says that Charlie is a friend, and thus must be treated special.
Charlie calls from an area outside of the room. Carface calls back as a door is open, red light coming from the other room. Charlie takes a submissive position as Carface looks out at him. Charlie enters and grabs Carface, dancing him slightly around the room and says that Carface is putting on weight. Charlie then jumps in a chair, turns on a radio and begins tapping his paws as he talks with Carface. The two have a friendly discussion about the place as Carface and Charlie take turns turning off and on the radio. Charlie wants to add dancing girls, but Carface wants to dissolve the partnership because of Charlie's criminal record.
Itchy is still stuck behind the wall. He overhears two of Carface's henchman talking about feeding Carface's "little monster." Suddenly, Killer joins the group and tells the dogs that Carface wants them to get rid of Charlie. Itchy begins scratching as he tries to break out of his area, calling to warn Charlie.
Meanwhile, Carface is telling Charlie that he will give Charlie half the meat of the place and set the Shepherd up in his own place somewhere where his criminal record isn't known. Charlie begins to like the idea. The scene changes to outside the boat as Carface's voice is heard making the announcement that Charlie is going to go into business for himself. Carface then tells everyone, "to the Mardi Gras."
At the Mardi Gras, Itchy is running through the crowd, calling for Charlie. Later inside an abandoned float, Carface is giving a testimonial to Charlie with a batch of other dogs. Charlie is obviously drunk as he downs another beer. Carface presents Charlie with a gold watch. Killer and Carface follow as two henchdogs carry Charlie out back. Itchy arrives at the float, but the dogs are already gone.
Next, Killer and Charlie are at the end of a pier. Killer puts a blindfold on Charlie and tells him to stay on the mark and not to peek. Killer then runs up the pier and meets Carface who is next to a car. Carface releases the brake and the pair push the car down the pier. Itchy runs up and sees the scene, but is too far to help his friend. All he can do is yell, "Charlie." The car races down the pier, hits Charlie and both go off into the river.
Suddenly there are flashing lights followed by a bright light and a red tunnel filled with floating rocks. Charlie flies through the tunnel and out into a cloud filled land. He crashes into a golden gate as a blue bubble appears and turns into a Heavenly Whippet, a slender female dog about Charlie's size. She tells him it is the hall of judgment. Charlie is upset, but she tries to calm him by telling him not to worry since all dogs go to heaven because "unlike people" dogs are naturally loyal and kind.
The Whippet begins singing a welcome to Charlie, who is trying to be polite and by agreeing with her. The two float around the area as she describes some of the advantages of the place. All is fine until she sings the line, "Welcome to being dead." At this Charlie becomes irate, telling her that she has the wrong dog and cursing Carface. The Whippet meanwhile is having trouble finding any goodness or loyalty in Charlie's record.
Charlie now sings he doesn't want to die, as the Whippet continues going through the necessary steps of paw prints, gown and wings. He throws off the wings and halo and struggles with his gown as the two rise up into a cloud full of watches. Charlie discovers that his watch, like his life has stopped. He asks the Whippet to just wind it back up, but she refuses, since that would send him back to Earth.
Charlie takes hold of the watch, as the Whippet shows him a book to sign. She also states that everything that Charlie has done or will do is known. The watch then floats off. He dances with her slightly and she appears to be taken by his personality and charm. As Charlie spots his watch float by, he tries to grab it. When he discovers there are no surprises in Heaven he sings "Let Me Be Surprised" with her. During the song he gets the watch, but the Whippet grabs it back. As they float and dance along, he is able to switch the heavenly watch for the one given him by Carface. He hides the watch behind his back and begins to wind it. When the Whippet discovers this, she tries to stop him. She's too late, though for he rockets back to Earth. As he disappears, she cries out that he can never come back.
After passing through the same route he arrived, he lands in the river. He gets on the pier, gasping and choking. He pounds the watch a few times and it begins ticking. Slowly he revives. He happily looks at the glowing timepiece, but in the distance hears the Whippet's warning. He slams the watch closed in anger and limps up the pier as a storm begins.
Inside an abandoned building in a junkyard, Itchy is crying over the loss of his friend. Itchy cries out to Charlie in his sleep only to have Carface come up and begin to strangle him. It's only a dream as Itchy wakes up to find it is Charlie shaking him. Itchy then lets out a scream, certain that Charlie is a ghost. The two scramble around the room as Charlie tries to explain he is not dead to an unlistening Itchy. Only when Charlie shows Itchy some fleas does the Dachshund settle down; ghosts don't have fleas. Itchy now has a happy reunion, shouting his joy. However Charlie clamps a paw over Itchy's mouth. He doesn't want everyone to know he's alive.
Charlie plans to make Carface pay, but Itchy disagrees. Charlie tries to figure out why, if he was the brains of the partnership, why didn't Carface go out of business when he was in the pound. As Charlie continues to rant about Carface and revenge, Itchy tries to talk him into the two of them leaving for better places. Charlie, though, wants Carface to suffer. In an attempt to get Charlie to leave, Itchy mentions that along with all the thugs, Carface also has a monster. Rather than frightened, Charlie gets a devilish look on his face.
Cut to a ventilation screen being broken into by Charlie and Itchy, once again bickering. Itchy continues his pleas to leave, but Charlie only gets angry at his friend, stating he's "had it" with the Dachshund. Suddenly Itchy sees the monster through a vent. Charlie looks and sees a pile of cloth rising up. Under the cloth is a little girl, Anne-Marie. The two move away from the vent when they hear a noise.
In the room, Carface and Killer approach Anne-Marie. She asks if she will be able to go outside today, and he says "sure." But first, she has to talk to the rat he's brought. Anne-Marie agrees and begins talking to the rat. As the rat chatters back, it becomes apparent that the girl can not only talk to animals, but understand what they are saying. She discovers which rat will win the race and tells Carface. Carface tells Killer to fix the odds and feed the kid. As the pair leave, Anne-Marie says they promised to let her go outside. The door above closes. Anne-Marie sits down and cries.
Itchy and Charlie are still above in the ventilation shaft. Charlie is delighted by the girl's skills as dollar signs appear in his eyes. He and Itchy open the vent and go down to talk to her. Charlie says they'll have to kidnap her, then corrects himself, "rescue her." Charlie introduces himself to the girl and charms her a bit. Then he asks about her parents. Anne- Marie states she's an orphan. This thrills Charlie, who announces the girl will come to live with Itchy. Charlie packs a bag of things and loads it on Itchy. Then Charlie gets under her and she rides him out via the ventilation shaft. Charlie says she will live with him in his cab.
The film now cuts to Carface who is "riding" in his car. Actually, the car is running in place as a movie screen gives the impression that he is going someplace. He stops and is furious because Killer has just told him that the girl is gone. Carface tells Killer he wants the girl back "now" and goes back to riding his car.
That night, the moon is over the junkyard. Inside of Charlie's cab, he is telling Anne-Marie the story of Robin Hood as he looks at a copy of **War and Peace**. Itchy can't understand what kind of hood would give his money to the poor. Anne-Marie is entranced by the tale and Charlie tells Itchy to shut up as he is trying to get the girl's sympathy. Anne-Marie is thrilled by the story's end where Robin and Maid Marian get married. Charlie tells the girl it's time to go to bed and places her in the front seat. He tells her that he and Itchy have some business to discuss and pulls some drapes to divide the front from the back.
Charlie and Itchy sit outside the car and argue slightly over the girl. Itchy thinks they should hide her in the old Church, but Charlie reminds Itchy that Carface thinks he's dead, so one will look at his cab. Meanwhile, Anne-Marie tries to clean up the front seat so she can lie down. Charlie tells Itchy the three will go to the horse race tomorrow and make a fortune. Anne-Marie shouts "horsies" as the two look up to see her looking out the window. Charlie admonishes Itchy for waking her up. He tells Itchy to meet them at eight in the morning, while Charlie gets back into the backseat of the cab.
Charlie lays down and throws a pillow up front for her and tells her to go to sleep. She asks Charlie to tuck her in. He obliges and returns to the back. Then she asks for a goodnight kiss. He agrees, gives her a lick, then wipes his mouth. As he settles down to sleep, he's disturbed by her squeaking in the front. She stops and he goes back to sleep only to be awakened when she shows up next to him. She says the front seat hurts her. He goes to the front and tries to get comfortable, only to be awakened by her praying. Finally she asks if he will help her find some parents. He agrees to do anything if she will just go to sleep. As the view changes to an overhead shot of the junkyard, Anne-Marie is heard telling Charlie she has to go to the bathroom. " 'Course," he replies.
The next morning finds the trio in the horse stalls. Charlie asks Anne-Marie to talk to the horses. Itchy jokes that she can only talk to rats, like Charlie. Then he suggests horses are too stupid to talk, at which a horse neighs knocks Itchy over. Charlie runs to the girl and asks what the horse says. She only replies that Charlie sounds "just like Mr. Carface." Taken aback, Charlie tries to prove he's a good guy by reminding her that it was he who rescued her, and gave her a bed, and read her stories. Anne-Marie seems unconvinced until Charlie mentions that they'll give half the money to the poor. She is thrilled to be working like Robin Hood. Charlie also states that if she really wants to find parents, she'll need better clothes. Charlie repeats that he'll help her find parents. She's thrilled and gives Charlie a hug.
Anne-Marie runs to one of the horses and asks who's going to win. A horse whispers in her ear. Charlie asks what the horse said and Anne-Marie says the Grand Chawhee, an old broken down horse, will. Charlie doesn't believe it, but Anne-Marie says it's true because it's the Chawhee's birthday. Charlie wonders if the horse can be trusted. It neighs loudly, scaring Charlie and convincing him it is the Grand Chawhee. When Charlie says they'll place a bet, Itchy reminds him they have no money.
Outside, the trio wander through the crowd as Charlie and Itchy look for likely patsies and Anne-Marie looks for parents. Charlie and Itchy try one or two but fail. Anne-Marie spots a young couple who she thinks are just right. Charlie agrees and calls Itchy, asking him to do a "number three." Itchy runs to the couple and collapses, howling and acting lame. Anne-Marie runs up and tries to help. During the commotion, Charlie is able to pick the young man's pocket. Charlie and Itchy run off with Anne-Marie following. As the two canines hide in the bushes, the young woman comes up and asks Anne-Marie her name and where her parents are. Before she can answer, Charlie calls her away so they can place the bet. He puts a hat on her head.
As the announcer calls last chance to place bets, people line the betting windows. A tall Anne-Marie approaches, wearing the hat, a moustache and coat. Under the coat are Charlie and Itchy. After some coordination problems, they place the bet and walk off. Charlie grabs an ice cream cone on the way, takes a lick and passes it up to Itchy and Anne-Marie. They find a place to watch the race. As Anne-Marie looks out her ice cream drips down on the dogs as Itchy and Charlie bicker.
The race begins and the horses race down the stretch, except for the Grand Chawhee (wearing a birthday hat) who backs out of his stall. The horses are racing madly behind Chawhee when Stella, the horse who talked to Anne-Marie, runs out front to "Roger" who is in the lead. She reminds him that it is the Chawhee's birthday. Both pull back, but Roger comes back and pushes the Chawhee forward. The Chawhee, waves to the crowd and is pushed past the finish line into a cloud of dust. His head pops out from the cloud and he blows a party favor.
Charlie, Itchy and Anne-Marie laugh and cheer. She calls out to the Grand Chawhee, now getting his picture taken in the winners circle. The trio congratulate themselves and Anne-Marie gives Charlie a kiss. He looks at the audience and goes "yechh" as the iris closes on his face.
A musical montage follows showing Charlie in front of rows of dollars, flipping a stack of bills. Next Anne-Marie talks to a frog as Charlie and Itchy look on. The frog begins jumping as the scene changes to a race with the frog jumping and winning by leaping into a bucket of sludge that he starts to eat. Anne- Marie, Itchy and Charlie are seen in their disguise at another betting window. A slot machine is spinning and Charlie, Anne- Marie and Itchy come up on the slots. Gold coins fly out of the bottom. Next Anne-Marie is holding a turtle at the starting point of a race. Charlie and Itchy stand behind her. The turtle wins and Anne-Marie gets to put the winning wreath on him. More gold coins float through the scene as she kisses the turtle.
Next are two boxing kangaroos bouncing around a ring. One roo knocks the other out. The trio, in their disguise, hold up the winner's hand. The scene changes to inside the costume looking out and then to Itchy looking out at a table full of money. He grabs the money and then it cuts to the trio in disguise at a collection table getting more money. A huge wind blows through the scene.
Suddenly Charlie is seen with money blowing by him as he fans a stack of bills. The film cuts to Charlie and Itchy in the background as the money blows. In front of them is a sad Anne- Marie. Charlie sees her and grabs Itchy's head, so that he sees also. The two then drag her down a street into a dress shop. As she stands in front of a mirror as Charlie and Itchy applaud. The mirror spins and each time it stops, she is seen in a different outfit. Charlie and Itchy carry multiple boxes as they walk along with Anne-Marie dressed in one of her new outfits.
A new montage begins as Itchy is seen in various steps of working with blueprints. Next he works with a crane in the junkyard to pile a bunch of junk cars on top of each other. Then he sets to work with a blowtorch to weld the project. After more crane and welding work, he pulls an electrical switch and a huge sign lights up: "Welcome to Charlie's Place." Above the place, which is an old water tower, beacons light the sky.
Inside, it is a very classy place. Dogs are playing various games and Charlie is enjoying himself. Itchy is tending bar, an old auto. Charlie compliments Itchy on doing such a great job. As Charlie looks at himself in the mirror he sees Anne-Marie, dressed in her old outfit. She's got some suitcases and looks angry. She tells Charlie's she's leaving because Charlie didn't keep his promise to help the poor or find her parents. All he wants to do is gamble. "It isn't right," she states.
Charlie instantly agrees that he's been selfish. He then thanks her for helping him see the light. He uses his head to push her back into the club. He then states the two of them will go out to help the poor. Once again, Anne-Marie is thrilled and kisses Charlie. She walks out as Charlie spits the kiss off. Itchy then asks what is going on between Anne-Marie and Charlie. After all, Itchy reminds him, they have a business to run. Charlie wipes his mouth with the bar rag and tells Itchy they've got to keep the girl happy.
Meanwhile, at Carface's, a piece of meat is lowered into a pit of piranha, which quickly devour it. Above, Killer is tied to a crane, also waiting to be lowered. Carface stands nearby. Killer says, "Boy, I knew we should have used the pliers." Carface tells Killer that Charlie is alive and he is certain Charlie has the girl. After telling Killer he's had two strikes so he's out, he begins lowering Killer into the pit. As Killer sinks lower, Carface tries to decide how to handle Charlie: knives? poison? what? Killer then shouts out that he has a gun, a Flash Gordon Thermo-Atomic Ray gun. Carface laughs evilly and his face slowly transforms into a devil.
At the old church a menacing voice is talking about an evil shadow as a strange shadow is seen on the wall. It's discovered the voice is a radio announcer and the shadow is Anne-Marie and Charlie, his head stacked with pizza boxes. Charlie tells her that the people there are some of the poorest he knows. "They're broker than the Ten Commandments," a "joke" he explains. At the top of the church, a group of puppies sit around a radio. As a woman on the radio screams, they all jump and fall. Charlie then shouts out to ask if anyone ordered pizza.
The pups call out Charlie's name and charge him, knocking most of the pizza boxes to the floor. As the pups fight over the pizza, Charlie stops them to introduce Anne-Marie. After she says she's pleased to meet them, they go back to fighting over the pizza. Flo, a female collie, goes over to Charlie and says "hello." She says they don't see him much anymore, and that the pups love him so much.
At that moment one pup bites Charlie in the leg and asks for more pizza. Charlie tosses a box and tells the pup to eat the box if it wants. The box pops open revealing a single slice of pizza. A fight breaks out for the last slice, but Charlie breaks it up asking them to share. He then sings "What's Mine Is Yours," a song about sharing. The pups soon join in and for the finale do a small conga line. Charlie then tosses a final box that opens into a cake which the pups attack.
Flo and Charlie laugh and look on. Anne-Marie is also amused until she finds a wallet on the floor. She opens it and recognizes the couple from the race track. Charlie can't come up with an excuse fast enough and Anne-Marie tells him he stole it. She runs up a small stairway to the attic as Charlie tries to make amends but fails.
In the attic, one puppy joins Anne-Marie. The orphan stares at the photo and sings "Soon You'll Come Home." During the song, a sequence of imaginary photos appear featuring Anne-Marie and the orphan pups living with the family. As the song ends, she cuddles down to bed with two of the pups.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Charlie is asleep. His watch pops open, glowing, and the voice of the Whippet is heard reminding him that he can never return to Heaven. Suddenly there is an explosion and Charlie finds himself flying through space again. This time though, there are no bright lights and clouds, only dark smoke and flame. The land is barren and Charlie runs for his life from a hole of flame and crumbling ground. A tremendous burst of wind forces Charlie back towards the burning center. He falls through the vortex.
Below is molten lava. Out of it comes a skeletal neck of some ancient beast, it is attached to a long boat reminiscent of the legendary boat on the River Styx that ferried the dead to their final reward. Charlie lands in the boat which is commanded by a skeletal dragon-like creature. Charlie cries out, but to no avail. In front of the ship, an explosion in the molten lava releases a brilliant light that begins to take shape. Through the burning gasses, a canine type head is seen. In a burst of light, it becomes a gigantic dragon-like creature. Charlie runs towards the back of the boat, away from the giant.
A blast of the demon's fiery breath lands just in front of Charlie, burning the boat and then becoming a group of smaller bat-like demons. Charlie turns and runs, only to be stopped by another fiery blast. This also turns to demons. Soon all the demons are attacking and biting him. Charlie runs again as the boat begins to crumble under him. The demons continue biting him as he cries out. The scene then cross-dissolves to Charlie sleeping and the pups on top of him nipping at him trying to wake him up. He is on top of a broom leaning against a wall.
Discovering it was only a dream, he runs up to the attic to find Anne-Marie. She is gone. The pups tell Charlie that she went to see the wallet family. Charlie heads out as the scene fades to two pairs of feet under a table. It is the kitchen of the wallet family, and they are feeding Anne-Marie waffles and getting to know her. When the family discovers that Anne-Marie lives in the junkyard with her dog, Charlie, the wife excuses herself and her husband to talk privately out in the hall.
As the couple talk in the hall, and apparently are discussing the possibility of adopting her, Charlie calls to Anne-Marie from the kitchen window. Anne-Marie tells Charlie how wonderful the couple is. Charlie tells her that she seems to have found a home, so he just came to say "good-bye." Playing the martyr, he states he can't live with her because the couple wouldn't want a dirty dog in the house. He then begins coughing and says he'll get along somehow. Charlie then leaves, and Anne- Marie follows, exiting through the window, calling after him.
The scene shifts to the French Market. Charlie and Anne- Marie are walking down the street and it is deserted. Carface can be heard telling someone to wait a few more minutes, and to aim to the left. He doesn't want to hit the girl. Carface and Killer are now seen. They are sitting atop a large dog. Killer has his ray gun pointed right at the audience. The gun goes off and makes a direct hit on Charlie. Anne-Marie screams. Charlie grabs his watch, calls it a beautiful "little ticker," then has Anne-Marie mount him as he runs off. Carface, angry that Charlie is getting away, smacks Killer which causes the gun to go off. The dog they are sitting on is startled and runs around. The gun now blasts every which way on the street hitting various boxes and displays. All three ride off out of sight as Carface screams he's surrounded by morons.
Inside a nearby warehouse, Charlie and Anne-Marie hide. They pop out of some boxes, and he asks if she is all right. When he finds out she is fine, he again threatens to make Carface pay. Suddenly the floor begins to give way. He tells Anne-Marie to walk softly, but it is too late and the floor collapses beneath them.
They fall far and land in water. Both seem okay, but Charlie is terrified; he's lost his watch. Anne-Marie suggests it fell in the water and he begins searching. Suddenly he hears it ticking and tries to determine the direction, only to hear it stop. He goes into a death scene, only to find the watch gliding across the water. Wondering if the place is haunted, Anne-Marie is also grabbed by something and begins to glide across the surface of the water. The same plight happens to Charlie.
The scene changes and Charlie and Anne-Marie are in bamboo cages being carried by rodents in native outfits. They carry his watch in front of them. Charlie asks Anne-Marie to tell them to give him his watch, but she states they speak some strange language. Charlie manages to grab the watch just as the two cages are lowered down further onto a small island of junk in the water. When he hits the ground, he again drops the watch.
On the pier above, the native mice chant. A giant door opens and something comes in under the water. Charlie tells Anne-Marie they are going to die. A giant alligator, King Gator, gets out of the water and comes towards them, just barely missing stepping on Charlie's watch. He pick's up Charlie's cage and claims it looks like a tasty canine gumbo. Anne-Marie begs for King Gator not to eat Charlie, but the giant Gator puts Charlie and cage in his mouth. As he begins to bite down, Charlie gives his howl. King Gator stops in his tracks. He tells the native mice that he can't eat a voice as "sumptuous" as Charlie.
He frees Charlie, who grabs his watch. The Gator jumps for joy, shaking the island and knocking Anne-Marie into the water. Suddenly the Gator breaks into song as a giant pearl lands on the island and the image changes into that of a oyster shell. King Gator puts on a flowered bathing cap and breaks into "Let's Make Music Together." As the song continues, the scene changes from the sewers to a multi-colored background with sparkling walls. The shell raises up to the sky on a spout of water and Gator and Charlie dive off it, continuing the song underwater for a brief period. The Gator then grabs a trapeze bar that raises him and Charlie high in the sky. Gator does some twirling on the bar, tossing Charlie around like a small doll. He then drops down and both land underwater again.
The Gator goes back up to the surface and does a backstroke with Charlie riding his stomach. As they swim along, flowers bust forth with water like a fountain. At this point Charlie joins in with the singing. The background now resembles an elegant swimming pool as the pair continue singing. However, along with the singing, coughing is heard. It is Anne-Marie, leaning on a rock. King Gator swims by the rock and Charlie pulls Anne-Marie aboard. She says she doesn't feel very good as the trio swim out the large doors, which are now ivory pillars.
Meanwhile, back at Charlie's, Itchy is cleaning up. He yells for Rocky to relieve Jocko on guard duty. When there's no answer, he calls again, but is shocked to find Carface is standing behind him. Carface asks where the girl is and Itchy says he doesn't know. Carface asks his gang if they believe Itchy.
As the dogs move in on Itchy, the scene shifts to outside the old church. Anne-Marie is heard coughing. Flo is heard telling Charlie that the girl has a fever and possibly pneumonia. When Charlie suggests a vet, Flo tells him she's a girl and needs a doctor. Though he doesn't know any doctors, he tells Flo he'll find one. Cutting to inside the church, Itchy is heard calling for Charlie. Charlie tells Itchy to be quiet because Anne-Marie is sick and needs sleep. Itchy sarcastically tells Charlie, "you're breakin' my heart." Charlie then sees that Itchy has been hurt.
Charlie asks what happened and Itchy says it was Carface and his gang. Charlie apologizes to Itchy. Itchy then goes to a window and tells Charlie to see what else Carface did. Looking outside, Charlie sees a massive fire in the junkyard. Itchy tells him, "that's our place." Itchy then goes into a tirade at Charlie telling him that it was Charlie who was going to fix Carface, but now it's Carface who's fixed Charlie. He then reminds Charlie that he had always been against Charlie's plan to get revenge, to steal the girl, and such. But he stuck with Charlie because Charlie was his friend.
Itchy now pleads with Charlie to dump the girl and the two of them can leave for someplace else and call it even. Charlie claims that since the place burned down, they need the girl more than ever to rebuild. Itchy accuses Charlie of going soft, of having fallen in love with the girl. Charlie becomes angry and tells Itchy that he's only been using the girl. Itchy is his best friend, with the girl it's just business. Charlie shouts that when they're done with the girl, they'll dump her in an orphanage. He asks if that's okay with Itchy. Itchy quietly answers, "Sure, boss."
Anne-Marie has been standing on the steps behind them for the last few moments. Charlie and Itchy see her, and she begins to cry. She calls Charlie a bad dog and runs out. He runs after her, but when he gets out the door, all he finds is her doll on the ground. As it begins to storm, he hears her scream. Knowing Carface has her, Charlie runs off into the night. Itchy arrives at the door just as Charlie has disappeared. Flo comes up behind Itchy and tells him to take the doll to the wallet family at 402 Maple Street for help. Itchy grabs the doll and runs off.
Itchy is seen running down a rainy street. He barks out for assistance from other dogs. One answers, wondering what is at that address. Itchy tells him that Charlie is in trouble and a there's a little girl. Another dog hears the address and gives directions. When he asks the first dog what's going on, he's told by the first dog that Charlie is in trouble and a little girl may die. The two begin barking their message throughout the city.
Meanwhile, at Carface's ship Anne-Marie is hanging over the water in a cage. Charlie arrives and calls to her. He leaps into the cage and picks her up off a box with his front paws, promising to take her to the wallet family. Suddenly Carface is heard above. He and his gang are standing around the boat, looking down at Anne-Marie and Charlie. Charlie puts her down and jumps out of the cage onto a ledge as Carface tells his gang to get him. A battle begins with Charlie using his paws like fists.
Elsewhere, at the wallet family's home, the couple has been rudely awaken in the night. When the wife asks what is it, the husband looks out the door and replies, "dogs". In front of their house are dozens of dogs. Before the husband can shut the door, Itchy runs in. The wife screams as Itchy continually barks at her.
Back at the boat, the battle continues. Charlie is doing pretty well until Carface joins in. He manages to begin tying Charlie to an anchor when another dog bites Charlie's foot. Charlie gives out his famous howl. In the distance, the river bubbles as King Gator heads for the ship. In the ship, Charlie and the anchor are being lowered into the water. As the anchor goes into the water, Charlie holds his watch in his mouth, trying to keep it above water.
Before he fully goes underwater, the ship's hull is split open by King Gator who begins destroying everything in his path. Charlie goes under, but King Gator bites the ropes, freeing him. Charlie comes up and Carface panics.
Meanwhile, the dogs and the wallet family are racing down the street. More dogs and people join in as they witness the rush. Even Flo and the puppies have heard the call and are on the way.
At the ship, Carface and Charlie are in a deadly battle. King Gator gives the ship another head butt from outside knocking Anne-Marie's cage into the water. She is floating on the box that was in the cage. Charlie calls to her and heads in her direction to save her. The same shaking causes some oil barrels to upset and spill on a generator starting a fire. Anne-Marie is quickly surrounded by burning oil as Charlie watches overhead. Charlie hangs his watch on piece of railing and prepares to dive. However, Carface leaps on Charlie causing the watch to fall onto a floating board.
After another Gator head butt, Carface is knocked off the platform into the water. Gator sees Carface and heads after him. The implication is that King Gator eats Carface. Charlie now leaps from the platform into the water. He lands near his watch and grabs it. Charlie looks to Anne-Marie as she falls off the box and sinks out of sight. He puts his watch on the box and goes down for her. While underwater, he's able to grab her, but falling embers above knock his watch off the box. As he is coming up with the girl, he sees his watch sinking. He makes an attempt to grab it but fails. He then swims down a bit to grab it but fails again. Looking at Anne-Marie, he begins to swim upward. His watch hits the bottom and pops open.
On the surface, Charlie finds a plank to put Anne-Marie on. He pushes the plank off towards the large hole in the hull made by King Gator, yelling out to her that she can make it. Her board floats out of the burning ship and into the river. As the watch at the bottom begins to tick irregularly, Charlie winces in pain. He dives again to get it. A shot shows the watchworks rapidly filling up with water as the ticking gets more irregular. Charlie continues swimming downwards as the watch stops and black ooze fills the screen.
On the river bank, the dogs, police and others have arrived. Flo and Itchy walk out into the water as Itchy simply says, "Charlie." In the distance is a floating object. It is Anne- Marie on the plank, being pushed by Killer. The wallet family gasps as everyone runs to the girl's aid.
Later, outside the wallet family's home, the moon is on the horizon. Inside, a limping Itchy gets on the bed where Anne- Marie is asleep. He falls asleep next to her as a wind begins to blow leaves into the room. In the distance, a red glow burns from the ground. A red fiery wind blows into the room, followed by a red cloud that materializes into Charlie. He lands by the side of her bed. He puts his head on the bed and sadly says, "I'm sorry." Back in the distance, the demon creature from Charlie's nightmare calls for him.
Suddenly, a blue light floats in and flies through the creature, destroying it and the red haze. The light then floats into the bedroom, calling Charlie. It is the Whippet. She now says that Charlie can go to heaven, because he gave his life to save the girl. The Whippet tells him to say goodbye to her. Charlie sadly leaps on the bed and looks at Anne-Marie, unable to say anything.
Anne-Marie stirs, waking up. Charlie instantly smiles, putting on his usual cocky persona. He tells her he's come to say goodbye. He's going on a little trip. Charlie then asks her to take care of Itchy while he's gone. Anne-Marie promises. Charlie says goodbye to Itchy. Anne-Marie then says she'll miss Charlie and gives him a kiss. Rather than spit it off, as he done in the past, he looks down and quietly says he'll miss her too. He then tells her to go to sleep. She asks if she'll ever see him again. Charlie assures her that "Goodbyes aren't forever." Anne-Marie then says goodbye and that she loves him. He mumbles what sounds like "I love you" to her then backs away as she falls asleep.
Charlie walks off the bed towards the window. The blue light leaves and the windows open to reveal a smoky, sparkling mist. The Whippet tells Charlie to come home and he leaps into the mist, disappearing. As Charlie and the Whippet float on clouds up to heaven, the end titles begin to roll and a choir begins singing. Charlie stops the song and declares that he knows they're dead "up here, but so's the music." At which the score turns to "Halleluah." As the song and titles continue, Carface is found in heaven tearing off his wings and gown. He threatens revenge against the Gator and begins winding his clock. The Whippet gives her warning only to have Carface respond, "oh, shut up." He flies towards Earth with the Whippet in close chase. Charlie's head, halo above, pops out of a cloud and announces Carface will be back, winks at the audience and disappears back into the cloud. The halo remains until Charlie's hand reaches up and pulls it into the cloud. At the conclusion of "Halleluah," another song, "Love Survives" plays.
"ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN has probably been the most delightful film we've done so far," said Don prior to release. "The characters are our strongest yet. When you have plot, good characters and actors, and fine animation -- all these things are the makings of real magic."
Actual production began the end of 1988, while LAND BEFORE TIME was being released, but the premise for DOGS goes back to the time of post-NIMH problems. One of the projects Don was developing was a film consisting of three short stories. One tale was satire of detective films with a mangy German shepherd as private eye. The dog was designed specifically for Burt Reynolds. Burt was a friend of Dom DeLuise, who had worked so well with Don on NIMH. There were some general talks and Don put together a rough board on the project. It never went into full production and the games came along, temporarily pushing all features into a hold pattern.
While working on the original project the studio adopted a stray shepherd mix who was dubbed Burt. This quiet mutt stayed with the studio for years and eventually went to Ireland with them. Initially they wanted to give Burt the dog a credit in TAIL but one of the production assistants objected when they discovered the dog would receive as much credit as she would.
With total control over his next picture, Don and his team looked carefully for a property. In 1988, The Hollywood Reporter stated that "The company's choice of subject matter for its next project, Sullivan explained, was inspired by the fact that 'the three top animated films (of all time) were about dogs - THE FOX AND THE HOUND, 101 DALMATIANS, and LADY AND THE TRAMP." The logical choice was the Burt Reynolds dog story. They christened it ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN, based on a title of a book that a teacher read to Don's fourth grade class.
CREATING A STORY
Don, John and Gary began shaping the story in November of 1987. John Pomeroy recalled some of the early story discussions in an interview released before the film's debut. "Our early story meetings were spent trying to describe what kind of tale this title could be about. To backtrack, we were searching for a concept which would hook an audience. We've done dinosaurs, which is enough to grab younger people. We've done immigrant mice arriving at the Statue of Liberty. That's a provocative subject.
"Don's title, ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN, had a built-in attraction - heaven, with all the mystique and mysteriousness attached with that, and the idea that there might be somewhere out there in the cosmos where dogs go after they die."
From the start, the title seems to have been sore point with some. After the announcement, some media commentators began to make light of it. One animation writer stated "titles like that is why most people say 'all animation goes to Hell.'" There were various times in the press the film seemed to be searching for a new name. "Charlie, the Heavenly Dog" was mentioned as the new title in November 1988. However, Don and his crew continually stated that the original title **would** be the title the film would be released under.
"Many people suggested changing the title," stated Don in an interview prior to the film's release, "I thought, 'No, no, no.' ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN is very provocative. When I would mention that title to people they would grin. Whether or not you believe in Heaven or an afterlife, it's still just a little fairy tale, an allegory which says, 'If you're ever going to come of age, you have earned it.'"
The original story was finalized by Don, John and Gary. "All great stories seem to me to have two things in common," stated Don, "They entertain and they educate. I've always loved the experience of being carried away in fantasy, but I think it's important to learn something while you're there."
Gary Goldman recalled it took sometime to decide where to set the film. "Eventually," he recalled, "we opted for New Orleans as a completely different setting than anything we'd ever used before, with overtones of Mardi Gras, jazz music, the Mississippi and a feeling of worldliness that contrasted nicely with the film's spiritual theme. Along with co-director Dan Kuenster, I made a special trip there and we took more than 3,000 photos for research purposes."
Once the preliminary work was done, the studio had devised a story based on elements from such films as IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, LITTLE MISS MARKER and A GUY NAMED JOE (later remade as HEAVEN CAN WAIT). David Weiss was brought in to put all these situations into the final screenplay.
Boarding was supervised by Don, but more artists were utilized, particularly Larry Leker. Larry had been doing storyboards with Don since TAIL and had very in tune with Don's style. Don often gave Larry simple ball and socket positions of the characters for Larry to work with. During this boarding phase a number of story elements found in the final script were dropped or altered. For example, more was made of King Gator in a subplot in which Carface supposedly chased Gator out of the swamp in early days, making Gator and Carface old rivals.
As with all of Don's films, Don was the main character designer, though on this production, John Pomeroy was employed to assist in this task and also clean up Don's work for the model sheets.
"Burt had already agreed to do a film with us," said Don. Reynolds made one stipulation, though, that his name not be used to promote the film. "Knowing that he'd be featured in this made it so much easier to create a strong central character. Burt has a way of cocking his head and raising his eyebrows at half-mast, just an incredible way of using his face, so that aspect of the real Burt went straight into Charlie the dog."
Dom DeLuise was cast as Itchy, Charlie's friend and partner. As with his other animated performances, DeLuise added much to the character and dialogue. In fact, DeLuise's and Reynolds' relationship altered the way the studio recorded dialogue. In the past, each actor was by himself. Don usually fed them the other character's lines as he directed them.
For DOGS Don had Reynolds and DeLuise record their lines together. John Pomeroy recalled, "Normally we record the voices separately, then intercut them to make up the tempo and timing that's needed. With Reynolds and DeLuise together, we let them record the way they wanted to. They've worked together so often and have such a great rapport we could take what they recorded together and just cut it into the film."
Don agreed, "They said, 'Give us the microphone and go away.' We did that." The pair adlibbed and altered the script at will.
Another pair allowed to record together was Charles Nelson Reilly and Vic Tayback. Tayback was the villainous Carface, and Reilly portrayed his assistant, Killer.
Reynolds' wife, Loni Anderson, gave voice to the collie, Flo. According to Reynolds, Anderson had grown up wanting to be an animator. One of her early heroines was Disney's Snow White, who like the young Loni had brunette hair and was the only animated princess who was dark haired. Anderson still collects SNOW WHITE items.
For ALL DOGS, Don designed the first major human character for one his features, Anne-Marie, the orphan girl. "Humans are much more difficult to animate than animals," stated Don. "We are all so used to seeing each other talk and move that we're expert judges in human action. Even the slightest fault is immediately picked up.
To assist the animators, extensive live action footage was shot for reference. However, unlike in TAIL, where the animators basically played the parts, Sullivan Bluth held an audition for a little girl. After testing nearly a score of youngsters, they picked a six-year old Irish girl. In the course of six or seven months, she would come into the studio two or three times a week and would be filmed doing, in live action, what Anne-Marie was to do in animation.
This didn't mean that the crew didn't still participate in the live action studies. John Pomeroy and his new wife (he had divorced Lorna between TAIL and LAND) were filmed as reference for the married couple in the film.
Don cast Judith Barsi, Ducky from LAND BEFORE TIME, as Anne- Marie. The studio was again taken with the young lady and planned to not only use her extensively in publicity, but as a regular in their productions, much as Dom DeLuise had become. However tragedy struck in July of 1988 when she was allegedly killed by her father in what newspapers referred to as an "Apparent Murder-Suicide." The studio was shocked by the events, especially Don who reportedly left for the day upon hearing the news.
Musically, the film attempted to match the popular song style of TAIL. Tony winner Charles Strouse was brought on the project to write the main score. His previous work included composing the music for such hits as BYE BYE BIRDIE and ANNIE.
"We'd talk about the general story," Don stated about his initial meetings with Strouse, "and the specific concept for each song. No song could be just stuck in without a purpose. Every one had to advance the plot or enlighten the audience in some way."
As an example, Don cited "Let's Make Music Together," which is sung in the film by King Gator. "We were trying to figure out how to make this big, mean, ugly alligator entertaining when it struck us to do a take-off on the old Esther Williams movies," said Don. "And so our ugly 'gator transformed into this lunatic, emerald green primadonna (complete with flowered bathing cap), who pirouettes, dives into flower covered pools of water and just about steals the show -- all the while singing this terrific song."
Other songs from Strouse were "You Can't Keep a Good Dog Down," the lively duo Charlie and Itchy sing at the club, "Let Me Be Surprised," the duet between Charlie and the Whippet in Heaven, and "What's Mine Is Yours," which Charlie sings to the orphan puppies. In all Strouse wrote four songs. (An early promotional brochure on the feature stated that Strouse would write five songs.)
Two songs were written by T.J. Kuenster, brother of co- director Dan Kuenster. They are "Soon You'll Come Home," sung by Anne-Marie while she looks at the photo of the married couple, and "Hallelujah," sung over the beginning of the closing credits. Kuenster is a respected studio musician and served as musical director for 24 Glen Campbell television broadcasts.
The score was written by Academy Award winner Ralph Burns. His film credits include ALL THAT JAZZ, CABARET and A CHORUS LINE. Like all of Don's films, the musical score is strong. But that may have been as much from the studio as the composer. As Gary Goldman explained, "With the composer, we're pretty free, but most composers that have worked with us have liked the way we track the picture. The term tracking the picture is where we select music from other productions, whether they be musical symphonies, themes from movies like APOCALYPSE NOW or ALIEN, or even something fun from PINOCCHIO. We'll take anywhere from five seconds to three minutes worth to represent an entire sequence to give the film a mood and inspire an animator."
After Burns had written his score, Don and company requested some changes made. It was the first time they had ever made such requests. Burns complied, according to Gary and "made the change in less than five minutes and altered the cue significantly."
ANIMATION AND MORE
Animation went smoothly on the film with most of the crew feeling enthusiastic about the property. Unlike LAND, they were more on their own and the characters were more fun to draw than the lumbering dinosaurs. Production went at a very fast clip.
In mid-production, Sullivan Bluth became a studio divided. Not by opinion, but by an Ocean. Sullivan Bluth U.S., which had done some commercial work, was expanded when John Pomeroy returned to the U.S. to head up a division here. Pomeroy's crew quickly grew, producing animation for the feature.
He also used the new larger U.S. presence to rekindle grass roots interest in the U.S. for the growing studio. A division entitled Don Bluth Animation Gallery began officially marketing the Bluth cels, unseen for several years. (Cels from both TAIL and LAND belonged to Amblin', who has yet to market them.) DOGS cels were placed on sale prior to the release of the film. A special display on DOGS was presented at the 1989 San Diego Comic Con.
Also new was the use of computer animation in the film. Don, generally not impressed with the idea of computer animation, consented to let the computer used for commercials create some of the animation in the film. Similar to the use in Disney features, the animation was used to assist in a tricky perspective shot. The computer crew created the scene of the car running down the pier towards Charlie as well as some of the mechanical crane work at the junkyard when Itchy is building Charlie's Place.
Work continued with no official distribution firm set for the U.S. market. By the end of 1988, Goldcrest took the film to MIFED, an international marketplace, to sell to foreign markets. All they had was a test reel to show distributors. It wasn't until the summer of 1989 that Goldcrest was able to make a deal to distribute the film in the U.S. The studio that picked it up was United Artists, the same company that had first agreed to distribute THE SECRET OF NIMH. All foreign markets, except Japan, were also sold by this time (for an advance total of $7 million).
The U.S. deal was somewhat unusual in that Goldcrest agreed to pick up the (film) prints and advertising costs, estimated at around $10 million. (Like NIMH, the distribution company would not be handling the publicity and advertising.) Goldcrest planned to increase that amount with promotional tie-ins worth $20-30 million. With Goldcrest covering the print and ad expenses, UA would receive one third the usual distribution fee. If the film grossed over $35 million at the box-office, UA agreed to pay Goldcrest a minimum of $8 million from the home video sales. At the time, it was stated that the (then) new James Bond film, LICENCE TO KILL, would feature a trailer for DOGS.
In September, the premiere date was announced to be November 17th, in over 1000 theaters in the U.S. and Canada. MGM/UA stated they would receive 20% off the top of the gross for handling the release. Net profits would be split between Sullivan Bluth and Goldcrest. At this point, Goldcrest had raised the print and ad budget to $15 million. In the article announcing the deal, a representative of Sullivan Bluth stated that the reason the film wasn't being released by Universal, who had released TAIL and LAND, was that "it was dissastified with the terms on both."
TRIMMING THE DOG
As the film neared completion, test screenings indicated some of the scenes "too intense" for the young. The MPAA even gave the film a "PG" rating. John Pomeroy stated this was unacceptable. Several scenes were cut or trimmed. The re- submitted feature received a "G."
"We want adults to feel comfortable letting their children see this," Pomeroy stated, "but we don't want to just totally neuter the picture and take all the thrill out of it. So it was a balancing act. We wanted the G rating, and yet we still wanted to tell the story as we intended it... going to heaven involves death."
Gary Goldman also addressed the problem. "You have to wear two hats in this area. You have a creative integrity hat and you also have a marketing hat that you must wear with your investor and distributor of the film. Whereas you might want to hold your integrity to something you feel is quite beautiful on the screen, you might have to alter that to achieve commercial success. Those are the hardest decisions to make. You have to answer to yourself morally, and you have to answer to those artists who have fallen in love with certain things in a motion picture. Most of the artists are adults, but we have to acknowledge the fact that many of the audience are very, very young. We have a black side to us, and some of the most artful things to us are on the dark side."
The majority of cuts involved two scenes. The first was the scene where Charlie is killed by the car. The original featured a graphic depiction of the car hitting Charlie. Charlie's body is seen flying off the pier and into the river. The other reduction came in the nightmare where Charlie envisions Hell. Originally the giant demon spoke to Charlie, attempting to reach out for him. It also appeared longer, and more threateningly, on the screen.
Another minor change was the type of weapon Carface and Killer used against Charlie and Anne-Marie. Originally, the evil pair attacked them with a "tommy gun." However, in mid- production there was an attack at a California school by a man using automatic weapons (many children were killed). To keep from looking like a similar scene, the "tommy gun" was changed to the more fantasy sounding "atomic gun."
Ready for release, Don traveled to the U.S. to do promotion for the opening of the film. Everyone knew they would have to push hard, for like the previous LAND BEFORE TIME versus OLIVER AND COMPANY battle, DOGS was set to battle Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID.
THE DOG HOUSE
Probably no one expected the scenario that followed DOGS' release in the U.S. The studio was prepared for comparisons to Disney's MERMAID. They were set to possibly be number two in the box office battle. What they didn't expect was the barrage of negative reviews from almost every source.
Not since the rash of features starring toys (HE-MAN's SECRET OF THE SWORD, RAINBOW BRITE AND THE STAR STEALER, TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE, etc.) had an animated film been so cruelly treated by the press.
Daily Variety stated "Family audiences are ill-served by Don Bluth's ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN, an animated musical that's confusing, pointless and miscast (in voices). Pic doesn't stand a chance in competition with Disney superior THE LITTLE MERMAID." It went on to complain heavily about the voices, songs, sequences and other elements.
"Whether adults or smallfry will be able to sit through the remainder of the picture depends on their tolerance for filler and confusing construction, with nightmare sequences and off-the- track material causing considerable head-scratching." The review ended with "Quality of animation is highly variable, even during any given scene."
"ALL DOGS is a cheesy fable about a gruff-but-cuddly German shepherd, his snappish-but-huggable sidekick and their treacly- sweet human pal Anne-Marie, who resembles nothing so much as one of those motel paintings of a little kid with big eyes," wrote Newsweek. It concluded it's comments with "Appallingly plotted and poorly animated (the figures virtually flicker before your eyes like a kid's flipbook), possessed of just enough wit to rip off the Twilight Bark sequence from Disney's 101 DALMATIANS at a particularly low point, ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN is very much like going to hell."
The Los Angeles Times declared "ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN, the latest animated feature from Don Bluth (THE LAND BEFORE TIME, AN AMERICAN TAIL), is in the comfy fun-for-the-entire-family category. Except, as is so often the case with such movies, it's not really a whole lot of fun for anyone. The animation is of variable quality; the story is a garbled pastiche of 'Oliver Twist' and 'Little Miss Marker;' the songs, including four by Charles ('Annie') Strouse, are eminently unhummable. Adults probably won't find the story transporting enough to stifle yawns; children won't pop their eyes at the animation."
Discussing the fantasy elements, the critic wrote "A tip-off to the film's vacuity is its vision of heaven, which appears to have been color-coordinated in shades of Pepto Bismol." It concluded with "When we're in the presence of great animation, we feel as if our childhoods have overwhelmed us. Suddenly, everything is possible. In ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN, the possible is the mundane."
"ALL DOGS feels, at times, like a particularly unfunny 'Road Runner' cartoon, with occasional musical interludes," wrote the (Los Angeles) Daily News. "Yes of course, the animation is far above the Saturday-morning-cartoon level. But the story and characters are not. ALL DOGS is long on frenetic activity but woefully short on charm."
The Daily News critic also wondered about the film's internal logic. "This is just a hunch, but I suspect that kids, logical beings that they are, will wonder why Anne Marie is the only one who can talk to the animals, since in cartoon logic, animals talk to one another all the time. Good luck to you parents who have to explain this."
WittyWorld's critic thought "Don Bluth's newest animated feature contains some good graphics and a clever story concept. Unfortunately, that's about all that can be said in its favor. It seems to epitomize the attitude of, 'Forget about the plot and just concentrate on how pretty the animation looks!' As a result, it's difficult to appreciate the movie except for some of its individual technical aspects."
Even papers outside of the major media districts weren't amused. The Erie Daily News stated "This Damon-Runyon-type tale about dogs is like a compendium of the worst of Disney - strained comedy, grisly sentimentality, shock effects to frighten and upset the children, tuneless and appalling performed songs, and - can you take it? - a sweet, little orphan girl. At least Disney, even at its worst was good at plot - the studio kept the story line comprehensible. ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN is a bewilderingly disjointed collection of twists and unrelated ideas."
However, not all reviews were totally unfavorable. Several saw beyond the film itself to an admirable effort. Some even preferred it to the critically romanced LITTLE MERMAID.
American Film Magazine reviewed both films at once. After discussing problems with MERMAID, the critic wrote about DOGS, "Here, too, there are flaws - the songs are uniformly awful, there are annoying detours from the business at hand, the action occasionally builds to scenes that somehow never materialize, and you can practically see the rivets holding the plot together. But the characters have dimension: They exist for each other as a source of pain or disappointment or salvation. There is plenty of jolly old cartoon activity as well, but it surrounds a solid story about the redeeming power of self-sacrifice. (Sounds heavy, but there it is.) This makes the gaffes bearable and puts ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN closer to classic Disney than the current Disney manages to be.
"Kids may prefer the Disney film [MERMAID], which has cuter characters, broader comedy and better songs, and employs a livelier palate and is not nearly as unsettling as ALL DOGS, which abounds with unsavory characters and dark corners, and lets it hero die - twice. But it adds up to something, and when the denouement comes, ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN jerks real tears."
Also calling DOGS the better of the two, the Minneapolis Star Tribune stated "It's Bluth's ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN that comes out on top. Disney's adaption of Hans Christian Andersen's THE LITTLE MERMAID puts up a respectable fight. But in the end, better attention to detail, pacing of the story and use of voice talent tip the scales in Bluth's favor."
The Hollywood Reporter thought "A wide emotional range, superb character animation, a packed narrative, a uniquely smoky palette, and psychological acuity mark Don Bluth's ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN, certainly the best all-around achievement of the animator to date." Later stating "The picture looks like a very big hit."
Unlike others who faulted the story, the Reporter wrote "Bluth and his cohorts have a story sense that is every bit as strong as their visual sense, and here - working strictly as their own boss - they dip into the grab bag of childhood fears and endow the story with a feeling that there is something vital at stake." It concluded its thoughts with "So the ending is more than sentimental; it is evocative, touching not just on memories of affection, but the remembrance of loss as well. And it hits like a train."
A small Los Angeles area paper, the Tolucan, was very favorable. "Done with obvious care, affection and top-quality professionalism, this movie is characterized by abundant humor and wonderfully original toe-tapping songs (with music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra) in addition to its charming cadre of canine characters."
A surprisingly positive review came from the generally cynical and acerbic LA Weekly. "Once you look past the quasi- religious overtones and Burt Reynolds' crummy crooning, ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN is a good old plot-driven animation." They concluded by stating "A lot of minor contradictions in the script will keep the nitpicky busy, but the final scene won't leave a dry eye in the house."
Don canceled his tour early due to the resounding dashing the film got by critics. Final box office for the film topped $29 million, a far cry from MERMAID's nearly $90 million. However, there was more to the conceived failure of DOGS than meets the eyes.
When TAIL first appeared, it was at a time when Disney was at one of it's lowest points. None of their films had been very successful, especially the animated ones. The new management seemed to be making a lot of money, but not doing a lot about animation. TAIL, with Spielberg and Don, looked like a white knight coming to the rescue. (However, even reviews of TAIL were generally poor.)
By the time DOGS came on the scene, there had been several key Disney successes including OLIVER AND COMPANY, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT and TV's GUMMI BEARS and DUCK TALES. Disney was now successfully marketing animation on all fronts from Disney stores to classics on videotape. Once again, Disney was the darling of animation fans and Don was just another upstart.
An example of this double standard could be found when the videotape for DOGS was announced to be released the same time as Disney's PETER PAN. One video article in TV Guide claimed that PAN was one of Disney's best and most successful features. To prove it the author stated that in the last release (1988) the film had done $30 million at the box office. Later in the same article he talks of DOGS which only made a "disappointing" $29 million. Only one million dollars usually does not separate a hit from a flop in Hollywood's eyes.
This perspective is not meant to diminish some of the criticism towards the feature. The film is not without its faults. However, many observers agree that the press seemed eager to take DOGS to task for any reason.
Little DOGS merchandise ever came out due to contractual difficulties near the end of production. The only major licensees were a set of plastic figures sold through Wendy's fast food restaurants. The figures consisted of Charlie, Anne-Marie, Flo, King Gator, Carface and Killer. Quickly discarded by even collectibles dealers, they may skyrocket in value should the film be "re-discovered". Several computer products including a computer game and a computer art system were also released.
The film was released world wide after the U.S. release. Ireland saw the film premiere in the Spring of 1990. On April 5th it debuted in England. The Royal premiere featured an attendance by Princess Anne.
Charlie was designated by the FBI as its official "spokesdog" on drug abuse prevention. Apparently no public service spots nor promotional literature was produced to cement that honor.
In the Fall of 1990, the Hollywood Christmas Parade featured a float devoted to DOGS. It included costume characters as well as Charles Nelson Reilly.
ALL DOGS GO TO VIDEO
DOGS' best treatment came when it was released into the home video market the end of 1990. MGM/UA Home Video and Proctor and Gamble teamed to make it their major holiday release. The two had previously promoted the 50th anniversary of WIZARD OF OZ in 1989. Over $13 million was spent on TV advertising, with new animation done by Sullivan Bluth USA showing the characters giving the tape for the holidays. Another Downey commercial had live action dogs discussing the film while one of the dog's owners was in a store buying the tape and Downey products.
A commercial for Downey was put on the video tape. Dom Deluise appeared (live) on the tape to tell viewers to stay tuned for a message about the Boys Club of America. (There was also a preview from ROCK-A-DOODLE.)
With the tape out, reviewers had another chance to evaluate the film. Not being the box office success of the previous TAIL or LAND, few felt they needed to be any kinder.
Entertainment Weekly declared "Despite top-flight animation, it's easy to see why DOGS was buried by Disney's LITTLE MERMAID in the theaters: It has none of that film's effortlessly natural charm. The lead dog is uncharismatic and the songs are hokey and unmemorable. Older kids and adults will find the whole thing slightly passe." The review also went out of its way to mention the "giant homosexual alligator."
Laser Disc Newsletter commented "The narrative has clearly been truncated, making it confusing and even more unappealing than, apparently, it was initially intended. The voices chosen for the characters are terribly ill-conceived, particularly Burt Reynolds, whose weak and indistinctive readings as the hero put the viewer to sleep long before his character reaches that state. The morals and dramatic conceptualizations of the film are also odd, as if no one within the Bluth organization understood children's films, although that is what they keep trying to make. But the artwork is heavenly - richly colored, imaginatively landscaped, and decisively rendered."
After the tape was released for distribution, the title sold very well. It debuted as number two on the list of top selling videos for the week (just under THE LITTLE MERMAID). By the second week, it had moved into first place. In the children's section, it debuted in the number one slot and remained in the top three for several weeks, trading places with such titles as Disney's PETER PAN and the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.
Over 3 million copies were ordered by stores within the first month, for a gross of nearly $75 million (just less than three times what it did at the box-office). This made it just short of MGM/UA's top selling video title, THE WIZARD OF OZ at 3.2 million. MGM/UA felt that re-orders for the holiday season could push the video to the 4 million mark.
Unlike NIMH, DOGS was seen and promoted. Whether or not it becomes a classic of any kind will be left to the memories of those who saw it as children. For Don and his crew, it is all too clear that they are trying to put the film behind them. In a recent interview with John Pomeroy, he started out by listing all the films he had ever worked on from his first at Disney through the still-in-progress A TROLL IN CENTRAL PARK. The only one he forgot to mention was ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN.
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