All Dogs Go to Heaven – (1989)
Director: Don Bluth
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Vic Tayback, Charles Nelson Reilly
Screenplay by: David N. Weiss
We’re back on Bluth now, and you’ve probably noticed that I’m sort of jumping around on his Filmography. There’s no order to any of these films as I write up this feature, and certainly not to Bluth’s record, although, in retrospect, I should have at least approached these films in temporal order, to really see how his movies developed over time. Of the ones I did re-watch, I was knocked back and forth between really liking it and being overly disappointed. I’ll say this about the man – you never have any idea what you’re going to expect.
This was the first film Bluth made away from both Disney and Spielberg influences, relationships he was never too keen on. I certainly applaud the infamous animator for separating himself from the pack, but I can’t for say sure that it has always been for the creative best.
NOSTALGIC LENS: Vague. All Dogs Go to Heaven seemed like what I could only describe as “impossible to watch,” not because it was too graphic or hard for me to stomach, but more that it seemed too confusing, too complex. Nothing about the movie suggests an easy time for a casual viewer to “ease” himself into the story if he or she caught the film at some random point. Perhaps sitting down and simply watching it, from beginning to end, will make it all make sense?
DOES IT HOLD UP: No. It didn’t.
I… I don’t know what the hell I just watched. And let me tell you — I watch Spongebob Squarepants. I watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Squidbillies, Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job, and whatever else Adult Swim on Cartoon Network throws at me. I’ve seen the weird shit from the depths of Liquid Television and the mind-fuckery that can only be garnered from the foreign/independent animated studios the world over. And nothing, NOTHING could prepare me for the all-the-fuck-over the place spectacle of All Dogs Go to Heaven. I don’t know if the crazy writing or the bizarre animation confused me more.
After watching Secret of Nimh and then An American Tail, and in glancing at Bluth’s track record after this one, it’s as if the guy decided to slowly go crazy. Yes, you read that right – he didn’t go crazy, he decided to go crazy. And with this decision came an almost Dadaist visual and narrative incentive towards animated filmmaking, as if the filmmakers got high on drugs, and decided to make a family movie for families who also likes to get high on drugs.
Charlie Barker and Itchy escape from a dog pound (ie, prison) and return to their nesting grounds, which is just a casino for excessive gambling. “Partner” Carface, the double-crosser who set up Charlie in the first place, kills the canine with a runaway car. He goes to heaven, but returns on a watch-related loophole to seek revenge on Carface. He meets Anne-Marie, a lovable orphan who can talk to animals, and tries to use her against Carface, but he develops feelings for her instead.
Let’s get the good out the way first. I really dug the idea that different species of animals couldn’t communicate with each other and that they needed Anne-Marie to translate. It wasn’t forced fed, either. It was very deftly handled – at least until the infamous “Big-Lipped Alligator Moment,” which I will discuss later. Also, the characters were lively and spirited; never a dull moment when anyone was around.
Okay, I’m done there. What’s particularly odd here is that, after the relatively stable, quiet, calmer animation style of Land Before Time, Secret of NIMH, and An American Tail, Bluth and co. erupted an aggressive style of hyperized, ultra-stylistic movement. Characters rarely stay composed; there’s a constant push to keep them active. The editing doesn’t help much, either. Even the silent moments seem to be filled with activity, which makes it hard to keep a broad focus on the characters.
This could work, however, if it wasn’t for the story’s moment-to-moment beats. There are some intensely strange choices made, all at the expense of maintaining such animated hyperactivity. For example, Carface has some sort of fetish(?) of driving a fake car against a rotating paper background. He does this while angrily ranting about Charlie’s return to his goofy sidekick, Killer (voiced by – AHAHAHAHA!!! – Charles Nelson Reilly). While Carface’s rant to Killer makes sense, doing it during the fake car scene is completely baffling. What is that about? Couldn’t he have a simple, generic interoffice chat?
It keeps going with these insane moments, as if the writers (there were TEN of them working on the story) would use whatever idea someone spouted out, regardless of their state of mind – while the animators, who also had a questionable state of mind, took these ideas and just ran with it. I love how Carface and Killer manages to get hold of a tommy gun and BLAST Charlie full of holes, and somehow miss, and then somehow lose complete control of it. How about the ease to which the family accepts the orphan Anne-Marie into their homes? The ending has the typical “gather all the dogs and run to Charlie’s rescue” chase scene, which has absolutely no payoff. There’s so many ideas here, and it’s just so cobbled together, and the use of their transitions is just awful. (I mentioned this is An American Tail, but in All Dogs, it’s, to quote the notorious Christian Bale, fucking distracting.)
Nothing epitomizes the weirdness more than the scene which defined animation’s “Big Lipped Alligator” moment:
This happens, by the way, after they escape the shootout, and just happen to fall through a hole in their hiding place, whereby they are captured by voodoo mice (it’s New Orleans 1939, when the levees were still standing and voodoo was EVERYWHERE) to be sacrificed to this gator. And suddenly, singing. And while there is a bit of payoff to all this in the film’s climax, the music throughout is pretty awful. It’s not even good in the ironic way.
IN A NUTSHELL: As the Big-Lipped Alligator Moment occurred, I had to stop the film for a second to make sure I wasn’t going nuts. No, I wasn’t – it’s simply that All Dogs Go to Heaven is just insane, and not necessarily in a good way. It at the very least has a sad and somewhat rewarding ending, but the journey towards it is tolling. I have no issues with the dark nature of the content (death, gambling, poverty, etc.); I have reservation with the overall execution. It’s gonna be a few months of recovery before I take on Rock-A-Doodle.
December 14th: Balto
December 21st: A Goofy Movie