Posts Tagged Film


My reaction while watching this movie.

My reaction while watching this movie.

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




A, Hoggett be pimpin' pimpin',

A, Hoggett be pimpin' pimpin'.

Babe – (1995)

Director: Chris Noonan
Starring: Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, James Cromwell, Hugo Weaving
Screenplay by: George Miller, Chris Noonan

The 90s were known for many things, not the least of all being the decade’s penchant for movies starring talking animals. The early decade simply had the animals “think-communicate”, kind of like telepathy (Milo and Otis, Homeward Bound, Look Who’s Talking Now). Babe was lucky enough to be release right when computer effects were just starting to be effectively realized, and yet not overbearingly so such that puppetry and animatronics were still being used. And, truth be told, if Babe, Jurassic Park, and Where the Wild Things Are are any indication, well, judicious use of animatronics plus judicious use of CGI is the perfect formula. Please take note, Mr. Cameron and Mr. Jackson.

NOSTALGIC LENS: Babe was a film that I remember loving, and even though I haven’t watched it in so long, I, for some reason, always stood up for it. I’m not sure why – lord knows there were plenty of lame and corny moments – singing mice, for instance – but yet, it was a sweet movie that seem to have always stuck with me, in some degree.

DOES IT HOLD UP: Babe is really a tricky movie to describe. I can only say this: Babe is, truly, a story. The characters are, truly, characters. Watching the film, no matter what happens, you’re always keenly aware that you’re watching a tale, a tale definitely derived from a children’s book. If I had to use one word, it would be endearing.

A lone, runt pig is taken from a slaughterhouse to be used as a “Guess The Weight” prize for a county fair. Farmer Arthur Hoggett wins the prize, the pig itself, and when it arrives on the farm, its loneliness catches the heart of sheepdog Fly, who takes care of it. There’s also a number of smaller stories and incidents, moments that seem like they could be pulled out from the film, but they, in oddly yet astute ways, drive the overall story, compelling Babe from a potential Christmas dinner into an amazing sheep herder.

Given the lack of Youtube videos out there (quality ones), I have to utilize screenshots, but I think that they point out one rather remarkable aspect: the cinematography. Andrew Lesnie brings a certain visual potency and poetry to many of the scenes, shots that are simultaneously amusing and powerful. They’re amusing in the sense that they divulge a weight on characters and moments that, at face value, are just goofy. But given the strength… no, better yet, given the film’s commitment to the story and the actors’ to the characters, they add to the ambiance of the film perfectly. It’s both silly and serious.

An interesting deep focus shot of Babe, Fly, Rex, and Farmer Hoggett after he runs away:


The hilarious evil glare over the Sheepdog committee condoning Hoggett and his “dog” named “Pig”:


The GOD light shone on Hoggett and Babe after winning it all:


It’s pretty funny, especially if you pay attention to the visuals. But, yet, it works.

“But, yet, it works” is essentially how viewers can swallow the lameness of some of the more sillier aspects. Of course, I mean the singing mice. (The high-pitched squeal singing voice will be, in a few years, used in a number of rap songs, and while I’m glad that’s over, I’d sure as hell would prefer that over the excessive vocoder use.) Part of why they work is because they’re rarely seen, and even when they’re present, they take up little screen time, enough not to become grating. It’s as if Noonan knew the supers (the inserts of the name of each “chapter”) would get too annoying, and they stop coming around the forty-minute mark. All the silliest moments are perfectly controlled; it’s as if Noonan wanted to emphasis the fact that, yes, the viewer is watching a story, and shouldn’t delve too much into it. And in case you do – BAM! You get a face full of singing mice. Deconstruct that shit.

The best aspect of the film are the human characters, hands down. Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) steals the show as she exposits plot points so goofily, so energetically, it’s actually a treat to see her do it. Cromwell does grizzly-with-a-heart-of-gold so well. He always does, but he does it doubly so for this film. I love the oh-so-blunt line readings of the Hoggett’s children and grandchildren when they arrive, and the “pure evil” faces of the Sheepdog committee are gold. Hell, even the sheepdog crowd is great, with their overacted laughter transitioning to their overacted cheering. It’s so ridiculous, but amazingly pleasantly so.

Of course, the story is about Babe, and it’s enjoyable enough, if predictable. There’s a lot cute, humorous moments, as well as some surprisingly dark ones. And while all the characters having easy-to-see character arcs, they are still very worthwhile, especially when frustrated Kay finally warms up to the pig. It’s really nice stuff, very well handled.

And I know that Noonan didn’t want me to do this, but I couldn’t help but notice the not-so-subtly commentary of accepting stereotypical status quo mentalities, of pre-judging through racial (or, I guess, species) lenses. In the end, being nice, kind, and forward is all you need – although, I’m not sure what the “password” thing was all about. I assume it’s another one of Noonan’s and Miller’s ways to prevent me from reading too much into it.


IN A NUTSHELL: Babe’s emphasis on its story and characters weaves a truly heart-warming tale that’s very easy on the eyes, mind, and soul. And while that sounds like what the back of the DVD case would say, it’s true. It’s a throwback film to a time when the storytelling aspect of the story was king, and any insane, crazy concept could be told with expect skill. And, if IMDB is correct, this film was a ten-year labor of love for George Miller.

It shows.

December 7th: All Dogs Go to Heaven
December 14th: Balto






Fluppy Dogs – (1986)

Director: Fred Wolf
Starring: Marshall Efron, Carl Steven, Cloyce Morrow
Screenplay by: Haskell Barkin, Bruce Talkington


Yes, Fluppy Dogs. I know, I know. You’re probably now asking three questions. 1) What the hell is a Fluppy Dog? 2) Why the hell did you choose this as your secret movie? 3) What the hell is this show about? Well, dear readers, I’ll tell you.

Fluppy Dogs was a failed follow-up to 1985’s Gummi Bears. You see, back in the late 80s/early 90s, Disney produce a set of cartoons that ranged from surprisingly mediocre to straight-up excellent for a after-school segment called “The Disney Afternoon”. Gummi Bears, Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, Aladdin, Rescue Rangers, Bonkers, Gargoyles – a ton of animated features aired for this two-hour block, and as a lover of all things animated, I devoured them all. Fluppy Dogs was planned to be one of those shows (along with a short-lived merchandising line of stuffed animals), but they only managed to air the episode’s one-hour pilot. Due to lack of interest and ratings, the show never came to be.

NOSTALGIC LENS: While watching the Care Bears films, primarily to discover that song “Forever Young,” seeing the multi-colored furballs triggered a vague memory of seeing multi-colored canines of some sort. I distinctly recalled them traversing a mountain—but that’s it. So, thanks to the magic that is Google, a few searches connected me to Fluppy Dogs, the movie of which was available on Youtube. So, I decided to surprise myself and you readers by watching this, if primarily to satisfy the most elusive of my childhood memories. One question remains: did we miss out on what could have been an excellent animated series, or did Disney wisely can this into their vault (probably a back corner, next to Oswald the Rabbit?)

DOES IT HOLD UP: The secret to making a “cutesy-girly” product more accessible to boys is to add cool fantasy stuff. Gummi Bears had some pretty epic medieval clashes and even My Little Ponies had a villain of Satanic evil. So, Fluppy Dogs added the somewhat intriguing idea of parallel-world, realm-jumping creatures. Pound Puppies, meet Sliders. (So, if you want your Foo-Foo dolls to appeal to young boys, ladies, add some time travel nonsense.)

The problem that writers can fall into concerning parallel world stories is that it can lead to some really lazy, contrived writing. And Fluffy Dogs, sadly, didn’t pass the test. Now, certainly, I’m not expecting brilliance here, but one of the things the 80s/90s toon-Disney writers were great at was taking bizarre, complex ideas and concepts, and making them nice and straight-forward, an easy to swallow pill for the young audience. This show makes the pill chewable and wholly optional.

Five Fluppy Dogs are jumping gates to try to find their way home. They inevitably land in our world and pretend to be regular dogs. When captured by the pound, a boy named Jamie adopts one. Wackiness happens, and soon Jamie (and older neighbor Claire) are trying to re-unite the Fluppies and get them back home before J. J. Wagstaff (some rich dude with a bad fetish for random animals) captures them.

Part of the problem here is that Fluppy Dogs never passes the contrived-ness of its story. Things happen just cause they can and just to drive the plot forward. For example, why are the colored canines even jumping worlds? It might have been better to say they were escaping some sort of evil – but no, they’re looking for “adventure”. Really? You’re bending the fabric of space and time because your bored?! It gets worse when Wagstaff exposits a history of the Fluppies from a book of legends. Seriously? Why even bother with that? It added nothing to the story. It seemed more apropos to just have Wagstaff chase them because he found out they could talk. No real need to bring in the hard-to-swallow idea that authors have written about them. It’s a knock-off of Gummi Bears; but while that show got away with Gummi Bear legends by taking place in a medieval periods where crazy legends exist all the time, crazy legends in 1980s America concerning parallel-world-traveling canines just seems so random.

This clip contains, essentially, all the shows problems:

For my animator readers: How about those multi-size-changing pajamas on Stanley there? Was this storyboarded? Why are the transitions between scenes so choppy? Fades, people, fades. Also, I totally dug the explanation of the head-scratching-flying ability. Yeah, I’m sure the most amazingly convenient abilities arrive just when you need them on certain worlds, right? Hmm, I wonder if these powers will be used in some fashion at the episodes climax? Oh, who are we kidding – OF COURSE they will be:

Oh yeah. The Heffalump thing is there to crash the party. You know, in case the FLYING thing wasn’t enough for you. And get a load of that ending. The Fluppy Dogs are just gonna take over the world at that rate!

IN A NUTSHELL: You know what? I wanted to like this cartoon – and to be honest, there’s a lot of really nice stuff here. The animation has some quality moments, especially animating the dogs themselves, and the story could create some interesting future episodes. But I get the sense that the entire production was rushed; no fine-tuning of the story or overall animation makes anything clicks, and with that ending, I don’t even know how to make a series based off that – unless it’s some human vs. Fluppies type war disaster. It took all the wrong lessons from Gummi Bears – which itself wasn’t THAT great in the first place, but still managed to make epic adventures without the characters crying out “ADVENTURE!” Even at five years-old, that’s pretty lame.

November 30th: Babe
December 7th: All Dogs Go to Heaven


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