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All Dogs Go to Heaven follows the exploits of Charlie B Barkin, the dog, a casino owner who is killed by his former partner, Carface. He returns to the land of the living in order to right what was wrong. Along the way, he meets a young orphan human named Anne-Marie, and develops a bond with her.
This heartwarming film opened 30 years ago on the same day as Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and so, suffered stiff competition from the get go. Although the film would do poorly as a cinema release – unlike Sullivan Bluth Studio’s other films The Land Before Time and An American Tail – it would later find a cult following upon its VHS release and become one of the highest selling tapes of all time. Thankfully after suffering from critics comparing it to the classic mermaid upon release, it is nice that it eventually got the recognition it deserved. Although quite old in style compared to the animated films of now, there is something special about this film. It screams 80’s animation and cements itself in the history of cartoons that pull on our hearts and tell a damn good story.
One of the most interesting aspects of All Dogs Go To Heaven is how the filmmakers subvert the concept of the “good” mentality required to get into heaven. In this universe all dogs are considered inherently good and automatically get through the pearly gates. As a result, Charlie gets into heaven despite never actually doing any good deeds. Upon his return to Earth, his friendship with the little orphan girl, Anne Marie (Judith Barsi, sadly in a posthumous role) becomes a vehicle by which he can rectify things. Anne Marie quickly proves to be a strong candidate for Charlie’s top companion, becoming the center of attention and causing the film to stray from its original concept for much of its second act.
However, that’s where the heart of the story can be found, boosted by the animation quality. Although nothing ground breaking, the animation style here beautifully compliments the characterisation and story. Each character feels uniquely designed: the ingenious decision to switch up between bipedal and quadrupedal movement helps to cement the rounded profiles of the various cast members. The human characters are far more realistic in comparison to the more cartoonish animation of the dogs, the two styles playing off each other well to create an overall fun animated world. This leads to an excellent range of motion, most notably throughout the musical numbers. The songs themselves don’t necessarily need to be in this film, most of which despite being memorable are not needed. The adventure itself however is solid and full of heart, something you can’t really go wrong with watching or even having on in the background even 30 years after its release.
All Dogs Go To Heaven fits in well with other animated classics, both contemporary and older. It gives us a character similar to Dodger from Oliver and Company, released only a month earlier, and the more recent Zootopia’s Nick Wilde. All of these characters are strongly streetwise, something that Charlie’s voice actor, Burt Reynolds, conveys in every scene, taking inspiration from his similar roles such as in Smokey and the Bandit. Dom DeLuise plays Charlie’s friend, Itchy, and the chemistry between the two is strongly reminiscent of the pair’s relationship in The Cannonball Run.
This classic, despite its rocky start, went on to spawn a theatrical sequel, a made-for-television film and a 40 episode animated series that ran from 1996 to 1998. Sure, it may not be the greatest animated film to come out of the 80s, but it still, after all this time, has managed to stand up as a solid feature – enjoyable, even through flaws. I would highly recommend this as a family film. It’ll be an easy re-watch for parents, whose young kids will no doubt make new fans. As the film states, “you can’t keep a good dog down,” and you can’t keep this film down either.