All Dogs go to Heaven was the first movie I ever saw in the theaters. I was four years old at the time (which makes me happy, it means my mom and dad weren’t those assholes that brought their new born to the movies) so I don’t remember much about the experience but I remember being completely in love with the whole moment.
For years after seeing the movie the film was a source of rare bonding for my father and I. My dad was an athlete throughout high school, a big drinker and partier post-school. I, however, at 24 still have yet to drink, I’m not much of a partier (and never was) and I hate sports in general. All Dogs Go To Heaven will always represent my big moment of finding out that movies were something connecting me with my dad. As the years went on my taste in film and his have started to differ, but we still can bond over the first one: taking me to see All Dogs Go To Heaven.
The animated film opens up with Charlie (Burt Reynolds) being broken out of “jail” (aka the pound) by his best friend, a nervous Dachshund Itchy (Dom Deluise). Charlie co-owns a popular dog casino currently run by Carface (Vic Tayback). The money is really rolling in and taken over by greed, Carface decides that he and his sidekick Killer (Charles Nelson Reilly) need to take Charlie “out of the picture”. So they take him out to Mardi Gras to celebrate Charlie’s freedom. They get Charlie drunk and then hit him with their car (subtle they are not).
Despite having never doing a single kind and unselfish act, Charlie goes to heaven (because all dogs go to heaven, as I’m sure you heard…I mean it’s the title of the movie). While in heaven, Charlie finds a room of pocket watches (each one representing a person’s life; once the watch stops the person dies), he tracks down his watch and winds it up, thus returning to Earth.
Once he’s back on Earth (with the pocket watch around his neck) he visits Itchy and begins planning to build a rival casino against Carface. To get the funding they decide to steal Carface’s “secret weapon” Anne-Marie (Judith Barsi) a young orphan with the ability to talk to all animals. They take Anne-Marie to various animal races, having the animals tell her what animal to bet on. They promise Anne-Marie that the money will go to the poor (like Robin Hood) however, the only use the money to fund their casino. Getting upset with their lies Anne-Marie goes to visit one of the families that they stole from in order to bet on the animals. Charlie tricks Anne-Marie into leaving the house and takes to hiding inside of an old warehouse. They fall through the floor and land in the lair of a giant singing alligator who bonds with Charlie over their mutual love of song. The ordeal leaves Anne-Marie with pneumonia.
Charlie takes Anne-Marie to an abandoned church in hopes that she’ll get better. Meanwhile, Carface and Killer beat up Itchy and burn down the casino. Itchy yells at Charlie for caring more about Anne-Marie than his own best friend and despite growing to care about her, Charlie denies that Anne-Marie means anything to him, saying that she’s simply been kept around to make some money. Anne-Marie overhears this and runs away only to be kidnapped by Carface.
Charlie goes after her while Itchy rounds up other dogs to get the family they had robbed to save Anne-Marie as well. Charlie, Anne-Marie, Carface and Killer all end up on an oil tanker fighting. The alligator comes to help and eats Carface. Anne-Marie and Killer abandon ship but Charlie doesn’t get off the tanker in time and is killed in an explosion. The family welcomes Anne-Marie with open arms.
A few nights later Anne-Marie is visited by Charlie’s ghost, he asks her to take care of Itchy and then returns to Heaven.
All Dogs go to Heaven is an interested example of animated films, specifically non-Disney films. Don Bluth’s film has such dark undertones; these characters are all cruel and selfish (except Anne-Marie and the family that eventually takes her in). Charlie can only really be described as an anti-hero (though in true kid’s movie fashion he learns the error of his ways). From the start our character is breaking out of prison, runs a casino/speakeasy for dogs, he steals, he’s greedy and selfish, yet we in the audience cheer for him regardless; he’s practically a character from a Martin Scorsese film.
This is not Don Bluth’s best film, but it’s always been my favorite. The characters of Charlie & Itchy as well as Carface and Killer have such wonderful chemistry together. This is partially due to the fact that Dom DeLuise (the world of voice-actors is still mourning his loss, or at least I am) and Burt Reynolds requested that they be allowed to record their dialogue together (Vic Tayback and Charles Nelson Reilly followed in their foot-steps as well) which lead to all four actors improving lines which Don Bluth has said “were many times funnier than what was written in the script”. This movie will always be remembered as the movie I first saw in the theaters, but it’s also the movie I watched in honor of Dom DeLuise, just to remind myself that you can’t keep a good dog down.