Published on May 8th, 2013 | by Clint Davis
All Dogs Go to Heaven 
Summary: One of the most beloved films of my childhood just doesn't hold up after 20+ years. Bad singing and boring musical numbers keep it mired. Plus, Burt Reynolds seems to be in on a joke that the audience isn't.
G | 89 min.
Director: Don Bluth | Screenplay: David N. Weiss
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Judith Barsi
Studio: Sullivan Bluth Studios, Goldcrest Films | Distribution: United Artists, MGM
Revisiting favorite childhood movies can be rocky emotional ground. In some instances, a re-watched film is just as magical as you remember it from more innocent days. But most of the time, they just break your heart.
When I was growing up, All Dogs Go to Heaven was one of my go-to flicks. Aside from An American Tail, another from director Don Bluth, it was definitely my favorite non-Disney movie. After recently sitting down to watch this favorite again, I wished I had just kept its warm memories untouched.
In the mid-1980s, the animation game was wide-open territory. After the release of the infamous mega-flop The Black Cauldron, Disney’s stream of cartoon classics had apparently run dry, leaving the studio to focus mostly on live-action releases. With Disney down for the count, Bluth swooped in at MGM and directed several animated hits including The Land Before Time, The Secret of NIMH and the aforementioned western adventure An American Tail.
However, Disney was on the brink of reclaiming its throne for good with the release of The Little Mermaid just three days prior to this film. All Dogs Go to Heaven effectively became the last non-Disney animated feature until 2001’s Shrek to make an impression on audiences.
I only include that history lesson because it brings up an ideal comparison between the two concurrent films. In 2013, comparing The Little Mermaid to All Dogs Go to Heaven is like comparing Street Fighter the movie to Street Fighter the video game; one has aged incredibly well, the other … not so much. Disney’s entry plays like a once-great studio going for broke on a meticulously-crafted film while MGM’s feels more like a successful studio spinning its wheels in well-worn mud.
All Dogs Go to Heaven is a story about friendship, first between two dogs named Charlie (Burt Reynolds) and Itchy (Dom DeLuise), then between Charlie and a cute orphan girl named Anne-Marie (Judith Barsi).
It’s set in 1939 New Orleans where Charlie recently busted out of the pound in order to reclaim his share of a casino business co-operated by the evil Carface (Vic Tayback). Long story short: Carface has decided to cut Charlie out of the lucrative venture by killing him. Charlie finds out the hard way that all dogs go to heaven, but through a loophole, he makes it back to the mortal realm on a quest to get his piece of the pie by exploiting Anne-Marie’s ability to talk to animals. Along the way, the characters sing some songs, get into perilous situations and eventually learn a lesson about honesty.
It sounds like a corny piece of family cinema, but honestly, All Dogs Go to Heaven is full of debauchery. The dogs all seem to have a gambling problem, realistic guns are brandished, Charlie & Itchy pickpocket money from a kind couple, and the Capone-inspired Carface smokes cigars like a chimney. These details certainly make the film a bit more palatable for adults who watch it with their kids, but by the end the characters all either settle down or are chased offscreen by terrifying Hellhounds.
My problems with this movie are many and varied, but they starts with voice acting. Anyone who’s seen The Cannonball Run — a film I own and enjoy — knows that Burt Reynolds tends to laugh like a schoolgirl on helium whenever he’s around Dom DeLuise. It can be endearing in the right spots, but in All Dogs Go to Heaven, he seems to be cracking up at every line of dialogue, which makes the audience feel like they’re listening to inside jokes that they don’t understand. Also, if you’re going to star in an animated musical movie, it helps to be able to sing. Maybe it’s all part of his method, but hearing Reynolds attempt to carry a tune in this film’s musical numbers is akin to hearing puppies yelp in an ASPCA ad.
Throughout this movie, I also kept being reminded of one of my favorite Disney films, The Rescuers. Like that movie, All Dogs Go to Heaven takes place in the bayou, features some lavish set pieces on an abandoned ship, and has a young girl as its human protagonist. I also felt like the filmmakers completely ripped off Disney’s The Aristocats in one particular number, complete with flashing multi-colored lights and an insensitive Asian joke.
Without question, the lasting legacy of this movie is that it marked the final film performance of child actress Judith Barsi. Barsi was killed under tragic circumstances just over a year prior to All Dogs Go to Heaven‘s release, making her sweet performance feel much more bitter. Other things this film has going for it are its villains, as Carface is animated in a genuinely terrifying manner and Tayback’s voice makes it sound like the actor swallowed a bag of gravel. Bonus points also must be awarded for casting Charles Nelson Reilly as a Schnoodle named Killer.
All Dogs Go to Heaven has a few laughs but ultimately, compared with its direct animated competition of 1989, it just looks like a tired old mutt.