Monday, August 16, 2010

Don Bluth Month: "Dog dies in the end." - Thoughts on "All Dogs Go To Heaven"

You know how I said, in the last post, that "I am looking at my Netflix queue, and things go straight downhill from here"? Yeah. Make that a 90 degree angle on a runaway train down a triple-black diamond.

Oh, "All Dogs Go To Heaven". The movie that assaulted my childhood. Most people my age have the "Star Wars" prequels or "Transformers 2" "Michael Bay Learns to Add and Subtract"*. I have "All Dogs Go To Heaven".

It is a hard thing for a kid to learn that their favorite director can do wrong, but something died inside me when I saw this movie. How in the world do you follow
"The Land Before Time" with this? But before I go ahead and tear into how bad this movie is for all the conventional reasons (gaping plot holes, boring songs, ect.), let's talk about the psychology of a child at the time this movie was released.

There is something crucial missing from 80's nostalgia. You kids probably feel the same way about the 1980s as I did about the 1960s: a big, nonstop party to which I wasn't able to attend due to inconveniently not being born yet. Back then, 60's nostalgia meant tie-dye and the Beatles and hippies and Woodstock (possibly the ultimate retro "You shoulda been there" moment). There was, tellingly, no mention of racial tension, political unrest, or the Vietnam War and it's aftermath.

So with that in mind, here's my question about 80's nostalgia: Where's the
death?

Listen, next time you're rocking out to "1999", pay attention to those lyrics. When Prince warns that "we could all die any day", he ain't kidding. That was the zeitgeist of the time. It was the peak of the Cold War and the bombs could drop at any minute. Just a few decades ago, there was a serious possibility that all life on Earth would be wiped out because two countries had different economic systems.

I was about six or seven when I realized all this was happening.


On top of this was an unspoken but collective agreement that something was going to happen in 1999, which wasn't too far away. Maybe this was a prediction from Nostradamus, maybe some other Middle Age prophet guy, but the world would be very different once the Millennium approached. Human nature being what it is, it was unanimously assumed that "different" meant "bad", and so the prediction was tangled up in nuclear paranoia. The point is, us 80's kids were thoroughly convinced that some way or other, we'd never live to see adulthood, an
undercurrent of unshakable despair that still runs deep in our hearts today.**

Into this environment came a strange and seriously creepy trend in the motion picture world: Dramatic, non-horror (not intentionally anyways) movies where the action doesn't start until after the main character dies -almost always in a presumably horrible offscreen car accident- and returns as a supernatural something-or-other. "Ghost" is the best known of these and may have even started the trend. There are the utterly traumatic "Ghost Dad" and "Fluke" and "Jack Frost". There's "Casper", who, for his feature film debut, was given a sad backstory that explicitly reveals that he would more accurately and horrifyingly be called Caspar the Friendly Dead Child. Robin Williams has *TWO* such movies under his belt (and this is only if I am forgetting one): the thematically related and utterly mind-scarring "Jack" (Robin is a sweet child-man a la "Benjamin Button" who is doomed to die before he gets to college), and "What Dreams May Come" which may be the prettiest movie to ever have the potential to do you some serious psychological damage as a young person, ups the ante by killing off ALL of the major characters during the course of it's running time, and includes the classic line, "That's the last time I ever saw my family when we were all alive." Mind you, this big long list is off the top of my head, and ignores the wide world of End of the World/Rapture-themed entertainment(?) and direct-to-video/TV films.

And then, of course, there's "All Dogs Go To Heaven", which is a tender tale about a dog who dies
twice and which operates in a universe where your afterlife options are a boring cotton candy cloud Heaven or an aggressively interesting Wayne D. Barlowe fever dream Hell.

"All Dogs Go To Heaven" was yet another symptom of the creepy death fixation running through Hollywood and the world at large at the time, and I hope you enjoyed those last few paragraphs because that is the only interesting commentary I can give this movie.  I might have mentioned earlier that "All Dogs Go To Heaven" is... not good. Let me make something clear before I rip into this movie: even though it is terrible, the character and effects animation is superb. Once again, you'll see Bluth and his team at the top of their game in this movie. That's what's going to help me survive some of the upcoming movies. As bad as they get, they'll still *look* good.

Man, if only that terrific animation was in the service of a better... well, I was going to say "story", but really, "everything else."


We'll start with something that always drove me up the wall as a kid. The plot centers around this little girl who can "talk to animals". Apparently, inter-species communication is impossible in the world of "All Dogs Go To Heaven". Except when it isn't. And among other things, this raging plot hole makes the infamous You Know What even more worthy of a "what the f*** just happened?" (Speaking of King Gator, there are some character designs in this movie that are just eye-searingly ugly.)

It's easy to sum up everything wrong with this movie by fast-forwarding to around the 45 minute mark. In quick succession, you get a God-awful song about sharing that has ruined stronger people than I (ye Gods, can you see why "The Little Mermaid" killed this at the box office?), a sad song that is essentially "Somewhere Out There" with the numbers filed off, and a truly horrifying nightmare sequence. This film doesn't know what the hell it wants to be and suffers dearly. But not as much as I did while watching it.

Next up, "Thumbelina". Yaaaayyy... Oh shit.

* - It will never stop being funny. NEVER. If you don't understand, and you're like me and you haven't seen "Revenge of the Fallen" because you've heard how bad it is and you don't want to give Michael Bay any of your money, read the second to last Q/A in this. Of course, maybe it's enough to say that this is the same Michael Bay who thinks sunset can happen all around the world at the *same time*, so...
** Only Mayans and archaeologists are sicker of hearing about 2012 than I am, but I have the deepest sympathy for little kids growing up and hearing about it. And of course I'll be the first to say that the Cold War was gorram cake and ice cream compared to today's kids' post-9/11 world.

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Sketch of the Day!

Still riding the sauropod...

6.29.10 Sketchbook Page 3

2 comments:

Zach said...

I've been looking forward to your reaction to this movie because I just watched it a fewweeks ago. I bought it used, thinking I liked it twenty years ago, and popped it in the DVD player one night. Hey! It's got Burt Reynolds! What the shit? Scarface runs him over with a car? What's with Scarface's creepy sidekick? Why is the little girl a goddamn moron?

Why are there so many songs in this movie? Wow, Charlie is a deuchbag. He's exploiting children. Children. He is a DOG exploiting a CHILD and then LYING to her about it. Also, the gambling. And the drinking. That's good.

Oh good, more songs. And a nightmare hellscape! In a kid's movie! And then he dies AGAIN! SERIOUSLY?

I sold the movie to the same store I bought it from the next weekend.

Trish said...

^^ "He is a DOG exploiting a CHILD and then LYING to her about it!"

This is absolutely the best review of this movie I have ever read.