As the 1980s came to a close, animation began to find its footing again and was starting an amazing comeback. Walt Disney Animation Studios had finally found their groove again and was about to start their famed Disney Renaissance, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" had become a critical darling and had taken home a couple of Oscars, animation on TV was going to get stronger with some new animation studios made for networks for children, and animation was going to get a lot more diverse. Meanwhile, Don Bluth who had previously put out three beloved animated films throughout the decade was making one more film to close out his run in the 80s which ended up being "All Dogs Go To Heaven". When it came out, critics were polarized by it and the film didn't do very well financially due to "The Little Mermaid" winning the audience's hearts. Over time, the film has found its place thanks to home video and has become a cult classic and I definitely can see why. While I don't think this is a fantastic film and is easily Bluth's weakest film in the 80s, I still found it sweet enough and found it had a lot of good moments to pass up.
In New Orleans in 1939, a dog named Charlie (Burt Reynolds) escapes from the pound with the help of his pal Itchy (Dom DeLuise) and heads back to a casino on a riverboat that he once ran with his partner Carface (Vic Tayback). Not wanting Charlie back running the casino with him as he would have to split his earnings, Carface devices a plan to kill him by getting him drunk and running him over with a car which ends up working. After getting killed, Charlie is instantly sent to heaven as that's where all dogs end up but decides that it's not his time and takes a magic pocket watch and returns to Earth knowing that he'll end up in Hell if he dies again. After meeting up with Itchy, Charlie discovers Carface has kidnapped a young orphan named Anne-Marie (Judith Barsi) who can talk to animals so he can get secrets from animals participating in gambling races to win money. Wanting revenge on Carface, Charlie devices a plan to build a casino with the help of Itchy and Anne-Marie and sets off making money to fulfill his plan while also promising Anne-Marie to find her a set of parents.
After making "The Land Before Time", Bluth decided to part ways with Steven Spielberg whom he worked with since "An American Tail" due to creative differences, and decided to go at it on his own with this film. It was probably not the best idea in retrospect as he began to really slip up with some of his films in the 90s but I still think this was a decent film even if it has a fair amount of problems that keep it back from its potential greatness. For the most part, I did admire the story though I will admit that it easily has the biggest problems. I love the idea of a dog getting murdered by a colleague and coming back to Earth to plot revenge. It's a great setup and I think the film's opening is really well set up. It has a somewhat adult theme to it with the dogs smoking and drinking and I actually kind of admire that risk. I also think that the relationship Charlie has with Anne-Marie was the heart of the film and easily what keeps it together. The two share some very sweet scenes together and I think it results in some nice tender moments. I also love the climax which is Bluth's best since "The Secret of NIMH" as it's suspenseful and keeps you on the edge of your seat. However as I previously stated, the story is far from perfect. Spielberg's presence is sorely missing here as it does feel a little chaotic with its tone as it can be very light and fluffy with a very out of place musical number with an alligator while also very dark and dreary which includes a scene where Charlie has a nightmare of being in Hell. The premise isn't exactly the strongest as I think Charlie building a casino to outdo Carface wasn't the best revenge scheme. I also found the world where the film exists in is very confusing as we have dogs that are running casinos and gambling in the Louisiana bayous while standing on two legs at times and yet they act like ordinary dogs in New Orleans and are on all fours. It's very bizarre. I think if Spielberg was working on this film, he could've helped Bluth make the film perfect its story. I do love the animation though as I think it shows Bluth growing as an animation director. It's once again stylistically different from his previous films and it takes advantage of its dark and moody settings with a handful of colorful locations. It also feels a lot more experimental as well with some fast-paced scenes. The character animation is also once again splendid and I think it fits the film very nicely. I also think the characters are ultimately what holds the film together. I think Charlie's growth as a protagonist was very well handled. His plan is ultimately flawed and we see him come to terms with it and then realize his ultimate goal and it really makes him a well-rounded character and Burt Reynolds does a splendid job with his voice. I also think Itchy was a fun sidekick for him too and it probably is my favorite character DeLuise did for Bluth. Anne-Marie was a very adorable character as well. I initially thought her character was going to be too mushy and sweet, but she eventually won me over thanks to the late Judith Barsi's bittersweet performance of her which reminded me of a very young Snow White. I do think the villains could be slightly better though. Carface wasn't as strong as I think he could've been as he's driven by money once again, but I think he does have some pure menace to him. He's basically what Warren T. Rat from "An American Tail" should've been like. I also did admire the songs in this film as well with "You Can't Keep A Good Dog Down" being my favorite. I don't think they are as good as the songs from "American Tail", but I think they work well enough
All in all, "All Dogs Go To Heaven" is a nice little film even if it is a little chaotic. The story is slightly chaotic but is held together thanks to its gorgeous animation and sweet characters. While I do think this is easily Bluth's weakest film of the 1980s, I still found it pleasant enough to give it a slight recommendation. It may not be 100% heavenly, but it has enough of it and I think that's all it needs.