A colourful animation directed by Don Bluth, with strong elements of loyalty and right and wrong but with a style and musical flair that fizzles weakly leaving some potential to be lost and left to forgettable qualities.
A German Shepherd called Charlie B Barkin (yep, seriously) ends up in Heaven, I won’t say how just in case you’ve never watched this, he gives up his place to return to Earth and help his friend Itchy (Dom DeLuise) make money to open a bar. On their gambling and stealing merry way they meet an orphan called Anne-Marie (Judith Barsi) who helps teach Charlie (Burt Reynolds) to be better. Though as he grows closer to the little girl, a menacing threat of Hell and a bulldog gangster come to terrorize Barkin’s life.
I had fond memories of this film growing up, but hadn’t seen it for years and to be honest I had forgotten a lot about it, a trait of it holding no punchy reminder as a great film. The cartoon looks well enough with its engaging hand drawn appearance and it does resemble the charming style of ‘The Land Before Time’ – also directed by Bluth. Though this later animation lacks some heart and wow factor that the brilliant tale of dinosaurs and friendship managed to convey. There is a lot of colour and interest to be found in places through this movie but it’s to be found between limp songs and unsettling imagery of gambling, drinking, violence and death. I never remembered it being so dark as a child, maybe it terrified me so much that I blocked a lot of it out!
The voice work is average enough with it holding up to tell the story, but it doesn’t feel energetic enough to keep the short running time zipping along. This runs into a pattern of weaker elements with the songs that are pretty mediocre and aside from a jazzy number with a huge alligator they aren’t that good. It’s unfair to judge against the film this one was released against but to illustrate the difference I will. ‘The Little Mermaid’ manages to include dark elements but there’s a fun and child like wonder in Ariel that makes it family friendly. The songs are interesting, well written, catchy and timeless whereas the songs with dogs are okay at best but after watching it last night, I’ve already forgotten most of them.
I did actually like the menacing tones of black and red to represent Hell. The oncoming threat of Charlie’s fate was nicely handled and in general it’s a bold move to make an animation with so many visuals of adult sin characterised by differing breeds of dogs. The best element does come with Anne-Marie who brings the much needed human magic touch to influence the addictive nature of Charlie and Itchy. The name of the antagonist is also silly but inspired as the grouchy cigar smoking bulldog named Carface, simply as he’s first introduced sitting in a car. The idea of all dogs going to heaven is a good notion in general to battle the worrying darkness throughout, as it tells children that whatever their pet maybe, it will always go to a better place. How nice. Yep yep yep.
Overall it’s a good enough film with images of sin that fare better to adult eyes and puppy fun to amuse the children. It’s a shame the main story and songs aren’t strong enough to match the brave inclusion of such dark material.