When smooth-talkin' canine Charlie B. Barkin is killed by his (former) business partner Carface, he decides that there's too much unfinished business in store. Hightailing it out of heaven, Charlie decides to return to earth to get his revenge by taking Carface's secret weapon, a little girl named Anne-Marie who has the gift of talking to animals, and using her to make big bucks.
The movie starts with Charlie's sidekick, Itchy, helping Charlie break out of the pound/prison. Turns out that while he was in the slammer, Charlie's business partner Carface has been squeezing their business dry with crooked deals and fixed races. But Charlie's totally oblivious to Carface's treachery until he ends up being killed by his former friend.
But, as the title says, Charlie winds up in heaven. The Whippet Angel greets him, and when Charlie protests being dead she explains that everyone's life is represented by a clock, and the watch that represents Charlie's life has stopped. She encourages him to embrace his new afterlife, but Charlie has other plans. He steals his life-watch, winds it back up and returns to earth, completely ignoring the Whippet Angel's warning that once he leaves heaven, he will never be allowed back there again. But Charlie figures that as long as he keeps his watch safe and ticking, he won't die again.
Back from the dead, Charlie reunites with his distressed best friend Itchy. Then, despite Itchy's protests, Charlie decides that the best way to get revenge on Carface is to ruin his business. And the best way to do that is to steal Carface's "little monster", which Charlie thinks is the secret behind Carface's suspicious success.
When they sneak into Carface's lair, Charlie and Itchy discover that the little monster is actually a little
orphan girl named Anne-Marie who has the uncanny ability to understand all animals. Carface was using to her to
figure out the most probable winner in all the races he holds, and shifts the odds against them. An opportunity
like this is too good to miss, so Charlie
kidnaps rescues Anne-Marie and takes her to his home
in the junkyard, luring her with promises of freedom and her own parents. Awkwardness ensues, because Charlie is
all allergic to kisses and Anne-Marie is the epitome of sweetness itself.
Then Charlie's plan takes root, starting with his stealing the wallet off a nice-looking couple (that Anne-Marie hopes might adopt her) and using that money to place a bet on a horse race. More races follow, more money is gained and Charlie's new business starts to rise up.
But there are things going on that Charlie doesn't realise: he's actually on borrowed time, Anne-Marie is sweet but not stupid, Carface is starting to suspect that he's back from the dead, and the life-watch ticking around his neck is not as hardy as he originally hoped.
This movie is one of my favourite of Don Bluth's work. The movie's concept is more unique than most and has a title that has already leaked into the consciousness of modern pop culture. It's really about forgiveness and second chances and the kind of change that can happen in the most unlikely of people, if only the circumstances are right.
Watching this movie again after a couple of years, I was struck by a few thoughts. Itchy, for starters, was not so much the lovable mutt that I remembered of the sequels and series. In this, the original movie, he's actually got more of a selfish streak than Charlie itself, which really surprised me. In effect, this leads to Charlie being torn between loyalty to his longtime friend and love for a girl he's barely had time to know.
In that vein, while the movie works great just the way it is, the relationship between Charlie and Anne-Marie feels a little incomplete. This is the relationship that defines the movie and changes Charlie's destiny, but we never really see the moment when Charlie's selfish demands of Anne-Marie turn into genuine love. I get that it's an eventual and subtle thing, but I would've loved for there to be a moment where we see when Charlie consciously realises that Anne-Marie has become so much more important to him. It's because of this that it's hard to see when Charlie's intentions become true, though of course the final sacrifice is the truest of them all.
In this movie, all dogs go to heaven because they are "naturally good and loyal and kind". Although at first Charlie doesn't seem to fit in this description, he eventually proves his worth thanks to Anne-Marie. Then, after the end credits we see Carface in heaven (remember the 'gator?) responding to being dead exactly the way that Charlie did. If all dogs are naturally good and loyal and kind, is Carface an anomaly? While the first sequel seemed to forget this tag, I really like the second sequel (An All Dogs Christmas Carol) which blurred the line between good and bad characters, something that doesn't often happen in cartoons. *loves*
My favourite sequence and song of the movie is the early interlude in heaven between Charlie and the Whippet Angel. In the sequels the Whippet Angel gets a name (Annabelle) and a larger role, and I like to think that she got promoted because she was so memorable in her few minutes on-screen in the original movie. Melba Moore, the voice of the Whippet Angel, is awesome.
Speaking of voices, it would be wrong not to mention that All Dogs Go to Heaven is also remembered as being Judith Barsi's last movie. Young Judith was only 10 when she died, and All Dogs Go to Heaven was released almost two years after the event. Between her almost heart-breakingly sweet performances here as Anne-Marie and Ducky in The Land Before Time, she will certainly be remembered.