My opinion right after watching the film
My opinion right after watching this film is that it might be my second favourite Bluth film. I don’t know if it’s because the film is generally longer, and I didn’t notice as much pacing issues, but I found it a bit easier to watch. It is still pretty flawed, and not one of my favourites, but it’s definitely more of a guilty pleasure in my eyes.
The earliest draft of the film came to be after The Secret of NIMH was completed, and it was initially about a canine private eye, and one of the three stories were going to add up to an anthology film. Don Bluth Productions shut down after going bankrupt, and the draft died with the first studio. Ultimately, it was retooled around late 1987, and production started.
In between drafts, the production company moved from California to Dublin, Ireland, and was the first film to be funded out of Hollywood, and to start production fully in the Dublin studio. It’s previous two films were backed by Amblin Entertainent, and Universal Pictures, but this was the first one that was completely foreign. As the production completed, and the test screenings took place, they cut a lot of the dialogue and scenes about Charlie talking about damnation/condemnation, so they could make it more kid-friendly.
The beginning of the movie starts with two dogs named Charlie (Burt Reynolds) and Itchy (Dom DeLuise) digging themselves out of the dog pound, and barely making it out. He returns to the casino, and a lot of others are telling him that things have changed exponentially, despite still owning 50% of the company. His partner in the business Carface (Vic Tayback) is sick of owning half of the business. He has Charlie’s death organized and executed by intoxicating him, convincing him to take 50% of the profits out of town, only for Carface to murder him via a car chase.
Charlie wakes Itchy up (who was having nightmares about Charlie’s death), and tells him that he is not a ghost. Of course he wants to get Carface back, but Itchy tells him about all of the goons that Carface has and whatnot. They see a little girl named Anne-Marie (Judith Barsi), who is told by Carface to talk to a rat for some predictions. He sees dollar signs on her, so he decides to kidnap….. rescue her because she talks to animals. She tells them that she is an orphan, and of course they end up leaving. We learn that his plan with the girl is to get her to the horse race track, and to have her make the right bet to win some money.
Of course all this girl wants is some affection, and to get some parents. In the next morning, he has her speaking to the horses, but she is pissed off, since he is just like Mr. Carface, which he takes some offense to. They disguise themselves as humans to purchase the ticket, and the horse she was told ended up winning. I have to say that a lot of the dialogue and banter between them all is extremely annoying.
Anne Marie packs her stuff, and tells him that she is leading, since she broke all of her promises, only for him to easily trick her back to them. The two of them end up going to an abandoned church to give pizza to a family of dogs. While he was singing with the dogs, she finds the wallet that he stole from the family that she was talking to during the horse race (the family she wants to be adopted by), disappointed that he stole their wallet.
Charlie ends up having a horrible dream about being dragged to hell, but is woken up by the little puppies. They tell him that she went to the family she saw earlier to return their wallet. They end up having her over for the night, and are told that she has no parents, and lives in the junkyard. Charlie goes to the house to say goodbye to her, but she ends up following him out of the house. Carface ends up seeing the two of them, and tries to shoot him, but he is untouchable, due to the watch.
Itchy goes to the church to tell him that Carface and 50 of his thugs beat him up, and their casino was lit on fire. He lashes out at Carface because he knew it was stupid to get revenge on Carface, and to kidnap Anne-Marie, but he wanted to help his friend. He demands that they leave the girl alone, and he has grown to attached, but of course Charlie yells that he is using her, and they will dump her in an orphanage when they’re done with her. Of course she hears this, and runs off, but…….. didn’t she already know this? This leads her to getting kidnapped by Carface, and Charlie fails to break her out of the cage, while Itchy goes to the address of the family earlier to give them her teddy bear.
The climax does get way too out-of-control for my liking. The alligator saves Charlie from drowning, and all of the dogs drag the married couple (as well as a bunch of the neighbors) to the area. His necklace almost gets lost, and Anne-Marie falls into the electrically, and oil-charged water, but ends up losing it while saving her. Due to giving up his life for her, he is allowed to rejoin heaven, and says his goodbye to them.
The characters were kind of interesting. While it’s not the most likable group of them all, there was a lot of depth to the people we are supposed to care about, and there was a relatively good cast
What I do notice is that I noticed a lot less cell issues, compared to the last three films. The character designs were not the best, and were the same old, same old, but I did like how some of the more angelic characters were designed compared to the alive ones, and all of the effects were great. Vert aesthetically pleasing, and the colour contrast is the best out of the four in my opinion.
The music could have been a bit better, since none of it was really memorable. None of it was really bad, and I could see why some people would like it, but it did not stand out to me, and it kind of came off as filler to me. A lot of Bluth’s movies did not need to be musicals, but it was clearly a more trendy thing to do.
Reception at Release
When the film was released on November 17th, 1989, it ended up grossing $27 million, which was only a bit over half the amount that An American Tail and The Land Before Time made. A lot of people blame it on the fact that it was released the same day as The Little Mermaid, which completely dominated the box office. Ultimately, Sullivan Bluth Studios was extremely disappointed with the box office results.
Critically, it received mixed reviews, as many people called it inferior to The Little Mermaid, called the narrative disjointed and confusing, while the animation was praised, as it seemed a bit more free. Of course the darker elements were the film received mixed reception as well, since some really liked it, while others really disliked it.
It’s reception today did not really change much, but I think it did slightly increase after its immediate successors continued to flop, so this movie was seen as better in comparison. A lot of people do see this as the film that started Bluth’s downfall regarding animated films, though it does have quite a big fanbase.
28/40 = 70%