I just rewatched this Don Bluth classic recently, and I have to admit that despite its flaws, "All Dogs Go To Heaven" is one of the most edgy pieces of animation that is supposedly meant for kids. Don't be fooled by the cover, kiddies - it's gonna get mature up in this film!
The edginess shows with all of the dark tones and story - Charlie is our "hero", a criminal and gambling German Shepherd-mutt, who breaks out of the dog pound [...no, it's like a prison to me] with his short-legged companion Itchy so that the mutt can take back his share of a business he once had with Carface, his former partner that only continues to stab him in the back... Actually, this is really when it gets dark: Just so he can take Charlie out of the picture for good, our "hero" gets hit by a car and instantly travels to the splendorous place up in the clouds called Heaven, as all dogs are naturally seen as "good". As our "hero" is more bad than good, he finds a way to send himself back to Earth and back to life, however there is a huge price: when Charlie does die again, he will be unable to return to Heaven, giving him a ticket straight down to the eternal pits of... well, you know where.
Back in the flesh, the only thing Charlie has in mind is to get back at Carface for killing him off. How? By getting rid of a "monster" the bulldog has in his possession that helps him earn al of his money. The "monster" is actually a little orphaned girl in rags named Anne-Marie, who has the ability to talk to animals; with this knowledge, Charlie and Itchy kidnap [or is it rescue?] her, promising to find her some parents in exchange for her assistance in animal races. Eventually, she is enlightened about his sinful acts and runs away to return a couple's stolen wallet, which soon leads to a series of events fueled mainly by Carface seeking his revenge on Charlie. Anne-Marie is just... unfortunately a part of it, used as bait to get Charlie to give in. The ending, we should all know by now, but could a truly sinfully-bad dog go good? Just the fact that there's a rather kid-friendly sequel and a whole TV series focusing on Charlie's further adventures... uh, yeah, that gives it all away, doesn't it?
This film... I love it. The "hero" is not really that heroic except for when he has to be, the sidekick is loyal even though he knows that what they're actually doing is pushing the limits, the villain... he is ruthlessly bad and as much so as our "hero", the innocent is nothing more than a pure enbodiment of innocence being used for evil reasons [and probably what Snow White looked like at that age; if you don't believe me, check out the new DVD/Bluray cover art], and the setting... it just works. It's 1939 New Orleans, if you missed that one moment in the beginning... but it's there.
I am surprised mainly how it has a G rating, even today... especially with some scenes that can only be described as frighteningly scary and instant nightmare fuel. There's even one scene that's... quite out of place near the film's huge climax, but the character introduced in said scene does have a strange significance to a later event. Still, it's a weird scene with a rather... comedic song with a message in it that may be off in the film's already awkward yet awesome standards. Speaking of the songs, they are rather catchy... especially any song sang by Charlie [especially "You Can't Keep A Good Dog Down"].
Unfortunately, there is real tragedy to go with this film... or worse yet, to go with one of the voice actors. I won't dive into it in this review here, but if you know the story and who it is, that's enough to make you look at this film in a new light... and perhaps you'll be teary-eyed in more scenes than you realize [especially at the ending... and during "Love Survives", the end credit song]. I know I have blown into my tissues more than once just thinking about it as I watch.
Overall, "All Dogs Go To Heaven" is basically a tale of a bad dog that stole a second chance at living and found redemption in a way... Or is it about life and death or good and evil? Whether the message of bad guys becoming good through good acts or showing true kindness to others as being a way to change your life is up to you other viewers... because I honestly have no idea what the exact message is. Whatever it is, the film is good in its own way at showing both sides of good and bad and how the consequences of one's actions can make changes, both big and small.