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'All Dogs Go to Heaven' : (G)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 17, 1989

Animator Don Bluth enlisted Burt Reynolds when he created the canine hero of his curious fantasy "All Dogs Go to Heaven." We were expecting a coon dog with hair plugs, but the actor is the voice of a shady German shepherd. Reynolds surely has a bone to pick with his woofish alter ego, who has all the actor's swagger but little of his diffident charm.

Charlie B. Barkin (Reynolds) alone, however, doesn't quite sink this animated "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," an uneven musical fable that varies from dull to just darling. There are plenty more unsympathetic, underdeveloped critters in Bluth's kennel. Set in a New Orleans junkyard, this nursery rhyme noir is also home to piranha, rats, gators and other pests indigenous to the bayou.

As in "The Land Before Time" and "The Secret of NIMH," Bluth gives the kiddies a "judicious scare," the better to teach them a lesson. "Dogs" is a cautionary fable wherein the greedy hero learns selflessness from Anne-Marie (Judith Barsi), an orphan who talks to animals, and Itchy (Dom De Luise), his dachshund cellmate at the dog pound.

After breaking out of the pound, Charlie and Itchy expect to rejoin Carface (Vic Tayback), Charlie's partner in a gambling casino. Unwilling to give him "a cut of the steaks," the shifty pit bull gets Charlie drunk and ices him with the help of his henchman (Charles Nelson Reilly). Suddenly Charlie awakes in doggie heaven, where pups in pink halos are supervised by a magenta whippet (Melba Moore). A quick look around tells Charlie that heaven is really arful. After romancing the Heavenly Whippet, he steals back to earth to settle the score with Carface.

Charlie is no Rin Tin Tin himself, but an unscrupulous, shiftless cur. Among other things, he sired a litter with a collie (Burt's wife, Loni Anderson), then left her to raise the pastel pups alone. He's a rover all right. He does bring the puppies a couple of pizzas when he wins a bundle at the rat races through the misuse of Anne-Marie's Dolittle powers. Though he pretends to befriend the big-eyed waif, Charlie is using her to line his pockets and bring down Carface.

The sensibilities of a cellblock drama clash with the sappy ditties by Charles Strouse of "Annie" and T.J. Kuenster, the co-director's brother. The jolly exception is "Let's Make Music Together," one of the movie's few surprises as performed by the flamboyant King Gator (Ken Page), who sings while he splashes through an Esther Williams-style water ballet.

With 10 writers gnawing on it, there is little originality left in the story. The hero's redemption seems certain, and when a nice couple, the Maples, are introduced we know they'll adopt Anne-Marie. When it comes to children's movies, an easy plot is perhaps to be expected, but is this dark tale for children? Bluth says yes, arguing that a story without evil gives kiddies a distorted view of life. But did he have to murder the magic?

All Dogs Go to Heaven is rated G

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