On its cinema release, it competed directly with the Walt Disney Pictures animated film The Little Mermaid (which was released on the same day).
While it did not repeat the box-office success of Sullivan Bluth's previous feature film: The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail and The Land Before Time, it was very successful on home video, becoming one of the biggest-selling VHS releases ever.
It would later inspire a sequel film, a TV series and a direct-to-video holiday film.
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
Not wanting to share the profits with Charlie, he persuades him to leave town with 50% of the casino's earnings. He agrees, but is later intoxicated and murdered by Carface. He is sent to Heaven where a whippet angel tells him that a gold watch representing his life has stopped. He steals and winds it, returning to Earth, but was told that if he dies again, he will go to Hell and never return to Heaven.
After reuniting with Itchy, they discover that Carface is holding a young orphan named Anne-Marie who has the ability to talk to animals and gain knowledge of a race's results beforehand, allowing Carface to rig the odds on the rat races and become rich. They rescue her, intending to use her abilities to get revenge on Carface, though Charlie tells her that they plan to give their winnings to the poor and help her find parents. The next day at the race track, Charlie steals a wallet from a couple as they talk to Anne-Marie and become concerned for her ragged appearance.
Charlie and Itchy use their winnings to build a successful casino in the junkyard they live in. Anne-Marie, upon discovering that she had been used, threatens to leave. To keep her happy, Charlie brings pizza to a family of poor puppies and their mother, Flo. While there, Anne-Marie discovers the wallet he had stolen and becomes upset, rushing away where she dreams of living with the couple in its photo.
After a nightmare in which he is sent to Hell and meets a hellhound and is attacked by the hellhound's monsters, Charlie awakens to discover that Anne-Marie has gone to return the wallet. The couple, Kate and Harold, welcome her into their home and serve her waffles.
While they privately discuss letting her stay, Charlie arrives outside and tricks her into leaving with him. Walking home, Charlie is shot by Carface and Killer, but is impervious to harm as long as he has the watch. He and Anne-Marie escape into hiding, but falls into the lair of King Gator. He and Charlie strike a chord as kindred spirits and he lets them go, but Anne-Marie falls ill with pneumonia.
Meanwhile, Carface and his thugs destroy the casino, and Itchy confronts Charlie, claiming he cares about Anne-Marie more than him. He angrily declares that he is using her and will eventually "dump her in an orphanage". She overhears the conversation and sadly runs away, before Carface captures her and Charlie follows them. Flo, who heard Anne-Marie's scream, sends Itchy to get help from Kate and Harold, and he rouses the dogs of the city by his side.
Charlie returns to the casino, where he is attacked by Carface and his thugs. He fights them off, which inadvertently sets an oil fire that soon engulfs it. King Gator saves him, chases Carface off and eats him.
As the watch falls into the water, Charlie pushes Anne-Marie to safety onto some debris and dives into the water to retrieve it, but it stops before he can do so. Anne-Marie and a redeemed Killer are discovered by Kate, Harold and the authorities, as the boat sinks into the water.
Sometime later, Kate and Harold adopted Anne-Marie who also adopted Itchy, Charlie returns in ghost form and apologizes to Anne-Marie. The whippet angel appears and tells him that he gave life for Anne-Marie, Charlie regained his place in Heaven. Anne-Marie awakens and he says goodbye and asks her to watch after Itchy. She falls asleep and Charlie returns to Heaven.
- Burt Reynolds as Charlie B. Barkin, a roguish German Shepherd mix and con artist. The character was designed specifically with Reynolds in mind for the role and the animators mimicked some of his mannerisms. Reynolds is replaced by Charlie Sheen for All Dogs Go To Heaven 2, and Steven Weber for All Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series and An All Dogs Christmas Carol. The model for the character of Charlie was a German shepherd, appropriately named Burt. Burt the dog often spent time with the animators at the studio, even going with them during the studio's move to Ireland.
- Dom DeLuise as Itchy Itchiford, a paranoid, nervous and cowardly Dachshund.
- Judith Barsi as Anne-Marie, a young orphan girl with the ability to talk to and understand animals. Her singing voice was performed by Lana Beeson. This was Barsi's final film role before her death in 1988. The end credits song "Love Survives" was dedicated in her memory.
- Vic Tayback as Carface Caruthers, a shifty, psychotic mixed American Pit Bull Terrier/Bulldog gangster. This was Tayback's final film role before his death in 1990. For All Dogs Go To Heaven 2, All Dogs Go to Heaven: The Series and An All Dogs Christmas Carol, Ernest Borgnine took the role.
- Charles Nelson Reilly as Killer, a misnamed, cowardly, neurotic and spectacles-wearing Schnauzer/poodle hybrid.
- Loni Anderson as Flo, a female Rough Collie and Charlie's friend.
- Melba Moore as a Whippet angel, who welcomes deceased dogs into Heaven. She was named "Annabelle" in the sequel.
- Ken Page as King Gator, an American alligator and voodoo witch doctor, living below the streets of New Orleans.
- Rob Fuller and Earleen Carey as Kate and Harold, a married couple who later become Anne-Marie's adoptive parents.
- Godfrey Quigley as Terrier, a dog who appears when Itchy tells everyone Anne-Marie's in danger.
- Anna Manahan as Stella Dallas, a disgusting horse who appears, when Anne-Marie, Charlie and Itchy are at the derby.
- Candy Devine as Vera, a female gambling dog.
The earliest idea for "All Dogs Go to Heaven" was conceived by Don Bluth after finishing work on "The Secret of NIMH". The treatment was originally about a canine private eye, and one of three short stories making up an anthology film.
The character of a shaggy German Shepherd was designed specifically with Burt Reynolds in mind for the role. However, Bluth's first studio, Don Bluth Productions, was going through a period of financial difficulty, ultimately having to declare bankruptcy, and the idea never made it beyond rough storyboards.
The concept was revived by Bluth, John Pomeroy & Gary Goldman, and rewritten by David N. Weiss, collaborating with the producers from October through December 1987. They built around the title "All Dogs Go to Heaven" and drew inspiration from films such as It's a Wonderful Life, Little Miss Marker and A Guy Named Joe.
The film's title came from a book read to Bluth's fourth grade class, and he resisted suggestions to change it, stating he liked how "provocative" it sounded and how people reacted to the title alone.
During the production of their previous feature film, Sullivan Bluth Studios had moved from Van Nuys, California to a state-of-the-art studio facility in Dublin, Ireland, and the film was their first to begin production wholly at the Irish studio.
It was also their first to be funded from sources outside of Hollywood, the previous two feature films: "An American Tail" and "The Land Before Time" had been backed by Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures, and executive producers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (for "The Land Before Time" only) exercised a degree of control over the content of the films, a situation Bluth found disagreeable.
The studio found investment from UK-based Goldcrest Films in a US$70m deal to produce three animated feature films (though only two, it and Rock-a-Doodle would be completed under the deal).
The three founding members of the studio, Bluth, Pomeroy and Goldman, had all moved to Ireland to set up the new facility, but during the film's production, John Pomeroy returned to the U.S. to head up a satellite studio which provided some of the animation for the film. Pomeroy also used his presence in the U.S. to generate early publicity for the film, including a presentation at the 1987 San Diego Comic-Con.
The film's lead voices, Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, had previously appeared together in five films. For this one, they requested them to record their parts in the studio together (in American animation it is more common for each actor to record their part solo). Bluth agreed and allowed Reynolds and DeLuise to ad-lib extensively, Bluth later commented "their ad-libs were often better than the original script".
However, Reynolds was more complimentary of the draft, warmly quipping, "Great script, kid" as he left the studio. Another pair of voices, those of Carface and Killer (Vic Tayback and Charles Nelson Reilly, respectively), also recorded together. Loni Anderson, who voices Flo, was Reynolds' then-wife.
Child actress Judith Barsi (who voiced Ducky in Bluth's previous film The Land Before Time) was selected to voice Anne-Marie; she was killed in an apparent murder-suicide over a year before the film was released.
As production neared completion, the studio held test screenings and decided that some of the scenes were too intense for younger viewers. Writer and producer John Pomeroy decided to shorten Charlie's nightmare about being condemned. Co-director Gary Goldman also agreed to the cut, recognizing that the concession needed to be made in the name of commercial appeal.
Don Bluth owned a private 35mm print of the uncut version and planned to convince Goldcrest Films on releasing a director's cut of the film in the mid-1990s after returning from Ireland, but the print was stolen from Bluth's locked storage room, diminishing hopes of releasing this version on home video.
The music for "All Dogs Go to Heaven" was composed by Ralph Burns with lyrics by Charles Strouse, T.J. Kuenster, Joel Hirschhorn, and Al Kasha.
An official soundtrack was released on July 1, 1989 by Curb Records on audio cassette and CD featuring 13 tracks, including 7 vocal songs performed by various cast members.
The end credits theme song "Love Survives" was dedicated to Anne-Marie's voice actress Judith Barsi, who died before the film's release.
- "Love Survives" - Irene Cara and Freddie Jackson - (3:25)
- "Mardi Gras" - Music Score - (1:17)
- "You Can't Keep a Good Dog Down" - Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise - (2:30)
- "Hellhound" - Music Score - (2:09)
- "What's Mine Is Yours" - Burt Reynolds (1:48)
- "At the Race Track" - Music Score - Length: 1:49
- "Let Me Be Surprised" - Melba Moore and Burt Reynolds - (4:54)
- "Soon You'll Come Home" (Anne-Marie's Theme) - Lana Beeson - (2:38)
- "Money Montage" - Music Score - (3:43)
- "Dogs to the Rescue" - Music Score - (3:10)
- "Let's Make Music Together" - Ken Page and Burt Reynolds -(2:24)
- "Goodbye Anne-Marie" - Music Score - (2:10)
- "Hallelujah" - Candy Devine - (1:21)
"All Dogs Go to Heaven" opened in North America on November 17, 1989, which was the same day as Walt Disney Pictures' 28th full-length animated motion picture The Little Mermaid; once again, Sullivan Bluth Studios' latest feature would be vying for box office receipts with Disney's, just as their last two films ("An American Tail" and "The Land Before Time") had.
On its theatrical release (while still making its budget of $13.8 million back), the film's performance fell short of Sullivan Bluth Studios' previous box office successes, grossing US$27m in North America alone, just over half of what "An American Tail" and "The Land Before Time" each took.
Dissatisfied with the terms imposed by Universal Studios (which had distributed their previous two films) the studio found an alternative distributor in United Artists. Somewhat unusually, production investors Goldcrest Films covered the cost of the release prints and the promotional campaign, in return for a greatly reduced distribution fee from UA.
This was similar to the arrangement with United Artists when they distributed Bluth's first feature film, "The Secret of NIMH." Goldcrest Films invested $15 million in printing and promoting the film.
Due to contractual issues, very little tie-in merchandise accompanied the film's theatrical release; a computer game adaptation for the Commodore Amiga's DOS system (with a free software package) was released and restaurant chain Wendy's offered toys with their Kids' Meals or regular fries.
"All Dogs Go to Heaven" received many mixed reviews from critics, maintaining a 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 10 reviews, and a 50 out of 100 score from Metacritic.
Reviewers often drew unfavorable comparisons to Disney's offering, criticizing the disjointed narrative, the quality of the animation, and the songs by Charlie Strouse and T.J. Kuenster.
The film received a "thumbs down" from Gene Siskel, and a "thumbs up" from Roger Ebert on a 1989 episode of their television program "At the Movies."
While Siskel found it to be "surprisingly weak" given director Don Bluth's previous works, due largely to its "confusing story" and "needlessly violent" scenes, Ebert was a fan of the movie's "rubbery and kind of flexible" animation, stating he felt it was a good film despite not being an "animated classic."
Some also found the darker subject material objectionable in a family film, featuring as it does depictions of death, violence, drinking, smoking, gambling, murder, demons and images of Hell.
But other reviews were mostly positive, with critics praising the film's emotional qualities, humor and vibrant color palette.
Roger Ebert (who was unimpressed with Bluth's previous film "An American Tail") gave it three out of four stars, remarking that the animation "permits such a voluptuous use of color that the movie is an invigorating bath for the eyes," and that although he preferred "The Little Mermaid" (which opened on the same day) he still found Dogs to be "bright and inventive."
More recent reviews of "All Dogs Go To Heaven" have generally been less harsh, with Box Office Mojo awarding it a B- rating. However, film critic Leonard Maltin gave it one-and-a-half out of four stars, due to "unappealing characters, confusing storytelling, and forgettable songs."