A review requested by KayMartha12, with thanks to supporting Alternate Ending as a donor through Patreon.

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All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 is utterly confounding. For multiple reasons, only one of which is that like so many sequels, it is incredibly unnecessary: 1989's All Dogs Go to Heaven promises from the titleΒ  on that it's going to be a film that ends with its reluctant hero canine redeeming his mistake in life and spending all of eternity in Paradise. There are a lot of examples of sequels that have to roll back some fairly definitive terminal points but "dead for the second time and gone to heaven once and for all" is even more terminal than most.

But that's not the half of it. All Dogs 1 was the fourth feature directed by Don Bluth after his splashy departure from Walt Disney Feature Animation in the late 1970s, and during that run in the '80s, he came as close as anyone ever did in the 20th Century to breaking Disney's absolute stranglehold on the medium. But the center could not hold, Disney eventually reasserted its dominance, and All Dogs was in fact the specific film that marked the end of Bluth's moment in the sun. It turned a meager profit, but was widely regarded as a failure, and one that was moreover not particularly liked. Yet somehow, the brand was considered strong enough to kick off, not just a sequel, but a theatrically-released sequel, something that only one other Bluth film managed, when the Steven Spielberg-produced hit An American Tail was followed by An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. 1982's The Secret of NIMH only managed a despised direct-to-video sequel, and that wasn't until 1998; the hugely successful Anastasia had its DTV prequel Bartok the Magnificent (the only spin-off in the lot that Bluth was involved with), and there have been several dozen DTV follow-ups to the Spielberg/George Lucas baby The Land Before Time. But somehow, in 1996 All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 was considered a better bet than any of those (and just to add to the confusion, it led to a TV series and a television Christmas special).

Meanwhile, my continued pleas for A Troll Returns to Central Park and 2 Pebbles 2 Penguins remain unanswered.

In what cannot possibly be regarded as a real surprise, All Dogs 2 made practically no money, and killed off Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Animation in the same moment that it was born (to be sure, MGM itself was pretty well and truly dead by 1996. But still). And this is not just because it was an attempt to make a franchise where a franchise had no real business existing, but because the movie is fucking crazy. So, do you remember where we left off at the end of All Dogs 1? It doesn't really matter, because All Dogs 2 is about to take a hatchet to everything. Deceased German Shepherd Charlie Barkin (Charlie Sheen, replacing Burt Reynolds, and fundamentally altering the nature of the character in the process) is bored as hell by the endless perfection and ease of life in Heaven, and he spends every endless day waiting for his good friend Itchy the dachshund (Dom DeLuise, the sole returning cast member) to die, so they can hang out again. The same day that this finally happens, the treacherous mobster Carface (Ernest Borgnine, replacing the late Vic Tayback) has succeeded in convincing the whippet archangel Annabelle (Bebe Neuwirth) that he is the most reformed of all sinners, the better to be able to steal Gabriel's horn and thus escape Heaven.

Once the loss of the horn is discovered, Charlie leaps at the chance to volunteer to look for it on Earth, less because he has a decent bone in his body, and more because he's hoping to abandon the mission and reincarnate as a vagabond hedonist once again. This desire only intensifies once he spies the lovely Irish Setter singer Sasha La Fleur (Sheena Easton). Since his Heavenly mission has left him without a body, he has to make a deal with the mysterious Red (George Hearn), a fortune teller who is actual Cat Satan in disguise, and hopes to use the horn to banishing every dog soul in Heaven to spend eternity imprisoned in dog pounds on Earth.

All that, and in a very real sense, I haven't even gotten to the plot yet: like the last time, Charlie learns to be less of an asshole thanks to the presence of a lost little human child who needs e.g. a rough-and-tumble dog to help him survive the mean streets of San Francisco. This is David (Adam Wylie), who ran away from his father and stepmother in order to practice rudimentary magic tricks as a busker.

Say whatever one might about All Dogs Go to Heaven 2: it's not bland. I mean, it does hit the Sequel Reset button, returning the hero and villain to where they were at the start of the first movie, and re-running the "plucky street kid causes Charlie to abandon his selfish ways" arc. But you did notice the bit about Cat Satan attempting to destroy Heaven, I hope? So that's at least a tiny bit off the beaten track for a cheap kids' flick.

The showily bizarre plot is absolutely the most noticeable element of the film - it's almost impossible to imagine how that might not be the case, with this plot - and it's not the worst thing. Which, let us be fair, the worst thing is a pretty easy expectation to have walking into this material. But if there must be an All Dogs 2, the story concocted by Arne Olsen and Kelly Ward & Mark Young at least succeeds in expanding the giddy theology of the original film in ways that "make sense" insofar as anything in this franchise has ever been much in the business of making sense. Oddly for a film whose plot forces the protagonist to re-enact his original arc, All Dogs 2 at no point feels like a retread. And there's something grotesquely magnetic in how daft it is.

The other reason it's easy to focus more on the story than anything else is that, when we get right down to it, this is a cheaply-animated feature, and while I'm sure directors Larry Leker and Paul Sabella are decent and talented men, there's a gulf between a couple of random dudes who drifted across studios over the years (Leker was primarily a storyboard artist, Sabella primarily an animator) and the fevered genius of the man who believed he was the Chosen One to save Disney-style animation. Bluth's films aren't without their flaws, the big one being that his characters tend to overact in jerky, shuddering gestures, but there is a truly mad visionary element to them. All Dogs 2 attempts to replicate this, mostly in its treatment of Red the Cat Devil, but there's a gulf between having whatever drives Bluth to create his morbid dark characters in nearly all of his films, and being attentive enough to be able to re-create it. While Red in his demonic form is by far the most visually interesting character in the movie, moving with slinky grace that finds his long tail and snaky neck moving in interesting counterpoint to his body (it's a good match in animation to Hearn's smooth, elegantly self-amused vocal performance), he lacks the nightmarish punch of a great Bluth villain, though he has obviously been designed to mimic one.

The other characters are, not without exception, rather bland. I am given to understand that the All Dogs series and Christmas special are both much rougher than this, owing to their TV-sized production, and this surprises me a bit: the main characters in this one already feel like they've been reconceived with the limits of TV animation in mind. Particularly Carface, who has been reduced to easy-to-draw circles and ovals, with a small stock of prefab expressions that irresistibly bring to mind the slapstick bad guys of Hanna-Barbera's mournfully bad TV animation in the 1970s. This is, again, not an absolute: whoever was supervising Annabelle (the credits don't do much to breakdown the job of the animation staff) was curiously overinvested in giving her a lot of small, detailed reaction shots packed with clear emotional cues. And Carface is noticeably bad. Mostly, it's just a bunch of somewhat stiff, indifferently-colored figures with big poses and almost nothing in between those poses. And Sasha has been drawn in a way that I find unpleasantly over-sexualised for a dog; but it's, like, dog sexy. Like, at one point she conspicuously raises her rear up in the air to seduce a crowd. Also, Charlie and Sasha kiss near the end, and I hate it very much to watch their snouts turn into little flexible human lips.

The backgrounds, at least, are very cool, making good use of the low budget: much of the time, they're somewhat indistinct oil paintings, with none of the depth or realism that one expects from a Disney-style production, but it places the film in a detached, timeless space that works well with the implications of time and space being mutable in this universe. It would work even better if there was a sense that, like All Dogs 1, this took place decades before its moment of creation, but the human clothes argue against that.

Anyway, the film looks cheap but not shoddy, and it has enough flair in its use of color to put over the mad excesses of its sprawling plot and screwball spirituality. I will end by saying this: it's surely not necessary that there was an All Dogs sequel, but this in no way besmirches the original, it's deeply fascinating in its own right (though perhaps in a negative sense), and it damn sure isn't one I'll be quick to forget. We would live in a more interesting world if more children's entertainment was this frenzied and feverish - maybe not a better world, but a more interesting one.