The film has aged surprisingly well despite its patently sad premise

By Alex Heigl
Updated November 17, 2014 03:45 PM
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All Dogs Go to Heavenis one of the classic also-rans of the quote-unquote “golden age of animation.” While its theatrical release was pre-empted by an unassuming Disney flick called The Little Mermaid, the film found a second life on home video, eventually becoming one of MGM/United Artists’ highest-selling video titles.

The film turned 25 on Nov. 17, and in celebration, we’re taking a closer look at its production and legacy.

1. All Dogs Go to Heaven was produced by Don Bluth, who also made The Land Before Time, An American Tail and The Secret of NIMH.
Bluth enjoys a kind of popular appeal as “the bad boy of Disney,” who struck out from the titan with his own production company. It makes sense, given that his most popular films tackle themes like extinction, disenfranchised immigrants and dead dogs. You know, light stuff.

2. Burt Reynolds voices the lead dog, though he requested his name not be used in the promotion.

That would be the whimsically named Charlie B. Barkin. He gets, ah, murdered, which is … deeply depressing considering what happened to Judith Barsi, the actress who voiced the other lead character, orphan girl Anne-Marie. (See below.)

3. This was Judith Barsi’s last film.
Barsi, who had roles in Remington Steele, Growing Pains and The Land Before Time, was only ten when she was shot and killed by her abusive father, Jézsef Barsi, in 1988. He also killed Judith’s mother Maria before killing himself. All Dogs Go to Heaven was dedicated to Judith’s memory.

4. The film was set in New Orleans.
Directors Gary Goldman and Dan Kuenster took over 3,000 photos to research the film’s setting, which they said gave the story “a feeling of worldliness that contrasted nicely with the film’s spiritual theme.”

5. The film’s title comes from a Robert Louis Stevenson quote.

“Many people suggested changing the title,” Bluth said, noting that he always fought back. The full Stevenson quote that inspired the title is “You think those dogs will not be in heaven! I tell you they will be there long before any of us.”

6. The film’s vision of Hell was its most controversial scene.
The scene was – probably wisely – trimmed to avoid a PG rating, though Bluth supposedly owns a cut of the film that features an unabridged version of the nightmarish scene, which has never been seen by the public.

7. The film nearly came out on Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

He left the project after having a falling-out with Bluth during the making of The Land Before Time.

8. Production took place in Ireland.

Funded by U.K.-based investors Goldcrest films, All Dogs was produced in Dublin, Ireland, where Bluth’s headquarters were located.

9. The movie was not beloved by critics.
Only a few outlets – PEOPLE included – looked favorably on the film. (LA Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter also enjoyed it.) Newsweek called it “appallingly plotted and poorly animated,” while The Los Angeles Times described the film as “not really a whole lot of fun for anyone.”

10. The film’s score has a pedigree of its own.
All Dogs was scored by Academy Award-winning composer Ralph Burns, whose other credits include All That Jazz, Cabaret and A Chorus Line.

11. The film’s premise was inspired by cold hard cash.
A 1988 Hollywood Reporter feature on the film reported that investor Morris Francis Sullivan (the “Sullivan” in Sullivan Bluth Studios) explained All Dogs was inspired by the fact that “the top three animated films [of all time, at that point] were about dogs: The Fox and the Hound, 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp.