Rock-A-Doodle/All Dogs Go To Heaven Review
Before Dreamworks, 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers all fought for a little of the dollars pouring into Disney's animation studios, despite how bare the coffers seem now, Don Bluth was once the only serious contender to Disney's title. From his greatest and earliest success, The Secret of NIMH, Bluth has fought both for his own independence and for success but on the basis of the two films included in this set, Michael Eisner may have much to worry about but Don Bluth won't be high on his list.
Rock-A-Doodle (71m34s): When Chanticleer the Rooster (Glenn Campbell) is tricked by one of The Duke's no-good associates, he is laughed off the farm to seek out fame as a rock'n'roll singer in the city. With his big break into movies looming, Edmond, who is a little boy sucked into Chanticleer's animated world, begins a search for Chanticleer that will take him back to the farm to rid it of the dark clouds that have covered he farm, blocking out the sunshine ever since The Duke (Christopher Plummer) took Chanticleer's place, bringing eternal darkness to the farm.
All Dogs Go To Heaven (82m13s): Set in New Orleans at the end of the thirties, Charlie B. Barkin is killed whilst getting involved with some local gangsters but on getting to Heaven, it's decided that Charlie isn't quite ready for a life in paradise. Charlie is sent back to Earth where he must perform at least one good deed before he can try his luck once again and when he sees a little orphan kidnapped by the same gangsters responsible for his death during his first shot at life, Charlie gets his chance.
Despite being one of Disney's most successful exile, Don Bluth's films owe much to his one-time employer, particularly as regards the making of Rock-A-Doodle. Despite the presence of country star and LA session guitarist Glen Campbell, famous for Wichita Lineman, giving Rock-A-Doodle a more full-blooded vocalist than Disney has had since Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins, both the appearance and voice of the dog, Patou, recalls Disney's series of films made whilst Bluth was still in their employ. With Patou being an almost identical dog to one of those featured in the chase with Edgar in The Aristocats, so Patou is also voiced by Phil Harris who will be instantly recognised as also being the voice behind Thomas O'Malley in The Aristocats, Little John in Robin Hood and Baloo in The Jungle Book.
Yet despite the debt he owes to Disney following his leading of a walkout of senior animators from the studio, Don Bluth has never quite realised the importance of strong storytelling to the Disney tradition. Even in the more complex stories from Disney, including such recent films as Atlantis: The Lost Empire, The Emperor's New Groove and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in which the bitter Judge Frollo turns a song about Esmerelda into one that explains his own weakness when experiencing lust and desire, the story remains straightforward and told so simply that even the youngest of children could understand it. Of course, what Disney also understand is that their stories must appeal to adults and with a small number of exceptions, each Disney film has a sufficient number of subtle stories to reach out to adults.
Both of these films reveal the gulf between Disney's work and that of Don Bluth with neither of these stories being such a rich example of storytelling as that offered by Disney. Bluth's problem is his need to expand simple stories, not, as Disney or Pixar would, by enriching the world beyond the major characters but by putting his main characters through ever more tiresome adventures. By rights, Rock-A-Doodle ought to have ended about forty minutes in when Edmond brings Chanticleer back to the farm but Bluth drags the film out to over an hour by having The Duke transform himself into ever more threatening beings, before each one is defeated by Chanticleer. By the end, you're willing the credits to roll, having lost all interest in Chanticleer. Similarly, All Dogs Go To Heaven features some quite wonderful animation, close to Disney's The Rescuers and Oliver & Company, but again, Bluth's direction and storytelling is blustering and the story never really settles.
The voice acting is generally good although Edmond is badly acted in both the live action and animated sequences but, for a kid, he can be forgiven. Otherwise, Phil Harris is his usual, terrific self and Burt Reynolds in All Dogs Go To Heaven? It's like The Bandit but, y'know, in dog-form...
Both films are presented in 1.33:1 and the noticeable wobbling of the United Artists logo on All Dogs Go To Heaven along with the grain on both transfers mean that no digital remastering has taken place. Whilst the picture quality is never poor and does remain clear and colourful, the transfer on these films falls far short of that offered by Disney on many of their best releases.
Both films are presented in 2.0 Stereo but neither sound quite right, almost as though the mix is just slightly wrong. Whilst there is never a noticeable amount of noise, it's simply that it never sounds as though the voices are in balance with the backing music nor the ambient effects.
There is a mix of extras across the two discs in the set, all of which are in 1.33:1 and 2.0 Stereo unless otherwise stated:
Trailer (1m58): Beginning with the live-action section of the film, this summarises the search to bring Chanticleer back to the farm.
Making Of Rock-A-Doodle (15m45s): Despite opening with two questionable claims - that Don Bluth was the cause of the mid-eighties revival in animation in spite of the release of The Little Mermaid and that the clunky Rock-A-Doodle was his most ambitious project to date - this settles into an short feature allowing Bluth to talk about his direction of actors in Rock-A-Doodle's live-action sequences, the casting of Glen Campbell and the rock'n'roll of Chanticleer versus the opera of The Duke.
All Dogs Go To Heaven
Trailer (2m00s): This is little more than a summary of the action in the film.
Featurette (5m12s): Beginning with Don Bluth discussion his interest in animation, this short feature looks at the work of Bluth's Irish studio in the making of the film and his selection of voice actors.
Discussion On The Film (1m56s): Don Bluth, Vic Tayback And Den Paige are featured in separate interviews talking about All Dogs Go To Heaven in what feels like an extension of the featurette.
Don Bluth Biography: This bonus feature includes four pages of text that are, for once, critical of its subject, stating that, "[Bluth] joined up with Twentieth Century Fox, after producing a few mediocre hits...followed up with the hollow but average Titan A.E."
The most disappointing aspect of these films is in knowing that, even with complex animation, Don Bluth rarely shows any lack of confidence but, where his storytelling is concerned, his writing is confused, predictable and tiresome even when compared to Disney's weaker efforts, such as Robin Hood.
With transfers and soundtracks that do little to make the films any more interesting, Rock-A-Doodle and All Dogs Go To Heaven come far behind the many other animation DVD's that are already available. Whilst occasionally wonderful to look at, that's hardly a recommendation for the youngest of children.
Last updated: 29/04/2018 12:01:51