Scrooge Month Day 11: Carface Carruthers in AN ALL DOGS CHRISTMAS CAROL (1998)

All Dogs Christmas Carol 1998Director: Paul Sabella, Gary Selvaggio

Writer: Jymn Magon, based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Cast: Ernest Borgnine, Dom DeLuise, Sheena Easton, Taylor Emerson, Bebe Neuwirth, Charles Nelson Reilly, Steven Weber, Dee Bradley Baker, Ashley Tisdale

Notes: This TV movie was the third and (so far) final film in the All Dogs Go to Heaven series, and also followed the popular TV show based on the films. In this version the evil dog Carface (Ernest Borgnine) harasses other dogs for bones and money and the like just before Christmas, prompting Charlie (Steven Weber) to re-enact A Christmas Carol in an attempt to set him straight: Itchy (Dom DeLuise) becomes Christmas Past, Sasha (Sheena Easton) Christmas Present, and Charlie Himself becomes Christmas Yet to Come. I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen an All Dogs Go to Heaven movie or TV show before, so other than the fact that it’s about dead dogs, I really don’t know what to expect. The only reason I even own this film is because it was included in a pack of animated Christmas movies on DVD I got a while back, so reviewing it will be an experience.

Thoughts: The film has a cute enough framing sequence – puppy angels (try not to let the obvious implications of that be depressing) ask the angel Annabella (Bebe Neuwirth) for a story, and she tells about how her favorite dogs once stopped her evil cousin Belladonna (Neuwirth again) from ruining Christmas. As the film shifts from Heaven down to a San Francisco decorated for the holidays, it’s clear from the production values that this was created on a TV budget. I try not to hold that against the movie – after all, so was the Flintstones special four years earlier – but the animation is really stiff compared to many of the other animated versions of A Christmas Carol we’ve watched. I also have to deduct points for an obvious “Santa Paws” joke in the first five minutes.

Despite the notes at the beginning, the film takes a long time to get to the actual Christmas Carol content, going through this long opening slog in which Belladonna plans to hypnotize every dog in the city with a giant dog whistle or… or something like that. I’ve got to admit, my attention started to wander, because this most definitely is not a movie for me. Eventually, Annabella gives Charlie a magic amulet that allows him to pull the Dickens bit on Carface, with Charlie sort of taking on the Marley role to introduce the segment. It’s here that the Carface character finally gets some (and by some I mean “any”) depth. The trip to Christmas Past shows Carface as a puppy, loved by a child but put out into the cold and rain one Christmas. It’s about as sad a sight as I’ve ever seen in animation, actually, a pit bull with a beanie propeller walking away from a kid who used to love him.

Christmas Present grinds the movie to a halt with a lame villains song about how the big bad and the minion have differing feelings about Christmas. The whole time I listened to it, I kept thinking that Bebe Neuwirth deserved better. Anyway, eventually Sasha gets around to showing Carface little Timmy, a puppy with a lame leg who was among the dogs he robbed earlier in the movie. (I suspect Timmy was NOT a regular on the TV show.) As it turns out, the money Carface stole was earmarked for a life-saving operation for Timmy, and although the puppy shows heart, he doesn’t have any sort of physical prowess. This is the first version of the story where we get an actual direct link between “Scrooge” and Tim’s death – most of the time it’s just implied that the Cratchits couldn’t afford decent medical care because of Bob’s low wages. Here there’s no denying it’s entirely Carface’s fault.

Then a boring reprise of the boring song that started Christmas Present. Ernest Borgnine – you were great, but if Bebe Neuwirth can’t make the song fly, you don’t really have a chance.

In Christmas Future, we skip the usual preliminaries where Scrooge doesn’t know who they’re talking about and go straight to Carface’s cronies talking about how glad they are to be rid of him. It’s a surprisingly edgy way to approach the subject. Then Charlie kicks off a musical number that parodies – of all things – The Mask to show Carface he’s going down to Hell if he doesn’t change his ways. Which, now that I think about it completely contradicts the title of the franchise. Actually, if all dogs go to Heaven, what incentive do dogs have to behave? They’re going to Heaven anyway, right? Either the title is lying or there’s a huge cosmic loophole here. I’m really giving it far more thought that it deserves, but it’s that or give my complete attention to this lousy musical number, so I’m going to stick with the pontificating for a bit. Christmas Future ends with Carface realizing he was a heel for helping her in her evil scheme and setting out to stop her. Which he does, of course, because kids’ movie. And at the end he gives back everything he stole and Timmy lives and I check my blood sugar levels because I’m afraid they’ve gotten dangerously high.

I like good all-ages movies, ask anybody, but I think the mistake a lot of people make is that by assuming you’re making something for a children’s market means that it’s okay to make something that fails as entertainment for everybody else. To put it another way: when a Christmas-loving musical theatre nerd like myself wants to start fast-forwarding through every song in your movie, you have done something wrong.

There are numerous shows and movie throughout history that prove this simply doesn’t have to be the case: the Looney Tunes, the Flintstones, the Muppets, Animaniacs, Phineas and Ferb and the entire Pixar library come to mind. That makes me considerably less forgiving of a film like this one, where the jokes are stale, the songs are weak, and the animation stodgy, because the creators just assumed nobody over the age of 8 was going to watch it. The thing is, it’s the franchises that do have that crossover appeal that turn out to be long-lasting and classic. I still look forward to the Muppet and Disney specials every year. I don’t remember the last time I heard anyone mention All Dogs Go to Heaven.

I do give the film credit in one instance – although we’ve thrice seen films about characters performing A Christmas Carol, this is the first one we’ve gotten where the characters deliberately invoke Dickens in order to effect change in someone who needs to learn a lesson. I’ve read a few stories based around that trope in books and comics (my personal favorite is Teen Titans #13 from 1967, “TT’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol” for you cool cats in the know), but for such an obvious idea, precious few movie adaptations have activated it.

My unfamiliarity with the property kind of kills my enjoyment of it. This movie builds on character relationships established in two prior movies and a whole TV series, and as I haven’t seen any of them, I feel like I’m left out of the joke. I get why this was the finale, though – it essentially ends with the redemption of (I assume) the primary villain of the TV show, which isn’t exactly something you can do during the run of the series without altering the dynamic dramatically, and an after-school kids’ show circa 1998 wasn’t about to take that sort of chance while it was still on the air. As it is, all I can really say is that the film is at best serviceable and inoffensive, but unless you’re already a fan of the franchise, it’s just not going to do it for you.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!


About blakemp

Blake M. Petit. Author. Podcaster. Teacher. Actor. Geek Pundit.

Posted on December 16, 2013, in 4-Icons, Comedy, Fantasy, Musical and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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