Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The worst children's movies Netflix has to offer

Now that my son's second birthday is two weeks in the rearview mirror, it's open season on catching up on all the animated movies I've never seen.

I'm exaggerating a little here. If I think they might be good movies, I want to save them for a time when he'll appreciate them more. At least, that's what I'm thinking at the moment.

But we lifted our ban on letting our son watch television that's intended for him, and the way we're starting is with movies. When he gets old enough to start demanding particular TV shows, I imagine that's where this will go. But for the time being, I don't know those TV shows. I just know movies.

And I know my son likes dogs, so when I saw that Don Bluth's All Dogs Go to Heaven was among the family movies Netflix was recommending I watch on Sunday morning, I decided to give it a shot.

Oh lord, no.

Now, I should preface this by saying that I have a soft spot for Don Bluth, the former Disney animator who broke off from the Mouse House and started making his own movies in the early 1980s. The Secret of N.I.M.H was one of my favorite movies growing up -- and is also one of the aforementioned movies available for streaming that I want to show my son when he's older. I was also obsessed with the video game Dragon's Lair, which he animated. It would be no exaggeration to say that Dirk the Daring was one of my favorite heroes growing up, such that I even wrote a novel (what passes for a novel when you're 12) detailing the adventures of a very similar character. I also thought the first Land Before Time was fine, and think that An American Tail is probably a good movie (I haven't seen it).

But lesser Bluth? Avoid it all costs.

All Dogs Go to Heaven is a children's movie in name and animation style only. It involves two criminal dogs, voiced by Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise, who are double-crossed by a gangster partner. The dog voiced by Reynolds is the victim of a mob hit in which a car runs over him while he's standing, drunk, at the end of a pier. This is off screen, but we're not off to a good start, are we? The low life dog ends up in heaven, but tries to cheat death by going back to earth. See, he finds the pocket watch that corresponds to his soul, and winds it so it starts ticking again -- this despite the loud protests from an angelic female dog, who warns him that by doing what he's doing, he won't be able to come back to heaven. But indeed "Charlie B. Barkin" does return to earth, where he "saves" an orphan girl from the clutches of the gangster dog who offed him. See, this gangster dog (Carface Carruthers by name) had the girl in his possession because this girl is skilled at picking the winner of races that occur between rats in an underground gambling ring. (You still with me? You planning to show your kids this?) It's not all that magnanimous of a gesture, though, because Charlie and his sidekick take the girl to a bunch of other tracks -- horse racing, etc. -- in order to make bets on those races. With the money they win on these bets, the dogs open their own speakeasy (this is New Orleans of the distant past), but the gangster dog is still out there, trying to kidnap the girl back and finish the job of killing Charlie.

Um, yes, this is the movie.

To make matters worse, there are a bunch of bad -- I mean really, really, bad and forgettable -- songs, which are about as perfunctory as you can imagine. Also, the animation is just terrible. The year 1989 was the same year that animation was kind of reborn when Disney released The Little Mermaid, and the difference between these two movies is about as extreme as you can get. It's obvious how little money Bluth had, which is why these scruffy characters -- in personality and design -- walk around against these washed-out backdrops, drab and colorless. It's as obvious as can be that the characters and their surroundings are on two different planes of the animation field, neither of which looks any good.

I felt that rather than introducing my son to something, I was subjecting him to something.

He did say "doggies!" a couple times. But these dogs are so un-cute and unwholesome and just plain dispiriting that he didn't pay attention for all that long. And there was a scary scene, involving a nightmare the dog was having featuring lightning bolts and other general unpleasantness, where he started saying "No" -- not in a freaked out way, but just "No, this is not enjoyable to watch, thank you very much."

We didn't watch much more.

Though I did finish the movie later during his nap.

I don't know that I've ever given an animated movie one star out of five before. I guess there's a first time for everything.

I can barely wait to see what we might have in store next Sunday morning ...


Travis McClain said...

I remember being taken to see this during its theatrical release. It was animated, we were kids and my brother loves dogs. It seemed a no-brainer. Our experience was just as yours. The whole time the movie played, I kept wondering what the hell we'd gotten into, when it would be over...and just how bad it would be until then.

Last August, I elected to revisit it as an adult for the DVD Talk Animation Challenge. My wife had picked it (and its sequel) out of the $5 bin at Walmart once upon a time and it kind of irked me that we'd owned the discs for several years and never watched them.

It was even worse as an adult because not only did it feel so sleazy, but it's genuinely an awful movie, regardless of expectations. It's one of the few movies to which I have assigned a 1-star rating.

The important lesson, though, is that you always be mindful that animation =/= children. It's easy to distinguish something like South Park as not being kid-friendly, but there is still quite a lot of animated content out there that really does require some research to verify just how age-appropriate it may be.

Vancetastic said...

It's good to have independent confirmation of the movie's poor quality. Really, how did this even seem like a good story to make? The fact that it was dark didn't bother me so much, since The Secret of N.I.M.H. is also pretty dark. The fact that it was utterly joyless was the biggest problem.

I'm not overly worried about my son being scarred by things he sees in a movie like this. I feel like presenting him something that's worthwhile is the greater goal -- especially if it keeps his attention ten minutes longer.