Monday, July 18, 2011

Learning from Don Bluth Films, pt. 3

Bet you didn't know this was going to become a regular thing!

Anyway, Tracy and I are having a nice little night to ourselves. We ate some pork tacos and then some Nutella toast, I spent some time researching agents (who, it seems, are interested in good books; go figure), and now she's working on some documentation for our old digs at Puerto del Sol. (I did some of that earlier today.) She turned on All Dogs Go to Heaven for a bit of background noise and I got a little sucked in.

There's a lot I don't love about All Dogs, especially the orphan, and there are a few things I really do like (the menace of Carface, more persuasive for its imperfection, and the juxtaposition of metaphysical and squalid imageries), but the key moment in the film, the bit that makes it worth watching, is what happens when Charlie gets up to Heaven. It's not what you would expect.

It may be worth noting here that while I do not really believe in Heaven, and I haven't for some years now, I've never been able to invest the emotional energy necessary to believe in much of anything else, including the nothing I suspect is waiting for me. To the extent that I try to comfort myself about death, the way I like to look at it is this: before I came around, there wasn't nothing, there was in fact everything, and everything will persist when I'm gone. My death doesn't end anything. In fact, it may be a sort of reunion -- with the everything I wasn't experiencing before I was alive. Not being alive is the normal state of affairs, after all.

And that's about the best I've got. But when I'm being lazy about it, what I hope for is pretty much the generic afterlife you see in cartoons like All Dogs. It should be like life, but boring: less suffering, less work, more time to spend with loved ones just sort of pleasantly floating around, enjoying the ease of making it without making rent. So when Charlie is murdered and floats up to Heaven, I'm thinking, "That looks like a pretty great deal." Sure it's boring, but sometimes boring is good. Anyway, he isn't really dead. The rational response would be a celebration. It would be exploring his new digs. It would be maybe romancing the pretty lady dog who seems so eager to join him in a duet. When you go to Heaven you're supposed to say, "Thank you!" Or you're supposed to say "Awesome!" Or you're supposed to, at any rate, calm down, chill out, relax, and enjoy.

Charlie makes the movie work when he refuses to stay. In fact, the key is that he's not even actually interested in Heaven. It's weird because he's clearly not a believer, has obviously invested extremely little thought in his soul's final destination, and yet he's not at all surprised to find himself there in the clouds. He could not give less of a shit about what's happening, about the implications of it. His immediate response is to go back down and deal with Carface.

And it's key here that Carface is not actually a major evil, especially at this stage in the film. Yes, he killed Charlie, and yes, he'll probably do it again. But honestly? These are dogs. We're not that worried about them. The empire at the heart of their dispute is a pile of raw meat and a rat race track. This stuff manifestly does not matter.

And that's precisely what makes it so great as a reason to go back. This is the moment in the movie when we realize we're dealing with a sort of maniac: the special kind of crazy person that makes a good protagonist, the kind of guy who especially won't let something trivial go. He's willing to risk his life and his immortal soul in order to get back at a bulldog in a vest and lime-green bow tie, not because he thinks it will make his life better or even because he thinks it'll make it worse but because he just can't help himself. Everything that comes before this terrible decision is prologue, and most of what comes after is coasting on it. We're pretty sure he could make a great mistake again, and we're interested in seeing what will come, in any case, of this one.

It's a useful example of something I've said here before: you want to make a story happen, make sure you've got some characters willing to make terrible, awful mistakes. Characters eager to ruin their own lives.

1 comment:

  1. Very good observation.
    The "wow" moment for me was towards the end, when the film alludes that Charlie was going to go to hell.