Big Lipped Alligator Moment — revisiting the Trope Namer
Posted by Chris Lang on March 14, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Okay, at the end of my WIJDW (Why It Just Doesn’t Work) column on Superman III, I stated that I would do a later WIJDW column on a certain scene from All Dogs Go To Heaven. The thing is, I’m not entirely sure whether or not I can truly say that what I’m discussing ‘just doesn’t work’.

I might as well start by describing the plot and setting of All Dogs Go To Heaven. Directed by Don Bluth, this 1989 animated feature is the story of a bunch of gambling dogs. Charlie Barkin, his best friend Itchy, and his former partner turned enemy Carface (as well as most of the minor and supporting characters) are all dogs who run gambling operations in junkyards.

Carface wants Charlie’s half of the business, so he arranges for a runaway car to hit Charlie and kill him. Charlie finds himself at the gates of Heaven, despite his roguish gambling ways, because (as the title says) all dogs go to heaven. Charlie, however, decides that heaven can wait, and (against the warnings of the angel) grabs the stopped watch that represents his life and starts it up again. So Charlie ends up back on Earth, eager to get revenge on Carface.

Charlie decides that the best way to get revenge on Carface is to start his own rival gambling business. It turns out that Carface has been using a human orphan girl named Ann-Marie who has a gift for communicating with other species. She can talk to dogs, rats, horses, you name it. Carface uses this girl to talk to a bunch of racing rats. This is so she can tell Carface which rats are most likely to win the races (based on what the rats tell her), so that he can win all the bets.

Charlie and Itchy find Ann-Marie, and talk her into helping them in exchange for them helping her find a couple to adopt her. And this is where the internal logic of the film becomes, to me, confusing.

The dogs apparently are capable of running gambling casinos and other ‘gang’ activities in a world where humans rule and consider dogs to be just … well, dogs who aren’t capable of speaking their language. While the mouse society in Don Bluth’s previous film An American Tail works because it’s easy for mice to have a hidden world that humans can’t see (they can go about their business behind mouseholes and such because they’re so small), I’m not sure if giving dogs a similiar ‘secret world’ works.

Then again, All Dogs Go To Heaven is neither the first nor the last animated movie to feature a world where dogs and/or cats have street gangs and other anthropomorphic activities when they’re not being pampered house pets. So I decided not to flat out say that it just doesn’t work this time.

Okay, let’s go back to the story. Charlie and Itchy, with the help of Ann-Marie, successfully open up their own casino in a junkyard. By now, Carface has found out that Charlie is alive, and he and his henchmen make another attempt on Charlie’s life. While escaping from this latest attempt, Charlie and Ann Marie fall into a sewer. This leads into a moment that, thanks to the Nostalgia Critic and the Nostalgia Chick’s review of Ferngully, has become well known on the Internet.

To start with, Charlie and Ann-Marie are captured by a bunch of sewer-dwelling creatures who try to feed them to a creature that they worship. This creature happens to be an alligator. It attempts to eat Charlie, who howls. And that’s when the alligator stops, falls in love with Charlie’s voice, and the lights come on. We see that the alligator is really outlandish-looking, with big lips. This is the beginning of what Lindsay Ellis aka the Nostalgia Chick terms …

 

A BIG LIPPED ALLIGATOR MOMENT!

 

What happens next is pretty hard to describe, but I’ll try my best. The Gator exclaims that “I can’t eat a singer, I never could, I never will’, and spares Charlie. Then, for no apparent reason, the giant clamshell they are on (which is pretty weird in itself) shoots up into the air as if on a hydralic lift (this underground sewer area definately falls under the Absurdly Spacious Sewer trope, by the way). The Gator asks Charlie if he’s a baritone or a tenor, and then launches into a song.

During this musical number, the Gator leaps into the air, swings on a trapeze, then dives into the water and continues singing in a manner similiar to an Esther Williams ‘water dance’ parody. All this, indeed, fits the criteria Lindsay gives for a Big Lipped Alligator Moment.

Does it come out of nowhere? Check. Does it have little or no bearing on the plot? Check (it has little bearing on the plot. The Gator shows up again in the climax, but Charlie and Ann-Marie barely even notice. The only part of this sequence that pays off later is the fact that the Gator spared Charlie thanks to his howl).

Is it waaay over the top in terms of ridiculousness, even within the context of the film? Check. After it happens, is there little or no mention of it again? Check (while the Gator himself shows up briefly, the weird musical number is never spoken of. It’s as if Charlie decided ‘Okay, the important part is this weird gator spared us and took us out of the sewer. What happened in between is just so crazy let’s never speak of it again’).

Anyway, one reason this scene is so weird is that it contains a number of things that are, to reference another Nostalgia Critic review (the review of ‘Quest for Camelot‘) ‘Explain, movie, explain!’ moments. There’s the clamshell and the trapeze I mentioned earlier. And then there’s the fact that Charlie and the Gator are able to sing a duet. This despite the fact that it’d been previously established that only Ann-Marie can communicate with other species.

So, does the Gator also have Ann-Marie’s gift for understanding the speech of other species and communicating with them? We never really know, since the above-described scenes are the only time we see the Gator. In any case, since there’s an easy enough explanation as to why the Gator and Charlie are able to sing together, I’m not counting it as a Why It Just Doesn’t Work moment.

All in all, All Dogs Go To Heaven manages to get past me and my overly-nitpicky columns. The same can’t be said for Don Bluth’s next film, however. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Rock-a-Doodle so I probably won’t do a WIJDW column (or any other type of blog entry) about it until I have a chance to see it again.

Agree? Disagree? Do you have any further insights? Feel free to leave your comments.

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