Acclaimed Flop: While not as universally beloved as Don Bluth's previous efforts, it still found its fans and admirers among critics despite being pummeled at the box office by the release of The Little Mermaid. It went on to be the highest-grossing VHS release of 1990, selling more than 3 million copies in its first month alone.
All-Star Cast: In addition to Burt Reynolds, who was at his peek popularity at the time, there's also his Cannonball Run II co-stars Dom De Luise and Charles Nelson Reilly, as well as his then-wife Loni Anderson and Alice (1976) star Vic Tayback (As mentioned below, the film is technically a Reynolds star vehicle). It was also part of Judith Barsi's continuing rise in fame before being cut short by her tragic murder in 1988
Author Existence Failure: Ultimately averted, as Judith Barsi's tragic murder occurred almost immediately after she had finished recording all of her dialogue. The film was dedicated to her memory.
The Cast Showoff: Melba Moore gets to show off her gospel singing chops during the credits.
Celebrity Voice Actor: The project began as a star vehicle for Burt Reynolds, who wanted Bluth to give him an animated role similar to the ones he'd given his frequent co-star Dom De Luise in his other movies. DeLuise wasn't even cast as Itchy until later, when Reynolds needed someone to better ad lib off of. Reynolds also came up with the initial story of "a guy who starts as a jerk but learns a lesson."
The Danza: When the heavenly whippet looks in Charlie's records, it's revealed that his middle name is Burt and his parents were Burt R. Barken and Loni A. Bowzar, who resemble canine versions of Reynolds and his then-wife Loni Anderson (Anderson herself cameos as Flo).
Executive Meddling: Resulted in some of the scarier images from the film, such as Charlie's body flying off the pier when he's hit by the carnote One tie-in book for the film recycled concept art for its illustrations. This included one where the silhouette of Charlie's body can be seen flying alongside the car. and a few seconds of the Hell sequence, getting neutered in order to be more appropriate for children. A lot of casual swearing peppered throughout the film was also cut out, an artifact from which can be heard on the soundtrack album, when Charlie angrily mumbles to himself "Damn, that Carface, I'll kill him!" (In the movie, the "damn" is awkwardly cut out).
Keep Circulating the Tapes: Not the movie, but the original Beth Brown book the film was inspired by has been out of print for decades and is very hard and expensive to find.
Name's the Same: Invoked. Don Bluth was read the original Beth Brown novel as a child, but he only remembered the title. He sought it out as an adult and wrote a treatment of it under the name "Canine Mysteries," but kept hitting walls with the story until he decided to write a completely different one based around the original title.
Most American viewers completely missed the Genius Bonus of a horse named "The Grand Chawhee". Look into the political situations of Ireland (where Sullivan/Bluth studios was based) from around the time it was made and maybe then you'll get it.
First, Bluth and co. repeatedly hit walls trying to get an adaptation of the original Beth Brown story to work. In a chance meeting with writer Robert Towne, Bluth pitched him the story and asked for feedback. Towne reportedly came up with a better, more succinct story in the five minutes it took him to go to the bathroom afterward than the crew had in months.
Then, Bluth butted egos with original producer Steven Spielberg over Spielberg always having final say in their collaborations, leading to Bluth eventually deciding to produce the film independently.
And lastly was the murder of their lead actress after she had recorded all of her lines, forcing certain violent aspects of the film to be toned down, such as Killer's tommy gun becoming a laser blaster.
Wag the Director: Haha, but seriously...Burt Reynolds and Dom De Luise, who had developed a repertoire with one another after starring in several movies together, insisted that Don Bluth leave the room during recording sessions so that they could improvise off one another better. Despite his initial chagrin, Bluth would later admit that some of the film's best lines came from their improv.
The first treatment of the film more closely followed the book. It was conceived as a short entitled "Canine Mysteries" as part of a package film, which would have also included an adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit. Based on some recently-shared concept art, the dogs would have had more direct interaction with humans.
Several seconds of the Hell sequence were cut for being too frightening. The full version has recently surfaced.
Burt Reynolds originally read his part with a more cartoonish "doggie" (read: Scooby-Doo) voice, which nobody liked. Reynolds persisted, saying it was cute, until Dom DeLuise pulled him aside and said "Burt, don't be an asshole," at which point he dropped it.
Most of the film originally took place in heaven and had a ton of angel characters, which was where Bluth and co. initially started having story problems. Bluth asked writer Robert Towne for feedback, and Towne told him to focus more on the dogs than the heaven.
Write Who You Know: Charlie was designed after Gary Goldman's dog Burt (named for Reynolds). Goldman first found the pooch chasing after Reynold's car leaving their first lunch meeting.
The TV Series
The Other Darrin: Ernest Bornine replaced Vic Tayback, who died a year after the first film was released, as the voice of Carface while Bebe Neuwirth replaced Melba Moore as Annabelle/The Heavenly Whippet. Charlie, meanwhile, has a different voice for every installment (Burt Reynolds in the first, Charlie Sheen in the second, Steven Webber in the TV series), presumably because each one became cheaper to the point that Reynolds and Sheen were too expensive.
Role Reprisal: All the voices from the sequel reprise their roles besides Charlie Sheen as Charlie (see The Other Darrin above). Dom De Luise and Charles Nelson Reily are the only two actors from the first film to reprise their roles however.
Talking To Herself: Annabelle and Belladonna are both played by Bebe Neuwirth. Played for Laughs in the Christmas episode where Belladonna does an annoying impression of her cousin.