All Dogs Go to Heaven is a cartoon-canine revamp of Heaven Can Wait in which a happy-go-lucky German shepherd named Charlie Barker gets iced by his gangland rivals, goes to heaven, and comes back to earth for revenge. When he hooks up with a sad-eyed orphan girl, however, he becomes a good doggie: With help from her and what appears to be a giant homosexual alligator (hey, I just report this stuff), Charlie gets the bad guys and lives, uh, dies happily ever after.

Despite top-flight animation, it’s easy to see why Dogs was buried by Disney’s Little Mermaid in the theaters: It has none of that film’s effortlessly natural charm. The lead dog is uncharismatic and the songs are hokey and unmemorable. Older kids and adults will find the whole thing slightly passé.

Small fry, on the other hand, might find it too much. Parents should screen this first, and be prepared to answer Heavy Questions, because animator Don Bluth has a pretty bizarre preoccupation with death. In his The Land Before Time (1988) he lingered almost maliciously over the mommy dinosaur’s heartbreaking demise, and the entire plot of All Dogs Go to Heaven is based on surprisingly vivid images of death, heaven, and hell.

That’s not to say the D word should not be brought up in family films. It’s just that an entertainment this lightweight is the wrong place to deal with it. D+