A recurring comment I see about this film is that it was a ‘big screw you to the fans’ – albeit often in less charming language. That seems fair – I got it on VHS as someone who wasn’t a huge fan of the first film but one who had enjoyed it and wanted more of the same, and after all Fievel Goes West wasn’t an utter disgrace to An American Tail, so nothing prepared me for just how dire this was going to be. I had read the Mrs Frisby sequel and that had been quite palatable, too.
Well, this film had nothing to do with that sequel, or the books at all beyond the basic premise and characters. It also had nothing to do with Don Bluth or his studios. Instead, it was made by MGM 16 years after the original in one of their multiple attempts to revive their studio’s animation department long after the glory days of Tom and Jerry left them. They bought the rights to Don Bluth’s United Artists films and set about making sequels. I’ve yet to see All Dogs Go to Heaven 2, but I can’t imagine there was much of merit there.
The plot is that Timmy, the sick mouseling from the original, has (at some point) been the subject of one of Nicodemus’ prophecies. He will one day be a great hero and save the rats, etc. This horrible lazy storywriting not only kicks off the action of the film, as for no better reason than this prognostication, Timmy has to leave his family behind and go to the mouse colony, but drives the antagonist – big brother Martin spends his life full of resent that his brother has glory laid out before him but he doesn’t. Timmy, now grown into early manhood, meets Jenny, a young rat who reveals that her parents have been locked up by NiMH. As it turns out, though, the mastermind now is not Doctor Valentine, but Martin, who has a whole new personality and a plan to attack the colony that just happens to be scheduled for the day Timmy and co arrive.
Everything about this is incredibly sub-par. The prologue makes the bad mistake of showing some Bluth animation, which only highlights how deeply inferior this is. The only things that look good in the whole film are some backgrounds when Jeremy the crow is in flight. When it comes to the artwork, the models go all over the place and the colouring is so simple it makes everything look horrible and cheap. The animation is very poor, mostly just blocky and awkward, though with some sad attempts to closely match the actors’ lines, but done so clumsily and gracelessly that it’s perhaps the only time I’ve ever thought the character animation would have been better if the actors had read their lines after animation.
The performances are similarly poor. Ralph Macchio, the Karate Kid, by this point closer to 40 than to 30 and a long way off Timmy’s 17 rat years, is as wooden and stilted as it gets. Dom Deluise is the only significant returning cast member (I wouldn’t count the guy who plays Mr Ages), wisely cashing in on everything he could before his career stalled (unless it’s why his career stalled, but who can say?), but he’s given just about nothing funny to say and is paired up with a caterpillar with the most terrible design possible. Jenny was Hynden Walch’s first voice-over role, and if you ask me she’s incredibly lucky she got the chance to continue until she found roles where acting a bit wooden and vague came over as just right and even charmingly sweet rather than weird – Starfire in Teen Titans and Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time. Getting Eric Idle in to be the bad guy may not have seemed such an odd idea – he proves remarkably versatile in Transformers the Movie, after all - but here, he’s just being himself, and it just makes no sense whatsoever that Martin goes a bit mad because of a mental experiment and starts speaking like an eccentric middle-aged Englishman.
Idle features in one of the worst songs in the piece, mostly just talking, but they’re all pretty even in the ‘horrible’ stakes. At least he isn’t as bad as Macchio, who badly needed a singing double – the poor guy tries hard, but when he pushes for big notes, he sounds unfortunately like Kermit the Frog.
Bad story, bad art, bad animation, bad music, bad direction, bad concept and bad for associating itself with what is after all an underappreciated classic, this is every bit as terrible as its reputation suggests.