While producing Space Ace during the summer of 1983, Don, Gary and John were also developing a feature length “package” film incorporated with three stories –
1.) The Velveteen Rabbit
2.) Star Baby
Around this time Gary received a call from Burt Reynolds’ agent. He invited the three of them to have lunch with Burt at a home in Malibu where he was filming “The Man Who Loved Women”. They went over at noon the day after the call. A converted old Greyhound bus was parked beside the home. The transit destination sign above its windshield read, “BANDIT”. Inside the bus, over a lunch prepared by his chef, they sat quietly at the table until Burt arrived.
He began with, “ I love what you did with Dom (DeLuise) in “The Secret of NIMH”. He said, “ I want to be a character in an animated movie. And I have an idea. I want to be a German Shepherd and I’m a private detective. I live in a junkyard car and I’m an “asshole” (laughter from Don, Gary & John). I treat my friends, my secretary and associates terribly. At a crisis moment in the second act, they hold up a mirror revealing to me what an asshole I am. I then do everything I can to redeem myself.”
The lunch was great. They liked Burt and they liked his idea. But, what a coincidence! On the way back to the studio Don exclaimed, “He said he wanted to be a junkyard dog! This could be the third movie in the package” Don went back to the boards and contemplated Burt’s idea. Gary went back to his new responsibility, licensing Dragon’s Lair and John went back to work on Space Ace.
Their next meeting with Burt was at their animation studio on Ventura Blvd. This time it was a meeting to expand and flesh out Burt’s story idea. We started calling it Canine Mysteries.
Here are some of the storyboards for Canine Mysteries
Burt had good story sense. The meeting was very productive. We walked him out to his car. Suddenly, just as he drove away, a pack of seven mid-sized dogs came running across their parking lot up from the LA River. The last dog looked their way and peeled out of the pack. He ran over to them at the building’s entrance, smiled at them (tongue out) and lay down. Gary adopted the dog and named him Burt – after, of course – Burt Reynolds.
It would be five years later and a move to Ireland before they began “All Dogs Go To Heaven”. Burt the real German Shepherd became the model for the design of Charlie B. Barkin.