This movie is very depressing, I would say on the same level as Grave of the fireflies, if not more so. So if you don't want to be depressed and potentially cry buckets I highly suggest avoiding this. So does this movie have any worth aside from being an emotional tear jerker? Honestly, not much... its very apparant that the movie is trying to elicit a specific reaction from you and without that its just a cliche sad story, with some light religious themes thrown in.
Story- So theres a kid and his parents died... aww thats already pretty sad right? Wrong! It gets even worse and we don't really get familiar with his parents anyway. So hes living with his gramps, whos a nice guy and a rich girl will often come and play with him and obviously her parents won't stand for it. He also has a dog (thus Dog of Flanders, the place where this story is taking place) and a two other friends who are most likely in similar situation as him (orphans iirc). So The story starts off and we learn that he really likes painting, but he can't get any material to do this and his dog had cruel previous master... and then the grandpa dies. It just goes spiraling down from there giving only the slightest glimmers of hope, but you know things are not going to turn out okay, because you know what kind of story this is, but at the same time if your like me you'll end up crying like a little girl anyway.
Animation- The character designs are quite simplistic, and have a ghibli type quality but are effective for this kind of story. The other animation is not really all that impressive for the 90's there were a few scenes that I thought were quite good though, like the paintings in the cathedral(nunnery?) the scene of the burning windmill, overviews of the city and the snowy forest.
Sound- Nothing very memorable, even the ending theme which is in english (not engrish) is your average hopeful disneyish song. The OST definetly works for this kind of story though. Your classical music with lots of strings and what not, but not very original.
Characters- So pretty much all of the chars are split up into chars we are supposed to like and characters we are supposed to dislike. Characters to like Nello, gramps, his friends, Patrasche (the dog), Alois and most other side chars. The characters were supposed to dislike: Alois' dad, Hans and Patrasche's previous owner. None of the disliked characters are redeeming except for Alois' dad and your really supposed to feel sorry for Nello and his dog.
Overall-So pretty much this is Grave of the fireflies in Belgium. If your looking for a sob-fest with similar qualities then go ahead and give this a try, if not then steer clear
✦ spoiler free review ✦
You see this movie and think, oh it's a sad dog movie? I know what's going to happen in a sad dog movie(because basically they are all exactly the same plot of course) But no this movie isn't even really about the dog. The dog is like that side character friend in movies that’s like nice and save the protagonist from something once or twice but doesn’t actually matter much to the plot. The dog was just bait and you fell for it, now you are strapped in for barely a kid's movie(like seriously I'm not sure many parents would watch this with their young kids in 2023) induced emotional damage.
The plot: is quite linear however it does a decent job at showing how the industrial revolution and emergence of the petite bourgeoisie would change village social dynamics and create a more tangible class divide I'm not sure this was intended but the story seems to also critique meritocracy and religion to some extent: hard work is shown to not fall flat when compared to those with both hard work and family money and that religion is more made of it’s people than any supernatural power or inherent ability.
The animation: is decent, some of the landscape backgrounds have a period painting style to them which is a nice touch. The character art is a bit on the older-side for the late 90’s but not distracting. There’s a few quality blunders which stick with me however, like a few frames of barely drawn cows in the beginning, and excessive use of lower quality to show prospective. I think it is definitely a title that would benefit from a remaster, it can lack sharpness and has some blur/fuzziness at times.
Sound: Piano music designed to extend crying time.
The character’s: are enduring but not very unique. Also the children's dialog feels a little bit too mature at one or two times perhaps. Like you are 8, stop being more self aware and considerate than some adults.
TLDR: If heart-wrenching anime movies are your thing, this is probably in the top 20.