Whopper is taking his niece and nephew to the museum. Along the way, he tells them the origin of Puppy Power, the ability of humankind to understand the Pound Puppies and Purries. In the Dark Ages (specifically 958 AD), a young boy named Arthur and his dog Digalot came across a stone which contained both the mythical sword Excalibur and the magical Bone of Scone. While Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, Arthur’s dog Digalot pulled the Bone of Scone from the same stone, and soon afterward Arthur discovered that the dog could talk. Sir McNasty, who had witnessed the withdrawal of Excalibur and the Bone and Arthur's coronation as King of England, planned to conquer the world by retrieving the Bone. However, it was kept hidden by the giant guardian, Big Paw.
Later in 1958 the Bone of Scone is in a museum in an unnamed American city. Tammy and Jeff are the owners of the pound and hold a press conference and announce that the pound will be holding an adoption bazaar. A descendant of the original McNasty shows up and states he wishes to adopt the puppies. Tammy and Jeff inform him that he has to sign adoption papers. The pup finds out what McNasty is going to do with the four puppies. With his Mean Machine, McNasty will transform them and the rest of the Pound into vicious guard dogs, steal the Bone of Scone from the museum, and use its power and his army of dogs to conquer the world. Soon, Collette and Whopper escape from their cage inside McNasty's laboratory, and briefly reunite with the rest of the Puppies. However, Lumpy and Bones snatch them back. The Puppies give chase, but nearly all of them end up in a rat-infested cave, hanging on a rope, before the Purries pull them up to safety. The Puppies and Purries continue looking for their friends. When they get caught in a patch of mire, they are saved by the legendary Big Paw, who agrees to find the Bone with them. Later, McNasty's henchmen transform the Puppies into guard dogs, save for Cooler. Big Paw brings him and the Purries back to town to stop the evil trio, as the trio's truck heads to the Pound.
Big Paw and Cooler chase McNasty and his henchmen all over town and eventually back to the museum and their Mean Machine, which turns them into good men. Big Paw and Nose Marie finally get back the Bone of Scone.
Whopper and his niece and nephew Puplings find themselves in the museum. The Bone of Scone has returned for another visit, and Whopper introduces Big Paw as a little surprise for the young ones, who did not believe before that he was real. As long as he is here to protect the Bone, Whopper says, Puppy Power will never be lost again.Cooler (Beagle) (voiced by Brennan Howard) is the leader of the Pound Puppies, and teams up with the other Puppies and Purries to help solve the mystery of the Bone of Scone.
Nose Marie (Bloodhound) (voiced by Ruth Buzzi) is another of the Puppies. She has a very keen sense of smell, and always "knows what the nose knows".
Howler, (Jack Russell Terrier) (voiced by Hal Rayle) yet another Puppy, is an inventor who always utters out his namesake, and helps spread the word about the "puppynapping" with his "Grapevine". His howling vocals were done by Frank Welker.
Whopper (Golden Retriever) (voiced by B.J. Ward) is a mischievous Pupling who gets into trouble with Marvin McNasty. As a grown-up, he shares the story of Puppy Power to his niece and nephew at the beginning and end of the film.
Collette (American Cocker Spaniel) (voiced by Cathy Cavadini) mothers a litter of six Puplings early on. Along with Whopper, she gets kidnapped by McNasty. Her Puplings come to the rescue later in the film.
Bright Eyes (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) is the cheerleader among the group, and stamps out papers during the Adoption Bazaar as the film ends.
Reflex (Schnoodle/Old English sheepdog mix) (voiced by Hal Rayle) turns into a lovesick canine whenever a bell rings, kissing everyone he meets and shouting "I love you!" every time, and is later on used to turn the other Puppies back to normal.
Beamer (Scottish terrier) (voiced by Greg Berg) is a happy-go-lucky puppy.
Florence (Australian Cattle Dog) (voiced by Susan Silo) is a nurse who announces, and attends to, the birth of Colette's Puplings.
Big Paw (Newfoundland/Old English sheepdog mix) (voiced by Tony Longo) is the ages-old guardian of the Bone of Scone. He is introduced to the dogs and cats as a lonely puppy who is homeless and has no friends. His singing voice was done by Mark Vieha.
Hairball (voiced by Frank Welker), who always coughs up his namesake, and his girlfriend Charlamange (voiced by Cathy Cavadini), are the Pound Purries featured in the film.
In the Dark Ages scene, Digalot (voiced by Brennan Howard) pulls out the Bone of Scone while his owner, Arthur, pulls out Excalibur and later becomes King of England. Cooler can trace his family history back to Digalot.
Marvin McNasty (voiced by George Rose) is the film's villain, and a descendant of Sir McNasty. Like his ancestors, he has always wanted to conquer the world with the Bone. He also suffers from cat allergies.
Lumpy (voiced by Wayne Scherzer) and Bones (voiced by Frank Welker) are McNasty's two awkward henchmen, and goof up some of his schemes.
Tammy (voiced by Janice Kawaye) and Jeff (voiced by Joey Dedio) are the two teenagers who run the Puppies' Pound and the Adoption Bazaar.
Sir McNasty (voiced by George Rose) is the Evil Knight who tries to claim the Bone of Scone in the Dark Ages segment.
King Arthur (voiced by James Swodec), as a boy, pulls Excalibur out of the stone in that same scene.
The music for The Legend of Big Paw was directed by Steve Tyrell, with the original score composed by Richard Kosinski, Sam Winans, Bill Reichenbach Jr., Ashley Hall and Bob Mann. The film's six songs, which are influenced by popular songs and standards from the 1950s and after, were composed by Ashley Hall and Steve Tyrell, written by Stephanie Tyrell, and recorded at the Tyrell-Mann and Tempo Recording Studios in Los Angeles.
Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw was produced by Carolco Pictures and Atlantic/Kushner-Locke along with The Maltese Companies, financed by Tonka, the original owners of the Pound Puppies franchise, and distributed by TriStar Pictures. The film's director, Pierre DeCelles, was also an art director and directing storyboard artist during production.
According to DeCelles, the film took 5½ months to complete, starting in the fall of 1987. The first 2½ months were spent on preparing its layouts and storyboards, and the remaining time on the animation, backgrounds and shooting. The overseas work was done by Wang Film Productions and Cuckoo's Nest Studio, two Taiwanese companies known for their contributions to children's animated television series.
The film's animation and character design were different from what was featured in the Hanna-Barbera series, and did not contribute to the latter's continuity. A new set of characters were introduced for the film: Pound Puppies Collette, Beamer, and Reflex, and the Pound Purries Hairball and Charlamange, along with two teenagers, Tammy and Jeff, that replaced the 11-year-old Holly.
During its short run in theaters, The Legend of Big Paw played mainly in matinees and only grossed US$586,938. It is Carolco's only family film and was also distributor TriStar's only animated feature until 2001's The Trumpet of the Swan. The film was among the last in a line of 1980s animated productions for the big screen which featured established toy properties as their main characters. Previous examples included movies that were based on the Care Bears, My Little Pony and Transformers.
Family Home Entertainment, a division of IVE, the distributor of Carolco's films, released Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw in VHS format on September 14, 1989. Its successor, Lionsgate, released the film on DVD in the United States on October 24, 2006. Like the Hanna-Barbera TV show before it, the film also aired on the Disney Channel during the early to mid-1990s. The 26th anniversary of this movie was finished on March 18, 2014. A Blu-Ray release of this movie has yet to be released.
Critical response to The Legend of Big Paw was negative during its theatrical run. The Hollywood trade magazine, Variety, called it "uninvolving and endlessly derivative". The Sacramento Bee deemed it "miserably drawn" in comparison to what Disney was offering at the time, and the San Francisco Chronicle gave it an "empty chair" rating. A reviewer in the Detroit Free Press found it "dull and unoriginal", but praised the songs that were written for it.
Martha Baker of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch also denounced it and began her review thus:
If you're in your 40th year and not your fourth, Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw requires the extra dosage of insulin reserved for such treks into celluloid and commercial [sweetness]. But even 4-year-olds have trouble swallowing this cartoon whole.
Writing for The Animated Movie Guide by animation expert Jerry Beck, Stuart Fisher gave the film one star out of four, and saw the film's artistic quality as "a mixed bag". "[While] the backgrounds are somewhat imaginative and colorful, the character animation is flat and lifeless. Rapid cuts to new angles of the same shot seem to try to cover up limitations of the animation technique," he continued. Moreover, Fisher and The Philadelphia Inquirer took note of its purpose as a toy commercial, a trend that was prevalent in the animation industry during the late 1980s.