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Oliver & Company was one of the best rewrite cases in a Disney story. The screenwriters were able to eliminate all the nasty stuff in the classic "Oliver Twist": a) all the anti-semitic caricature in the character of Mr. Fagin; b) Dickens's notorious cheap sentimentality, which tends to make his works sometimes annoying, sometimes involuntarily comic, and whose major mark in this case was the celebrated passage "Please, sir," Oliver replied, "I want some more [food]." '; c) the unpalatable and hyper-caricatured character of Mr. Bumble.
With the rest, a beautiful and touching story was built.
Oliver & Company has no idea what it wants to be. A gritty look at New York in the 80s? The typical Disney schmaltz? A modern-day musical? The contrasting elements clash with each other to produce an unappealing film on the whole.
The animation was criticized at the original time of release, and I can definitely see why. It's far more gritty than most Disney films and comes across as a Saturday Morning Cartoon. Lion King this ain't. The songs are mostly forgettable, with the sole exception of the fantastic Why Should I Worry?, the song that introduced me to Billy Joel's oeuvre. Speaking of Billy Joel, he does a pretty decent job of voicing Dodger in this film, and gives the character a distinctive, authentic New Yawk sound. Unfortunately, Dodger is of the only high points of the entire film. The rest of the characters are either forgettable (Francis; Rita) or outright annoying (the Ethnic Scrappy that is Tito.)
The schizophrenic feel of the movie shows very well in its plot. You haven't seen Mood Whiplash until you've watched this movie. In particular, the villain, Sykes, while a (almost scarily) realistic portrayal of a loan shark, is utterly out of place in the movie. He doesn't mesh well with its overall tone, which leads to the overall disjointed feel.
While Oliver & Company deserves respect for paving the way for the Renaissance of Disney from 1989 to 1999, on its own merits it is mediocre and unmemorable. Overall score: 6.5/10.
Generally regarded as one of the most criminally underrated Disney films of all time, Oliver & Company, a loose adaptation of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, is different from most Disney animated films.
It's set in present-day New York City, and is about Oliver (voiced by a post-Gimme a Break!, pre-Blossom Joey Lawrence), a cute orange stray Kitten, who wants nothing more than a loving home with a loving owner. Along the way, he meets a cool Dog named Dodger (voiced by pop singer Billy Joel) as he follows him to a hideout on the pier. It turns out that Dodger is a leader of a band of pick-pocketing Dogs, owned by a homeless man named Fagin (voiced by Dom De Luise) The other members of Fagin's gang include Tito, a Chihuahua (voiced by Cheech Marin, one half of Cheech and Chong), Francis, a Bulldog (voiced by Roscoe Lee Browne), and Rita, a Saluki (voiced by Sheryl Lee Ralph). Fagin has to pay a large some of money to a loan shark named Sykes (voiced by Robert Loggia) in 3 days, or his home will be destroyed. The next day, they attempt to steal a car, to make some money. However, things go wrong when Oliver ends up inside a car with a cute little girl named Jenny (voiced by a post-Alice in Wonderland '85 Natalie Gregory). Feeling incredibly lonely over the absence of her parents, she takes him under her wing. She immediately falls in love with him, but her jealous prize-winning Poodle (voiced by Bette Midler) wants him out. When the gang "rescues" him, Jenny goes looking for him, but then gets kidnapped. Now, Oliver and the gang must save her!
What sets this film apart from the rest of the Disney animated cannon, is that all of its five original songs were written by different people. The fitting, emotional opening track, which sets the tone for the rest of the film (Huey Lewis' "Once Upon a Time in New York") was the late Howard Ashman's first Disney contribution. Other songs include the signature "Why Should I Worry" by Billy Joel, Ruth Pointer's "Streets of Gold", Bette Midlers' "Perfect Isn't Easy", and the simple but sweet "Good Company".
An underrated gem that never gets the respect it deserves, "Oliver & Company" is one film that is not to be overlooked. Its success led the way to the Disney renaissance a year later with The Little Mermaid.
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