Oliver & Company Blu-ray Review
OLIVER & COMPANY is one of those animated movies that is listed near the bottom of my personal ranking of classic Disney tales. It was released in 1988. That would have been the peak of my cartoon watching years as a child, yet I never saw. I do remember associating it with a Billy Joel song that was upbeat and catchy. I guess I was too busy being enamored with WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT that year to care about a rag tag bunch of dogs who try and save the outcast kitten. I didn’t even realize until screening this movie that Billy Joel was the voice of one of the main characters!
OLIVER & COMPANY is loosely based on the Charles Dickens tale “Oliver Twist.” Oliver (Joey Lawrence) is an orphan kitten who learns to navigate the bustling streets of New York City from the scoundrel mutt Dodger (Billy Joel). His gang of pickpockets make for an interesting team. There’s a goofy Great Dane, a prudish English bulldog, a lady dog whose breed is unrecognizable and a feisty chihuahua played (as in every animated movie) by Cheech Marin. With personalities all over the map, Dodge’s gang all have one thing in common: a love of their idiot owner Fagin and a fierce desire to protect their new orphan brother Oliver.
Through wacky hijinks, Oliver is accidentally discovered by seven-year-old Jenny who immediately welcomes him into her 5th Avenue luxury apartment, complete with award-winning, and extremely jealous show poodle Georgette (Bette Midler). When Oliver and Jenny are kidnapped for ransom, Dodger, Georgette, Fagin and the gang must work together to rescue their new family.
I admit that the opening credits track of Huey Lewis’ “Once Upon a Time in New York City” set a nice tone for the film. However, I was a bit distracted by the animation of New York City’s skyline. It felt very messy and thrown together. I was surprised to learned in the bonus features that computer animation had been used to “really bring out the energy of New York.” Our main characters were clearly drawn by hand and had a nice “classic” Disney feel. But put these animations against something hastily churned out by technology and the result is a disconnection that personally hindered me from being sucked into the storyline.
Because the characters and people stuck out so much against the background, I began to notice little nuances. As most of you may know, Disney is notorious for sneaking the shape of Mickey Mouse ears into their products. They also draw in other feature characters from previous classics. For example, while Dodger is singing THE Billy Joel song I remembered from when I was a kid (“Why Should I Worry”) as he bounces around the streets of NYC, Sleeping Beauty is one of the many New Yorkers meandering down the sidewalk. During the same song, all the dogs in the shot are responding to Dodgers song and end up in a spontaneous dance number near Central Park. All the dogs from LADY AND THE TRAMP and 101 DALMATIANS are in that musical number. Not only was it fun to discover things throughout the film, but it helped me pay attention when I probably would have mentally checked out.
OLIVER & COMPANY presents itself as a modern take on an old tale. The music definitely helps the animation limp along, but it’s not one of Disney’s finest by a long shot. Considering LITTLE MERMAID came out the next year, and changed the trajectory of Disney animation forever, I would imagine OLIVER & COMPANY will never be top-of-mind as one of the greatest.
OLIVER & COMPANY BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Again, the lack of continuity between the animated characters and the background computer animated drawings were very distracting.
Audio: I would have loved more musical numbers. Bette Midler’s “Perfect Isn’t Easy” was a crowd pleaser.
The Making of OLIVER & COMPANY (4:28): This featurette focuses on the use of computer animated background images, which was one of the first animations to utilize the technology. However, they warn that there will always be human drawings in Disney films. They also tout the contemporary take on OLIVER TWIST by using current radio artists (Bette Midler, Billy Joel and Huey Lewis)
The Animals in Disney Movies (1:10): Disney is notorious for making movies that showcase animated animals that steal the hearts of generations.
“Lend a Paw” (8:08): In this animated short, Pluto saves the life of a kitten and then becomes jealous when Mickey feels sorry for the little guy.
“Puss Cafe” (7:10): Pluto stars in another animated short where he tries to stop some cats from stealing food from his house.