Besides the World War 2 years, people tend to talk about various Disney animated movies from the past. Some are well-regarded as brilliant films, and others are usually good for kids but not as entertaining for adults. A handful of movies are often talked about because of how massive of a failure they were, like The Black Cauldron. I rarely see anyone talking about Oliver and Company though. Released in 1988, Oliver and Company is the first in Disney’s new schedule that called for an animated movie every year – a schedule they’ve hardly broken since. They’ve never broken it if you count Pixar, but I won’t be talking about Pixar movies in this series.
Oliver and Company can be summed up as loosely based on Oliver Twist, but with dogs. Well … Oliver is a cat, but all the other characters are either dogs or humans. It opened the same weekend as Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time, and although it lost to Land Before time on its opening weekend, Oliver and Company eventually earned $74 million on a $31 million budget. However the critical reception was very mixed, with a 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 5.4/10. These days, people regard The Land Before Time as a classic. It’s a movie I still enjoy today. Don Bluth’s dinosaur movie has 13 sequels and a short lived TV series. But enough about The Land Before Time – let’s talk about Disney’s 27th feature animated film.
Oliver and Company began pre-production while The Black Cauldron was finishing up, just like The Great Mouse Detective. Disney originally intended it to be darker and close to the original story, but the tone changed a lot over the years. They also changed its setting from 1800’s London to 1980’s New York City. They invested $15 million alone in a new computer system, which would be used to create almost 15 minutes worth of this movie’s background animation.
I’ve never seen the movie before now, even though I’ve owned it for a few years. At one point I bought The Fox and the Hound, and it came with both Fox and the Hound’s truly awful straight to video sequel and Oliver and Company. I just never felt the desire to watch Oliver and Company until now. It never looked interesting to me, I don’t remember anyone ever talking about it, and after having seen it I understand why.
The story is about Oliver, an orphan cat who was never adopted, and is eventually abandoned on the streets. He soon runs into Dodger, a dog who belongs to a street gang of sorts. The street gang, made up of one human and a bunch of dogs, are trying to get enough money to pay off a criminal loan shark. At one point Oliver is adopted by a rich girl, whose parents are out of town. The gang thinks up a scheme to get money from the rich girl to pay off the loan shark, but then the girl is kidnapped by the loan shark. Everyone needs to work together to rescue her.
I know I just spoiled the movie, but this just isn’t worth watching. The plot gets too complicated for its own good for a movie that’s only 73 minutes long. The potential morals kids might take from this are very questionable, considering the “heroes” are scheming their way into making money. Everything feels rushed too. There’s barely any room for emotional moments to happen. None of the characters are bad, but none of them are great either. The comic relief is kind of lame, save for maybe a handful of lines.
There are only two memorable parts of the movie. The first is the way the villain dies – he’s hit head on by a street car during the climactic car chase. All you see is the loan shark’s limo driving by, and then flames as the street car zooms by in the other direction. It’s kind of an awesome moment. The other memorable thing is the song “Why should I worry”, sung mostly by Billy Joel (who voiced Dodger). It’s a catchy song that they used in pretty much all of the movie’s marketing. It’s not really my style, but it’s enjoyable and the animation of the dogs bouncing to the beat is entertaining. The other songs are alright but not memorable. The soundtrack isn’t anything special.
This really is the most forgettable Disney movie I’ve seen yet for this series. It’s a technically well-made movie with some good animation, but that’s not enough to make a good movie. The animation and music style makes good use of New York City, but the story doesn’t feel like the setting makes any real difference. There’s kind of no point. It feels kind of like they came up with one good song, and decided to build an entire movie and all its marketing around that.
If you enjoyed this movie as a kid, you may still enjoy it now. Otherwise, skip it. There are so many film adaptations of Oliver Twist out there that there’s no reason to see a mediocre take of the story with dogs and a cat instead of humans.
Next up is The Little Mermaid, the movie that kick started the Disney Renaissance. As Disney’s 28th animated feature film, it also marks the half-way point. I’m strongly considering taking a week off after I look at The Little Mermaid. It’s not that I’m getting tired of this – I’m actually enjoying this blog series a lot, but I want to keep enjoying it. A quick break will prevent me from getting tired of it. After The Little Mermaid, I’ll get to The Rescuers Down Under, followed by Beauty and the Beast.