OLIVER AND COMPANY
Review by Michael Jacobson
Voices: Joey Lawrence, Billy
Joel, Cheech Marin, Bette Midler, Dom DeLuise, Richard Mulligan, Roscoe Lee
Browne, Robert Loggia
Director: George Scribner
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 74 Minutes
Release Date: August 6, 2013
“You're all right, kid...for a cat.”
Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist has seen many reincarnations over the years...it was only fair that animated animals got their crack at the classic story.
Oliver and Company debuted from the Disney studios in 1988, and though it had some charm (mostly owing to the solid cast of voices), it was kind of a reminder that Disney's glory days were long gone (although that would change forever in one year with the release of The Little Mermaid).
Whereas Disney films used to mean gorgeous and painstaking backgrounds, here was a film that offered little more than flat pencil sketches. And when the classics of old started to sing, you sang along with them...but after three times seeing this movie, I'll be doggoned if I can hum one song from it.
Oliver (a very young Joey Lawrence) is an orphaned kitten on the mean streets of New York. In trying to find food, he meets up with the Dodger (Joel, lending just the right amount of NYC credibility), and finds his way into a gang of misfit dogs belonging to Fagin (DeLuise).
Fagin has a problem...he owes the local bad guy Sykes (Loggia) some money. Why and how is never discussed...all that matters is he has three days to come up with the cash, or bad things will happen.
In an attempt to work their hustle on a limousine, the dogs fail, but Oliver ends up in the company of a young girl named Rita, living on 5th Avenue. She is sweet and loves the kitty, but the spoiled family dog Georgette (the wonderful Midler), has other ideas.
The good but desperate Fagin sees this as his one chance...when his dogs bring Oliver back to the gang, he can use the kitten for ransom. But can he make his heart cold enough to save his head?
It's all light and undemanding. The classic story is there enough for us to follow, but I never found myself warming up to any of the characters enough to be invested in their fates. The most entertainment comes from Billy Joel and Bette Midler, and the humor and charm they brought to their roles. For the rest of it, even at barely an hour and a quarter, I found it dragged.
Disney was close to their renaissance period, as I mentioned, but Oliver and Company may only be remembered as the last in a string of lackluster efforts that eventually inspired the studio's re-thinking.
The film looks quite beautiful...there are no complaints with the cleanness, the crispness, or the coloring. It only falls a half a star short because, as mentioned, the backgrounds are flat and quickly sketched, and doesn't lend the eye candy most Disney films are noted for.
The uncompressed audio is quite good...the music sounds lively, and there's good dynamic range.
The extras include two bonus shorts, “Lend a Paw” and “Puss Cafe”, plus a sing-along mode, and a look at Disney's animated animals. Best of all is a 1988 making-of featurette. Did you know this was the first animated film to employ computer technology? Then the narrator proclaims, “don't worry...computers will NEVER replace traditional animation!” My wife and I did spit-takes.
Oliver and Company deserves to be remembered for the terrific voice casting, but not much else. Disney was on the last leg of its treadmill years with this effort.