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In one hundred years, it may become a cherished Disney classic...
on 31 December 2007
Oliver & Company was the last film of Disney's so-called "dark age" during the '80s, an era that started back in 1979, when the great financial failure of "The Black Hole" led the company into great monetary problems which somewhat affected the quality of the projects that followed. This 1988 film produced by Walt Disney Pictures wore the tag-line of "The first Disney movie with attitude", something that may have made it popular back in the late '80s but that somehow fell as the years passed. Frankly, the"attitude" may just be the reason the film doesn't pass being mediocre and why it'll probably take a very long time for it to become any sort of a real classic. The film lacks in many aspects, especially artistically.
Very loosely adapted from Charles Dickens' timeless novel, "Oliver Twist", "Oliver & Company" follows the adventures of a small kitten named Oliver in his search for a home and a family to which he can belong. Oliver first meets Dodger, a street-wise, "cool" dog (voiced by Billy Joel) who introduces him to Fagin's band of canine thieves. Fagin is a homeless man who is in debt with the evil ganster, Sykes. His group of dogs, the attractive Rita, the elderly Einstein, the art-loving Francis and the wanna-be-cool (or insufferable) chihuahua, Tito, try to help him out by stealing throughout the dangerous streets of New York City. In one of their adventures, Oliver is accidentally taken away by a rich girl named Jenny (who bares a more than obvious resemblance to Penny from the previous 1977 hit film, "The Rescuers"), and the little kitten can't help but to finally feel at home in his new 5th Avenue mansion; even if he must deal with the six-time national champion dog, Georgette. When Oliver is "rescued" and brought back once again to his previous home with Fagin and his gang, all of them become part of Sykes's wicked scheme to recover his lost money; at the same time, all of their lives might be in great danger.
Definitely one of Walt Disney Pictures's weakest efforts since Walt Disney's Nine Old Men left the company in the late '70s. Though the animation is mostly good, Disney did try for a realistic New York City, adding touches such as dirt, trash, advertising, vandalized walls... all together creating a very unappealing setting indeed. Perhaps, and I'm not sure if many would agree, a more idealistic view of New York City, even if less accurate, would have worked better and given the film a better outlook. The scenes taking place in 5th Avenue or Central Park are definitely among the best in terms of visual appeal. The next, and perhaps even worst, flaw is the insufferable voice acting. Though often praised as grand, I personally think that the choices were very poor. Yes, Billy Joel, Bette Midler and others are wonderful singers and actors, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee good voice acting. The wanna-sound-cool Cheech Marin takes the cake as the most insufferable, unbearable, annoying, repulsive Disney voice actor ever and his role here as Tito is definitely the very worst (He went by rather unnoticed in "The Lion King" as Banzai, one of the hyenas); I couldn't help but cringe whenever Tito opened his mouth. The songs are mostly good but a bit on the overrated side; only "Once Upon a Time in New York City" and "Good Company" come off to me as great, the rest are only so-so. So in the end and overall, the film is enjoyable to watch from time to time, even with its lack in the artistic and sound department, it does have a number of endearing characters, good animation and an interesting and rather unusual plot. Very different from what the term "Disney classic" has meant in the company's good years, but still tolerable. Recommended.