51 Days of Disney (Day 27): Oliver and Company

The critical and financial success of the Great Mouse Detective saved Walt Disney Feature Animation from imminent ruin and that financial success would continue in Oliver and Company, but not necessarily the critical part.

Oliver is one of numerous kittens left on a street corner for adoption, but soon all of the other kittens have been taken away except for him. He eventually leaves the box and runs into Dodger (Billie Joel), a streetwise dog who helps him steal some hot dogs from a food cart but leaves Oliver high and dry after the job is done. Dodger quickly heads home to the rest of his crew: Ignacio Alonzo Julio Federico de Tito (Cheech Marin, Banzai in the Lion King and Ramone in Cars), Einstein, Francis, Rita, and their owner Fagin (Dom DeLuise) who has them all looking around the city for things to sell in order to pay his debt to a loan shark named Sykes.

The next day, Fagin takes the animals out into the city to get some money and in a plan gone wrong, Oliver ends up being taken home by a girl named Jenny. She lives with a dog named Georgette (Bette Midler) who is none too keen about the new addition to the family and desperately tries to get rid of him, but finally succeeds when Dodger and the gang break in to the house to get him back. Fagin decides that he’s going to use the fact that Oliver now has an owner in order to settle his debt via ranson, but has a change of heart when he realizes that his owner is a little girl. Sykes ends up kidnapping Jenny and closing Fagin’s account in the process. It’s up to Fagin’s group to save her and get her home safely.

The story is disjointed, with the movie not really functioning as a whole but rather as individual episodes in a story. It is occasionally heartwarming, but over all the film just seems like it’s missing some intangible element that would make it something really special. This is incredibly disappointing, as it’s based off of Charles Dicken’s immortal story Oliver Twist. The story should have been better than it was, but part of the problem that the story suffers from is the idea that dogs would be able to get money from people to help pay off Fagin’s debt. If they were humans, they could at least pickpocket people, but because they’re dogs you really have to wonder how they are supposed to help.

The animation for Oliver and Company can best be described as stiff. Dodger is always talking about rhythm, but for all that talk there really isn’t much of one. Everything is cold and calculated, with the characters moving like they’re robots. Nothing really flows. On top of that, the backgrounds look… off. Especially the shots of New York City as a whole. The backgrounds are very fuzzy and look like bad watercolour paintings. Ultimately, the animation looks like it was done by another studio, it just doesn’t look like something that came out of Disney. It even has some of the xerox line problems from the 60’s.

On top of the poor animation, the music isn’t very good. The score is passable and all of the songs except for “Why Should I Worry” are completely forgettable at best. “Perfect Isn’t Easy” and “Streets of Gold” are down right bad. Even the voice acting is somewhat lacking. Dodger, Oliver, Jenny, Sykes, Tito, and Fagin are all acted fairly well, but most of the other voices are just mediocre. Georgette is by far the worst and it makes her come off as being more annoying than was probably (hopefully) intended.

Oliver and Company is not necessarily bad, but it is definitely one of the weakest Disney films that has been released and definitely the worst of the dark period of the 80’s. The lack of warmth in the movie just makes the whole thing not work. Somehow, for all of it’s flaws, Oliver and Company was very financially successful, but luckily for the studio, the next movie in the Disney Animated Canon would change everything for the better.

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