Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 14 minutes
MPAA Rating: G
Directed by: George Scribner
Written by: Jim Cox, Tim Disney & James Mangold
(based on the novel OLIVER TWIST by Charles Dickens)
Voices of: Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin, Richard Mulligan, Roscoe Lee Browne, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Dom DeLuise, Robert Loggia, Natalie Gregory & Bette Midler
Right before the Disney Renaissance (involving mermaids, beasts and lions), OLIVER & COMPANY was one of many animated offerings from the trusted studio that seemed a little too desperate to forcefully win over young audiences. This film is retelling of Oliver Twist set in New York with a pack of dogs and a cat. That sounds like a creative enough idea, but the script is bogged down in bland characters and tries to pack the dialogue full of hip phrases. In particular, the character of Dodger (voiced by Billy Joel) comes off the generic cool character bound to win over kids. This 1988 animated film suffers from these flaws and more, but doesn’t necessarily do anything truly awful.
Oliver is an orphaned cat on the streets of New York City. Scared and alone, he crosses paths with scarf-wearing street-wise canine Dodger. The tiny feline meets up with Dodger’s pack of dogs who are more than happy to take him in. This make-shift furry family is taken care of by the homeless Fagin (voiced by Dom DeLuise) who owes a lot of cash to vicious loan shark Sykes. On his misadventures with the gang, Oliver is taken in by a young rich girl, named Jenny. Split between two very different families, Oliver must choose who he’d rather stay with and the threat of Sykes hovers over the entire situation.
The best thing I can say about OLIVER & COMPANY is that the two-dimensional animation looks very nice. It’s easy to forget how well old-school animation looks in these days of overly populated CG features. OLIVER flows well and the story itself isn’t bad. The writing just feels overly rushed and by-the-numbers. I’m sure there was the possibility of a great film inside of the premise, but this isn’t it. The overused hip sayings by Billy Joel’s Dodger quickly go from lame to annoying. Other characters range from comedic stereotypes (a pampered rich hound, a sophisticated English bulldog, and a Cheech Marin Chihuahua) to completely bland (protagonist Oliver, homeless Fagin, and especially the cutesy Jenny).
Besides bland and forgettable characters, the musical numbers are also as bland and forgettable. Billy Joel’s “Why Should I Worry?” winds up being listed as the best (and catchiest) song, but I actually found it to be every bit as annoying, pointless, and worthless as the rest of the songs here. You’re likely to have them completely out of your head a mere hour or two after finishing the film. There’s not too much else to criticize or praise in OLIVER & COMPANY simply because the film isn’t horrible or great or even middle-of-the-road. I’d actually say it’s okay family movie. The goal is accomplished of entertaining children, but none of the magic that usually makes Disney just as (if not, more) entertaining for adults as they are for kids is present.
OLIVER & COMPANY should have been way better than it wound up. It’s Disney doing Oliver Twist for crying out loud. If the movie didn’t spend so much time trying to be “cool” for the hip young crowd and more focus was placed on telling a creative story, then this might have been a real winner. In the end, OLIVER & COMPANY is a well-animated kid’s movie that seems tailor-made strictly for kids. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy this one or even rent it. If it’s on TV and you’re curious, then you might want to give it a look (just over 70 minutes isn’t that long). Don’t expect a whole lot from it or anything close to the caliber of Disney films we’ve become accustomed to.