The last gasp of Disney Animation’s post-Walt malaise before the 1990s Disney renaissance, Oliver & Company borrows names and vague situations from Oliver Twist, but in place of Dickens’s sentiment and Victorian moralizing Oliver has only a misguided stab at “attitude.”
Relocated to modern-day New York and transmogified into a tale of a feline Oliver and a canine (Artful) Dodger and company, Oliver & Company it’s pretty uninspired fare, with thinly drawn (in more than one sense) characters and sketchy backgrounds that — despite reliance on computer animation — often look more like storyboarding roughs than finished artwork.
Running musical numbers anticipate the show-stopping production numbers of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and subsequent films, but even the sole halfway engaging song in the lineup, “Why Should I Worry?” (sung by Billy Joel, who voices Dodger), is vaguely irritating in the mode of The Lion King’s “I Just Can’t Wait to be King,” but even more so. At least Simba’s overconfidence had a disparaging backbeat from Zazu the hornbill (“I’ve never seen a king of beasts with quite so little hair”), whereas Dodger’s strutting self-admiration (“They love me at the Chelsea, they adore me at the Ritz!”) is supposed to embody actual coolness.
With semi-sympathetic pickpocket Fagin and mob loan shark Sykes, the film retains Dickens’s seamy milieu, but not his morality-play tableau. Dodger and company still steal for a living, but moral issues are easily glossed since they’re stray dogs. The action-packed finale is too cartoony to carry weight, and the ensemble character humor works only fitfully. Oliver & Company isn’t actively unpleasant, but it’s safe to call it a waste of time.
Belatedly celebrating its 20th anniversary with a new DVD edition, Oliver & Company is newly available in a one-disc edition apparently essentially indistinguishable from the earlier special edition.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.