In the late 1980’s Disney was undergoing some changes Jeffery Katzenberg was now overseeing the animation studio and with the disappointing new direction attempt with The Black Cauldron, Disney knew they had to try something else. That something else was the same thing they were doing before The Black Cauldron… cute animals. And so work began on The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company.
A light-hearted, New York City based version of Oliver Twist, Oliver and Company isn’t a bad film. Its animation style is pretty nice and it shows the direction Disney was starting to take shape with the soon to arrive ‘Renaissance’.
The film centres on a orphan kitten named Oliver that falls in with a group or dogs who scavenge and steal for their owner, Fagin who in turn, owes money to Sykes. Oliver eventually finds himself in the care of Jenny who adopts him, before he is flung back in to the lives of the dogs and Fagin.
The music in Oliver and Company is good but nothing to write home about, my favourite song is “Why Should I Worry?” performed by Billy Joel who voices Dodger. The film draws its musical style from New York City in the 1980’s and while shows a small array of styles, it doesn’t really show off what the city was about at the time. It feels like a more modern version of The Aristocats at some points. however the sound design of the cityscapes and outdoor scenes do give off the New York City vibe.
The film stars a twelve-year-old Joey Lawrence as Oliver as well as Billy Joel as Dodger, Cheech Marin as Tito, Richard Mulligan as Einstein, Roscoe Lee Brown as Francis Sheryl Lee Ralph as Rita (with Ruth Pointer providing singing voice), Bette Midler as Georgette and Taurean Blacque and Carl Weintraub as Roscoe and DeSorto. While on the human side of the cast we have Dom DeLuise as Fagin, Robert Loggia as Sykes, William Glover as Winston and Natalie Gregory as Jenny (with Myhanh Tran providing the singing voice).
All in all, Oliver and Company is an alright film. Nothing is great about it, the storyline is pretty straight forward and the music is good. But it is an important chapter in Disney Animated Studios as it signalled the beginning of something very special.