Friday, April 26, 2013

Movie Review: Oliver and Company

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fast paced story, "Why Should I Worry?"
Cons: Lack of character development
The Bottom Line:
Classic literature
As only Disney can draw
Different but fun

A Disney Twist on Dickens

I remember when Oliver & Company first hit the theaters back in 1988.  Neither of the two theaters in my town at the time would show it, so someone else agreed to show it on a limited run basis.  Boy how times have changed.  Now everyone wants to show Disney movies again.

I'd love to know who pitched this idea for a film.  "Let's take Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist but set it in modern day New York City and make Oliver a kitten."  Granted, I have never read Dickens' novel, so I don't know how it compares to the final product.  But I've got to say, this is one entertaining movie.

Oliver (voiced by Joey Lawrence) is a small kitten.  While the rest of his brothers and sisters are adopted, he isn't and winds up on the streets of New York City to fend for himself.  That's when he meets up with Dodger (Billy Joel) a street wise dog who introduces him to the rest of his gang.  Together, they try to find things of value for their human Fagin (Dom DeLuise) so he can pay off loan shark Sykes (Robert Loggia).

Oliver's world only gets more complicated when he meets up with Jenny (Natalie Gregory), a rich girl who wants to adopt him.  When Oliver's two worlds come together, what will happen?

It had been a few years since I had seen this film, and for some reason I was thinking the human characters and the animals talked to each other.  I quickly realized how wrong I was, however, and the movie is better off for it.

You can't complain about the story being slow.  It starts off pretty quickly and moves from one plot point to another with speed.

In fact, I'd say that's the biggest weakness of the film.  The characters aren't given enough time to develop.  And we've got lots of them.  As a result, they often slip into stereotype and caricature instead of being truly unique characters.  Don't worry, there's nothing bad here.  But it's nothing that will grab the adults.

But your kids won't care.  Oliver is such a cute kitten that they will be glued to the screen watching his antics as he moves through the story.

The animation is from the end of the dark days of Disney during the 80's.  It's not quite as cheap as some of their films, but it's not up to the standards we'd see with even their next film, The Little Mermaid.  There are a few times where they cut some obvious corners.  And the backgrounds are what I like to call the impressionistic watercolors.  But they work to give the movie a unique feel.

Now you can't have Billy Joel in cast without giving his character a song.  And "Why Should I Worry?" is one of the highlights of the film.  It's a fun, upbeat number that really introduces us to Dodger.  Bette Midler is also in the cast, and her character gets a song as well.  But I prefer the one that Jenny gets to sing to Oliver over that.

As long as I am naming the rest of the famous people in the cast, I can't leave out Cheech Martin as Tito, another dog in Dodger's gang.

All the voice cast does fine here.  They always do their best to bring their characters to life.

While the cute kitten will appeal to kids, Oliver & Company doesn't quite come together to be a timeless classic like many of their other animated films.  Still, it is entertaining enough in its own right.  Ultimately, that's all that matters.

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