Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Movie Review: Oliver!

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Dancing and acting
Cons: The songs aren’t all the great
The Bottom Line:
Dickens sings, dances
Result a mixed bag for me
Once enough for me

Not Quite as Charming as I Had Hoped

I’ve heard of the musical Oliver! for years, but I’ve never seen either the stage play or the movie version.  Until now.  I happened to catch it on TV recently.  I wasn’t as impressed with it as I expected to be.

The musical is based on Charles Dicken’s book Oliver Twist.  As such, it tells the tale of a young orphan named Oliver (Mark Lester).  When he gets sold from the orphanage where he was living in misery, he runs away to London.  He’s not prepared for the big city, however, and falls in with the Artful Dodger (Jack Wild), one of a gang of pick pockets under the thumb of Fagin (Ron Moody) and Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed).  Has his situation become even worse?

I must admit that my only familiarity with the story comes from the Disney animated Oliver and Company, and even that has been years.  So I went into this movie with no expectations ready to see where the story led me.  I’m also not super familiar with Dickens in general, but as the story unfolded, I could definitely see some of the things I’d heard about his books reflected here, including his writing about how the poor in English society in the 1800’s were treated.  This may be a musical, but there are some dark parts to the story.

The sets are amazing.  I can tell a lot of time and effort were put into them since various parts of London were recreated.

However, I do have issues with the musical itself.  The songs are okay, but they aren’t as memorable as I was hoping they would be.  Ironically, I discovered I already knew part of one of them from a CD of barbershop quartet music I have.  I’ve had that one stuck in my head since I saw the movie, but that’s the only one.  I think part of the problem is that the show stopper numbers go on a bit too long.  Now, I’m not criticizing the choreography, which is fun and elaborate.  But the songs I’m thinking of repeat themselves a bit, and the time could have been better used to flesh out a bit of the story.  I mean, there is a lot of novel to work into this movie and the songs do slow things down.  As a result, some of the twists are a bit abrupt.  Oh, I get that Dickens used coincidence in his novels, but I’m sure the novel makes a few of these plot coincidences at least a bit easier to follow.

Another issue I had was the singing itself.  The adults are all fine, but the boys in the cast are a bit rough.  They aren’t bad, but they aren’t polished singers yet.  And the voice they got to dub the songs that Oliver sings is too high pitched and sweet for my taste and doesn’t seem to fit the character.

On the other hand, the acting is all fantastic.  Some of the actors are reprising roles from the stage production, and they are fabulous.  The rest are just as good.

I can see why people enjoy this musical.  It’s not bad.  But Oliver! was a mixed bag for me.  As a result, I doubt I will be watching it again.

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