Oliver & Company (G)
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So this movie came out in 1988, and might be considered either the start of the Disney Renaissance, or just prior to the start (more commonly associated with The Little Mermaid, the next year). In any event, Oliver & Company never got much love from the critics, and it certainly wasn't a huge hit, but it did alright. And plenty of fans do remember it fondly, including me. I'm not sure when I first saw it (possibly the mid 90s), but I can't imagine I saw it in a theater. Maybe it was on TV at some point, or maybe I had it on VHS. And certainly the movie couldn't have been too old when I got the soundtrack on cassette tape (which I probably still have, somewhere); in fact, I think I must've had the soundtrack years before I ever saw the movie. Anyway, I got it on DVD in 2012, which is when I'm writing the review. I gotta say... the volume on the DVD isn't great, at least for the movie itself. (The volume on some of the bonus features is okay.) I had to turn it up all the way, and it still wasn't as loud as I would have liked it (at least for the songs).
Anyway, it's very loosely based on Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist," which I guess I've never read. I've probably seen a more straightforward, live-action adaptation of it at some point, but I don't really remember. But I'm sure there are plenty of details which have been drastically changed in the story, not just making most of the characters animals and setting it in modern day New York City, but... I dunno. Lots of changes. Anyway, it starts with a cute little kitten (voiced by Joey Lawrence), actually a whole cardboard box of them, being sold on a sidewalk... but one of them doesn't get taken, even when the price is marked down to "free." And that night, it starts raining, so the box is destroyed, and the kitten has to try to survive on his own. The next day, the rain has stopped, but the streets of New York haven't gotten any friendlier. Then, he meets rather cool dog named Dodger (Billy Joel), who uses the kitten in a scam to steal hot dogs from a street vendor. When Dodger refuses to share the loot, the kitten follows him.
Eventually, Dodger makes it back home, where he lives with several other dogs: a Chihuahua named Tito (Cheech Marin), a Great Dane named Einstein (an ironic name, since he's kinda dumb), a bulldog named Francis, and a Saluki named Rita. They all belong to a petty thief named Fagin (Dom DeLuise), who treats them all well, and who soon welcomes the new kitten into his gang (the dogs are thieves, themselves), after he shows up still trying to get his share of the hot dogs. The dogs all accept the kitten into the gang, as well, and begin training him in their art. As Fagin said, they need all the help they can get... because he owes money to a loan shark named Sykes (Robert Loggia), who has a pair of vicious but well-trained Doberman Pinschers named Roscoe and DeSoto, who hate Fagin's dogs. And Sykes gives Fagin three days to pay him back (after failing for an unspecified amount of time already), or else... I guess he'll kill Fagin. (Oh, I should probably make it clear that while we can understand the animals' speech in the movie, it's not the kind of movie where humans understand animals.)
Anyway, when one of the scams the dogs are running goes awry, the kitten ends up in the possession of a cute little girl named Jenny, who names him Oliver. (I'm pretty sure no one ever called the kitten by any name until then.) Jenny's parents are away on business, so the only one looking after her is their butler, Winston. There's also a poodle named Georgette (Bette Midler) who lives there... a very vain, prize-winning show dog. She is not at all happy about Oliver coming to live there. So, when Dodger and Tito show up to rescue him, Georgette is happy to help them, to get rid of Oliver. (While they're there, Tito develops a crush on Georgette, though she isn't happy about that.) Once the dogs get Oliver back to their place, he tells them he was happy with Jenny, and wants to go back (which clearly hurts Dodger's feelings). But when Fagin comes home and finds that Oliver now has a tag with his name and address (which Jenny got for him), he comes up with a plan to ransom him back to his owners, so he can pay back Sykes.
Fagin delivers a ransom note, which Jenny finds, and rather than telling Winston about it, she takes Georgette out to try to get Oliver back. Fagin has a change of heart when he finds out the owner is just a little girl, but Sykes... well, he has no heart to change, so the situation gets drastically worse, at that point. I don't want to say too much about the remainder of the movie, but Fagin, his dogs, Oliver, and even Georgette all have to engage in some heroics to save Jenny. But of course, the movie has a happy ending....
Well, it's certainly not one of Disney's best movies, but it also deserves greater respect than it generally gets. The animation's okay, the songs are awesome, the characters are fairly good, and... the story has some very cool parts, some scary/dark parts, and some very sweet parts. And did I mention that the songs are awesome? Maybe not the same level of quality as the songs in movies during the actual Renaissance period, but I quite enjoyed them, and find most of them quite memorable. ("Once Upon a Time in New York City" by Huey Lewis is very touching. "Why Should I Worry?" by Billy Joel is very cool. "Perfect Isn't Easy" by Bette Midler is very funny. "Good Company" by Myhanh Tran is simply one of the sweetest, most adorable songs I've ever heard. "Streets of Gold" by Ruth Pointer is... decent, though I don't find it nearly as memorable as the other songs.) And... I guess that's all I can say.