Revisiting Disney: Oliver and Company (1988)

Oliver and Company was released the same year as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that I’ve discussed the importance of that film in regard to animation. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can read about it here.

It’s important to mention that Oliver and Company came out the same year as Roger Rabbit, as it absolutely would not have been successful in theaters without the latter. However, even though Oliver and Company was successful in theaters, it received mixed reviews from critics and, upon rewatching it as an adult, I can see why.

Now, this was never a film that I loved as a child. Although we owned the film on VHS, I think I have only ever seen it a handful of times.  I can see why, now, as Oliver and Company, in my opinion, lacks the magic of the films that came after it. This film was made at a time where the Walt Disney Company was trying to figure everything out. They were just saved by the Bass brothers from the brink of bankruptcy, and the company was trying to figure out how to carry on, film wise. It’s clear in Oliver and Company that they were trying to figure out what to do, as this film is a mishmash of the animation from the 70s, with the sketch style backgrounds, and a precursor to what was to come.

Oliver and Company isn’t quite the Broadway style film that Disney found so much success with just a year later, but it’s a good in between point. There are several songs sung by characters in the film, the best one being “Why Should I Worry” sung by Billy Joel who also plays the character of Dodger. The songs in the film are more contemporary 80s songs, with Billy Joel and Huey Lewis singing, which, in a way, can date the film. They are not bad songs, however. Most are quite catchy and enjoyable.

One of the strongest parts of this film is the casting of each character. Yes, Billy Joel plays Dodger and he does a fine job. However, it is really Cheech Marin and Bette Midler who steal the show, Marin playing the chihuahua Tito, and Midler playing the show dog Georgette. The casting for this film was done after having the script and the characters developed, which meant that the casting director and producers had to find actors who already fit the roles, as opposed to getting big names and shaping a character around them. Yes, tweaks were made to each character once casting was complete. However, it really worked in the favor of the film to cast it this way.

I mentioned above that I feel that Oliver and Company lacks the magic of the films that followed it. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly that I feel this film lacks. Maybe I feel that it lacks the heart of, say, The Little Mermaid or The Lion King. Or maybe I just don’t have nostalgia for this film. I don’t know.

All in all, Oliver and Company is a good film. Is it one that I would watch over and over again as an adult, like Beauty and the Beast or Pocahontas? Honestly, no. But, “Why Should I Worry” will surely be stuck in my head for the next week and a half.

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