A Dickens Adaptation with a Twist!
Orphaned cat meets streetwise dog Dodger, and gets inducted into a gang of dogs whose master has to pay a debt to his boss, Sykes. When Oliver is taken by a little girl, Jenny, it’s up to the gang to rescue him, but does he need rescuing?
So, Disney tackles Dickens (after Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983, at least) for feature animation. As an adaptation, it’s pretty good, yet the story leaves something to be desired. Characters and music take center stage here, resulting in a plot, while competent and coherent, jumps through a lot of hoops to work itself out. Events are pretty evenly paced, though, and the story is wrapped up neatly at the end.
My PLOT RATING is 3 / 5.
Oliver (Joey Lawrence) is the protagonist and the audience stand-in throughout the film. Not much agency, and he doesn’t really have any distinguishing characteristics. He wants to learn from the dogs how to be more like them, and he’s a cute adorable cat at Jenny’s home. To sum him up, he’s new, trying to figure everything out, and very flat as a character.
Dodger (Billy Joel) is the cool guy, but he actually isn’t. He puffs himself up to look cool, but really relies on sheer luck and coincidence to get by. He’s the most normal character of the dog gang, and has a pretty good singing voice. He’s the brains of the group, and while he comes off as a bad person at first, he warms up later on.
The rest of the dog gang is pretty good. Tito (Cheech Marin) is possibly in the running for ‘Most Annoying Disney Character’ and negatively steals the film, Francis (Roscoe Lee Brown) is one of the best and funniest of the bunch, with a more theatrical presence, Einstein (Richard Mulligan), who exists to be ironically stupid, defying his name, and Rita (Cheryl Lee Ralph), who is kinder to Oliver than the rest, and also gets a song. They all have fair screen-time, but aren’t that developed, even Tito, who gets the most screen-time and lines out of any character in the film.
Georgina is a standout character. She’s a pure diva and she’s also hysterical, mugging the camera in most of her scenes and complaining about slightly-less-than-ideal conditions in others. Most everything about her character is played for humor and extravagance, and it all is just so over-the-top and played for well-deserved laughs. While she isn’t an outright antagonist, she is a rival for Jenny’s affections when it comes to Oliver, even though she’s seen in her room away from the girl most of the time.
Fagin (Dom DeLuise) is basically every other Dom DeLuise character, but human. He feels ripped from a Don Bluth film, and he doesn’t really fit here. He is entertaining, but if you’ve seen one Dom DeLuise character, you’ve seen them all. Bumbling, humorous, slapstick, heart of gold. I do like the pathos of the character, and his interactions with the other characters work here.
Jenny (Natalie Gregory) is an adorable little girl, and I actually like how much agency she has here. She aims to get her cat back from Fagin, and she actually goes to a shipyard in the dead of night to do it. She has a charmed life, she cares a lot about Oliver, and she’s sad about her parents not being able to be there for her birthday yet that is where her character ends. Also to mention is that she was supposed to be Penny from The Rescuers but was later changed to Jenny.
Sykes (Robert Loggia) is a surprisingly good villain. He’s more realistic than the others, to a degree that makes him scary in how real he can be. He isn’t camp or cartoony, he’s a straight-forward and ruthless mobster, even speaking on the phone about “cement shoes” at one point. While the chase at the end does test the suspension of disbelief, it does show how driven he is to get the good guys.
Other characters include Winston (William Glover, basically playing an overweight but good Edgar from The Aristocats), Roscoe and Desoto (Taurean Blacque and Carl Weintraub, Sykes’ henchdogs that are, respectively, real cool and a real menace), and Old Louie (Frank Welker, who also probably voiced all of the animal noises in this film and basically all other films)
My CHARACTERS RATING is 3 / 5.
The dialogue is pretty good here. Each character has their own specific way of speaking, and the dialogue is paced well enough for all characters to be heard. Tito does get a lot of lines (it’s pretty distracting), and the dialogue is more up-to-date here, reflecting the modern setting and time period.
My DIALOGUE RATING is 3 / 5.
The animation here is wild. Scratchy aesthetic for the backgrounds, while characters are more cleaned up barring very few exceptions. CGI is used for a lot in this film, mostly vehicles, and while it doesn’t stand out much, it does on the first glance. The muted color palate captures the grunge of New York City, and the lighting and fire effects are done well here.
My EFECTS RATING is 4 / 5.
The music in this film is more ‘Broadway’ than the rest of the Disney Animated Canon, even though the story structure and pacing doesn’t reflect it much.
“Once Upon a Time in New York City” – A pretty ‘chill’ song that encapsulates New York’s ‘magic’ and could be divorced from the film if it were not for the mention of ‘Oliver’.
“Why Should I Worry?” – The standout song of the film. Very catchy, and Billy Joel does a very good job here.
“Streets of Gold” – A toe-tapping song, yet not as memorable as the others. Notable for having a different singer than the character’s speaking voice, a trend that would continue on to the Disney Renaissance
“Perfect Isn’t Easy” – Full-on Broadway here. Several unconventional lyrics here, and most likely mocking the glamour of stardom.
“Good Company” – A cutesy number with pretty good piano accompaniment and a nice interlude, child singer aside.
My MUSIC RATING is 4 / 5.
A decent capper to the Dark Age of the Disney Animated Canon. This is one of their most middle-of-the-road films as well. There’s nothing truly that special about it. The characters, plot, and dialogue are all serviceable, and the animation and music are on par, if not slightly better, than the rest. An observation I’d like to make about this film, is how ‘Don Bluthy’ it can be at times (Dom DeLuise is the main reason for saying this), yet the Disney portions of it do shine through.
It’s a good film to watch, but Disney has way better films in their
My OVERALL RATING for Oliver and Company is 68%.
Next time, we take a deep dive under the sea!