Oliver & Company puts a Disney twist on Charles Dickens’ classic tale. The idea simply came from a pitch meeting after the failure of The Black Cauldron. Someone said Oliver Twist with dogs and they went with it. Disney really did a lot of animal versions of classic stories at the time. Well this was Walt Disney animations twenty-seventh film and the last of the Dark Age. It’s definitely dark in places, but it could have been much darker. Thankfully they kept Oliver & Company lively and upbeat. I have seen a traditional version of Oliver Twist. Namely the Oscar winning Oliver!, but that was long after Disney’s contemporary animal take on it. Oliver & Company is one of my most beloved forgotten Disney movies from my childhood. My brother even sang its signature song on his tricycle. We watched the film many times.
Oliver & Company replaces 1800’s London with modern day New York City. Along with animated product placement came the use of contemporary music. After its minimal use in The Great Mouse detective, this was the first Disney movie to extensively use CAPS (Computer Animation Production System). Mostly for the skyline, vehicles, and climax. The rest of the animation is still rather crude, but charming. Oliver is now an orange Tabby cat. Like the original orphan, Oliver is sadly left to fend for himself. He encounters cool street smart mongrel Terrier Dodger. Rather than pickpocketing children, Dodger and his gang are just dogs trying to survive. Instead of a criminal older man, Fagin is a more sympathetic poor dog owner who owes Sykes money. Sykes of course is the main villain, but he’s now depicted as a ruthless loan shark. His Bull-Terrier is replaced by equally cruel Dobermans Roscoe & DeSoto.
Oliver ends up in the gang of colorful canines. There’s the caring Saluki Rita, the dim-witted Great Dane Einstein, the sophisticated Bulldog Francis, and the energetic Chihanua Tito that only Cheech Marin could voice. The kindly rich man who adopts Oliver is replaced by the just as kind little girl Jenny. She and her butler take him in much to the shagrin of purebred poodle Georgette. Long story short, Oliver is “rescued,” then used by Fagin to get Sykes’ money. He gives Oliver back, but Jenny is kidnapped. So everybody bands together to get her back. The climax is the darkest thing in the movie. Sykes’ dogs fall off his speeding car onto electrified train tracks and he dies himself when a train collides with his car. In the end, Oliver stays with Jenny and the gang remain close friends. The 80’s music is what I really love about Oliver & Company. You’ve got Huey Lewis singing “Once Upon a Time in New York City,” Ruth Pointer with “Streets of Gold,” Bette Midler singing a song by Barry Manilow, and the catchiest tune/personal favorite, Billy Joel performing “Why Should I Worry.” Oliver & Company ended this complicated era on an easy going note.