Monday, December 6, 2010

DAF #47 - Oliver & Company (1988)

"Isn't it rather dangerous to use ones entire vocabulary in a single sentence?"

Title: Oliver & Company
Year: 1988
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 13 minutes

Joey Lawrence as Oliver
Billy Joel as Dodger
Dom Deluise as Fagin
Cheech Marin as Tito
Sheryl Lee Roth as Rita
Richard Mulligan as Einstein
Roscoe Lee Browne as Francis
Bette Midler as Georgette
Natalie Gregory as Jenny Foxworth
Robert Loggia as Sykes
William Glover as Winston

Plot: An orphan kitten is adopted by a thieving dog pack and then by a poor little rich girl.
Based on: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.
Setting: New York City, present day (circa 1988).

Tagline: The first Disney movie with attitude.

First Viewing: Some time in 2004, on VHS, borrowed from my friend Karen.

The 80's was not the best decade for Disney. Quick, can you think of a successful film of their's from then? (Other than Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or The Little Mermaid, you snide know-it-all). Not before 1988, can you? As far as DAF's go, The Fox and the Hound (1981) did pretty good but was over shadowed by Don Bluth's The Secret of NIMH (1982). Likewise with The Great Mouse Detective and An American Tail (both 1986). And let's not forget the huge ass bomb that was The Black Cauldron (1985). 

Rarely are DAF's set in the Present Day, but the producers must have figured that 1930's rural America, Victorian England, and the high fantasy wonder world of Prydain were just a little too square. They needed something fresh with 'tude. They needed Billy Joel, Bette Midler, and Huey Lewis. They needed a movie all about a kitty cat. Enter Oliver & Company.

Ironically, this movie meant to be hip and bitchin' was based on the (at that time) 151 year old English classic Oliver Twist. (Go figure). But in true Disney fashion, the story has been modernized and anthropomorphanized. Oliver (at first unnamed) is a little orange kitten longing to be adopted out of a cardboard box on the side of a New York City street. Alas, poor Oliver is not chosen so he ends up wandering alone in the rain.

The next day, he is tricked by a smooth-talking mutt named Dodger into stealing wieners (haha) from a hot dog vendor. With nowhere else to go, Oliver follows Dodger home where he lives with his pack of canine comrades: Disney dumb Einstein, intellectual Francis, sassy "the girl" Rita, and Mexican stereotype Tito.

The dog's owner, a bum named Fagin, comes home to their hovel and slowly welcomes Oliver amongst the group. He is visited by Sykes the loan shark who says he has ONE LAST CHANCE to pay his debt.

The group hatches a plan to rob a limo. But it backfires and Oliver is adopted by the limo's passenger, a poor little rich girl named Jenny Foxworth. Since she hasn't a friend in the world except her butler, Winston, (tear), Jenny insists on keeping Oliver. In fact, she is the one who finally names him. However, Georgette, the Foxworth's snooty poodle is overly jealous of Oliver's presence. At the same time, Dodger and the gang attempt to rescue Oliver and Georgette assists them.

However, Oliver liked being a spoiled house cat as opposed to an exploited pickpocket. (Go figure). Fagin decides to ransom Oliver to pay his debt. By the way, what does Fagin owe money for? It's never stated. (Or is it? That's how many times I've see this one, folks). Is it drugs? Prostitution? Gambling? Gambling seems the most Disney friendly, but I digress.

Jenny finds Fagin's ransom note and attempts to pay his demands with what's in her piggy bank. Fagin's conscience catches up with him and he freely gives Oliver back. Then Sykes shows up, kidnaps Jenny meaning to ransom her. (Ooh, I can feel the plot thickening!)

Oliver and company attempt to save Jenny. Fagin arrives with his CGI scooter and the chase continues through the New York subway tunnels. Sykes's car is struck by a subway train and then falls into the Hudson River. Everyone else survives...accept Sykes's evil toadie dogs. The movie ends with Jenny's birthday party where all of her animal friends plus Fagin and Winston (but still no parents or friends her age) are in attendance. Jenny adopts Oliver and all live happily ever after. 

I think my  big "problem" with O&C is it's source material. I haven't ever read Oliver Twist but I have seen the 1968's Best Picture winning musical, Oliver!...and I did not like it. It's just not a likable story! Fagin exploits these orphans into picking pockets for his own benefit. In the book, Fagin is punished for his crimes. In a book full of harsh, gritty characters, Disney's only choice was to sanitize them. Thus, Disney Fagin is turned into a bumbling Jar Jar oaf. So, I guess it's Disney's adaptation that I really don't like. Some stories just don't translate into children's animation very well. 

O&C is also painfully 80's. Not fun, campy He-Man 80's. Just embarassingly "We Are the World", Swatch Watch, Howard the Duck, New Coke 80's. I mean, just look at the voice cast. This is some of Disney's most shameless celebrity casting. Dodger is streetwise! Let's get Billy Joel. He has a New York accent! And Georgette, she should be flashy...ah ha! Bette Midler! And Tito the chihuahua, he should be Mexican. Who is the most famous Mexican circa 1987? Cheech Marin! No one does a bad job, per se, but everyone is pretty much playing the worst generalization of their own personality.

And then there's the music. Also very 80's. O&C is certainly not the first DAF who's music is a product of it's era. (The Rescuers so belovedly 70's!) But it all just kind of falls flat. Even if there was a gun to my head I could not hum the melody to "Streets of Gold". "Perfect Isn't Easy" and "Why Should I Worry?" are definitely the best probably due to their voice actors being actual singers. But "Good Company" is so direct-to-video by way of Land Before Time XVIII. 

I know this movie has its fans. I am simply not one of them. I didn't grow up with it. It doesn't have princesses, or pretty music or even very engaging characters. The villain (and his personality) lurch in his own smoke clouds. And the romance? You mean that last minute turn around flirtation between Georgette and Tito? UGH! It's not worth my time. So I do not understand the appeal of Oliver & Company. I can only assume it's because of every movie lover's old friend, Nostalgia.

"Once Upon a Time in New York City" - Huey Lewis
"Why Should I Worry" - Billy Joel (Dodger) and Chorus
"Streets of Gold" - Ruth Pointer (Rita) , Billy Joel, and Chorus
"Perfect Isn't Easy" - Bette Midler (Georgette)
"Good Company" - Myhanh Tran (Jenny)
"Why Should I Worry" (Reprise) - Chorus 

Favorite Song - "Why Should I Worry?" - Billy Joel 
Favorite Moment - "Why Should I Worry?" 

Favorite Character - Winston (He tries so hard!) 

Next Movie - Saludos Amigos (1943)

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