Title: Oliver & Company
Release Date: November 18, 1988
Director: George Scribner
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Feature Animation | Silver Screen Partners III
On the precipice of the Disney Renaissance, Walt Disney Pictures released Oliver & Company, a movie that has many elements of the Renaissance era but doesn’t put them together quite right. The movie features then-popular stars like Billy Joel, Cheech Marin, Bette Midler, and Dom DeLuise, with musical artists like Huey Lewis, Joel, Ruth Pointer, Midler, and Rubén Blades singing on the cheerful soundtrack. The animation style is also a break from typical Disney style and the film is set in contemporary New York City.
The movie takes its inspiration from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Oliver (Joey Lawrence) is an orphan kitten who is taken in by a gang of street dogs including the carefree Dodger (Joel). They steal and pickpocket to help the human Fagin (Dom Deluise), a good-hearted vagrant who needs to pay off a debt to the evil loan shark Sykes (Robert Loggia), who looks an awful lot like Rudy Giuliani. Just as he’s settling in with the gang of dogs, Oliver meets a very wealthy, kind-hearted girl, Jenny (Natalie Gregory). Jenny’s diva poodle Georgette (Midler) is insanely jealous of her new pet. Comic hijinx ensue, and soon the stray dogs, Fagin, and Sykes intersect with Oliver, Jenny, and Georgette.
The movie is a bit of a mess. Oliver is the protagonist for the early part of the film, but then it shifts to being a story about the “Company.” The Jenny plotline is pure 80s cheeze (and mind you as an 80s kid I love that stuff, but I do warn you its schlock). The songs are catchy, but lyrically tend to be obvious commentaries on the movie. Dodger’s key song “Why Should I Worry?” is repetitive and the lyrics are basically nonsense.
I won’t say that Oliver & Company isn’t entertaining, but it doesn’t really go beyond the bare essentials of a competent movie for kids.