Steve’s Wonderful Reviews of Disney: Oliver and Company

Oliver & Company

Release Date: November 18th, 1988

Inspiration: “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens

Budget: $31 million

Domestic Gross: $74 million

Worldwide Gross: $121 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 51%

IMDB Score: 6.7/10

Storyline (per IMDB): Inspired by Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”. A homeless kitten named Oliver, roams the streets of New York, where he is taken in by a gang of homeless mutts who survive by stealing from others. During one of these criminal acts, Oliver meets a wealthy young girl named Jenny Foxworth. This meeting will forever change his life.

Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on through the 1980s with another film that has been sharply divided in its place as a classic in the Disney film canon. There are some that think that this film is also very underrated while some think that it is one of the weaker films in the canon, and I can honestly say that I might have seen this film at least once in my life though my memories of it are very vague. Knowing what the next film in the canon is after this, it will be interesting to see how this film ends up being as a lead-in to that one and I hope that it ends up being enjoyable.

Voice Cast: As I had mentioned in the previous few films, we were now starting to see a decline in the number of returning actors as most of the names that dominated the last two decades have now been phased out and each film pretty much as a fresh cast going forward. Case in point, we only have one returning actor here and that is Frank Welker who voices a hot dog vendor and it is a bit funny that an actor best known for voicing animated dogs voices a human in a film where most of the main characters are dogs. We now move onto the newcomers and there are a lot of big names in this film which also becomes more of a staple going forward, and we start off with Joey Lawrence who voices Oliver in what was one of his first major roles as he was still a child. We then have music icon Billy Joel who voices Dodger in what would be one of his only film appearances, and then we have legendary comedian Cheech Marin who voices Tito and it is funny seeing him in an animated film given his career to this point. We then have TV icon Richard Mulligan who voices Einstein as he was starting to wind down his career by this point, and then we have Roscoe Lee Browne who voices Francis as he was at the peak of his career at this point. Next, we have Sheryl Lee Ralph who voices Rita with legendary singer Ruth Pointer providing the singing voice, and then we have Dom DeLuise who voices Fagin as he was in the midst of his biggest run in terms of animated films. We then have Taurean Blacque and Carl Weintraub who voice Roscoe and DeSoto as both wouldn’t appear in many films after this, and then we have another legend in Robert Loggia who voices Sykes as he was hitting the peak of his career as well. Up next, we have Natalie Gregory who voices Jenny with Myhanh Tran providing the singing voice, and then we have William Glover as Winston and finally we have the legendary Bette Midler who voices Georgette as she was also at the height of her career. Looking back, this might actually be the most star-studded cast in the history of the Disney film canon to this point and we will see going forward if any future film matches the star power of this film.

Hero/Prince: Looking at this film, it doesn’t seem like on the surface that the film would feature a hero though very clearly the film does in fact have a hero, and going even further the film really has two heroes that we can talk about. The first one is the main character Oliver the cat who is the only kitten not adopted when the rest of his family is, and he searches for an owner before stumbling upon the other hero in the film Dodger who first hustles him out of food they stole. But when Oliver stumbles upon Dodger and his friends, they accept him into the group and Dodger becomes Oliver’s mentor as their owner Fagin also brings Oliver into the group. They try to hustle the occupants of a limo only for Oliver to be discovered by Jenny Foxworth who takes him into her home, and Dodger and the others bring Oliver back to Fagin who plans to ransom Oliver for money to realize that Jenny wanted him back and he gives Oliver away. However, Sykes kidnaps the two and plans to hold them hostage until Dodger and his gang come to save them, and Oliver is eventually adopted by Jenny though he remains close to Dodger and the gang. Oliver and Dodger are pretty much different in every way as Oliver longs to be owned by a family while Dodger is content with being a stray, and Dodger is very street savvy and smart as he tries to teach Oliver everything he knows. In the end, Dodger realizes the true meaning of friendship as he helps save Oliver and Jenny and while he is sad that Oliver stays with Penny, Oliver assures him that they will remain close. Comparing them to the other heroes to this point, Oliver and Dodger will more than likely rank pretty low against the rest of them and it will be interesting to see if they don’t end up near the bottom of the rankings.

Princess: N/A

Villain: Obviously when it comes to the Disney film canon, there are many villains that are easily recognizable and come right to your head when you think about it, but there are a few villains that you might need to really think about when it comes to remembering them. Case in point, we have the villain of this film who we only know as Sykes and he is a shipyard agent and loan shark who lends money to Fagin and expected to be paid back under the threat of violence. He learns that Fagin intends to hold Oliver hostage in exchange for a large sum of money not realizing that he was dealing with Jenny, and Fagin relents and gives Oliver back to Jenny only for Sykes to kidnap both and he declares Fagin’s debt paid. Fagin, Dodger, and the gang attempt to rescue Jenny and Oliver only to be confronted by Sykes and his Dobermans, Roscoe and DeSoto as they chase them through the subway, and the Dobermans are electrocuted when they fall onto the tracks and then Sykes meets his end when he collides with a speeding train and the fiery remains fall off the bridge into the river. Sykes is a pretty typical bully comparable to a mob boss as he has his connections and can be very intimidating, and like most villains he considers himself untouchable though that proves not to be the case when his car is destroyed by the train and he is sent to a watery tomb. It is also very fitting that he ends up being thrown into the river which is typical for mobs to cast their victims into a body of water, and while he might not be as completely memorable as some of the other Disney villains he is still a pretty solid villain and it may be surprising where he ends up being ranked.

Other Characters: This is an interesting film because we see a lot of people walking the streets and more importantly, a lot of dogs running around though there are only a handful of characters that ultimately matter to the film. We start off with Dodger’s pack of friends in Tito the chihuahua who is feisty and brave despite his size and he falls in love with Georgette, and then there is Francis the bulldog who is sophisticated and cultured as he utilizes his acting when needed. We then have Einstein the Great Dane who may not be the smartest, but he is the friendliest and means well despite his low IQ, and then we have Rita the Saluki who acts as the defacto leader and keeps everyone in line while taking a liking to Oliver. We then have their owner Fagin who is a simple pickpocket who is in debt to Sykes and he even attempts to ransom Oliver, but he ends up returning him to Jenny and then he helps save Jenny along with Oliver, Dodger, and the gang. We then have Jenny Foxworth whose parents are wealthy though they are constantly away on business, and she quickly falls in love with Oliver and even offers to pay for him though Fagin declines and returns Oliver to her. She is then kidnapped by Sykes and Fagin and the dogs save them and become her friends, even being there for her birthday party and then we have her butler Winston who is a bit bumbling but he is devoted in his care of Jenny. We then have Georgette the poodle who is a champion purebred and detests Oliver at first to the point that she helps the dogs take him back, but she comes around on him and even falls in love with Tito. Next, we have Sykes’ two Dobermans Roscoe and DeSoto who are trained to attack at the snap of Sykes’ fingers, and they try to kill Oliver only for Dodger to fight them and they are tossed onto the subway tracks where they are electrocuted. Finally we should mention Old Louie the hotdog vendor who gets some of his product stolen by Oliver and Dodger, and again it is always interesting when there are more animal characters than human though animals as main characters is a pretty common trope for Disney films.

Songs: After having a film that had absolutely no songs in it and then a film that only had three songs in it, we revert back to what was the standard and that is having a medley of songs as Disney was beginning to experiment with having their films be more like musicals and this was really the first to test that theory. We start off with the song “Once Upon a Time in New York City” sung by legendary singer Huey Lewis and it is a good song to set the table for the film, and then we have “Why Should I Worry?” sung by Dodger as we see why Billy Joel is one of the best singers of all time and we learn about who Dodger really is. Next, we have “Streets of Gold” sung by Rita as she and the gang try to teach Oliver how to be like them and it is a fun song with a good beat, and then we have “Perfect Isn’t Easy” sung by Georgette as she sings about how perfect she is and Bette Midler does a great job in making you love Georgette even with how snobby she is. Finally, we have the song “Good Company” sung by Jenny as she sings a nice song about how her and Oliver will become friends given that she is all by herself with her parents away. The songs are fairly good and they work well for the film, but there isn’t that song that helps put them over the top and they more than likely won’t rank very high amongst the other songs.

Plot: Now with all the films that we have seen up to this point, the majority of them have been straight up adaptations of the books or novels that they are inspired by while a few of them are in essence original screenplays with elements from the novel included. This is one of those cases as this film is inspired by Charles Dickens classic book “Oliver Twist”, but it is a lot more modern with Oliver being turned into a kitten while Dodger and his gang are dogs and the human characters have certain aspects of the characters in the novel incorporated into their characters. Oliver is a kitten that is not adopted and he tries to survive the streets of New York, and he meets Dodger who helps him steal a string of hotdogs only to take them for himself and he brings them to his gang. Oliver follows him and he is welcomed in by the gang which are owned by Fagin who is in debt to Sykes and Sykes gives him 3 days to pay him back, and they work to find items for Fagin to pawn only for Oliver to be picked up by Jenny who brings him back to her mansion. Dodger and the gang think Oliver was taken and they retrieve him before returning to Fagin who decides to ransom Oliver thinking a rich man now owns him, but he realizes that it is Jenny that comes for him and Fagin gives Oliver back not knowing Sykes followed him and he takes Jenny looking to get money from her parents. Oliver, Dodger, the gang, and Fagin rescue Jenny and Sykes chases them down into the subway where they avoid a train and Sykes is killed when his car collides with it, and Oliver decides to stay with Jenny though he remains friends with Dodger and the gang. I’m sure if anyone went into this film thinking that it would be a faithful adaptation of “Oliver Twist” were probably disappointed, but those that hadn’t read the book might’ve been swayed to pick it up and read it themselves to get a better aspect of the novel.

Random Watching Thoughts: It is always a bit weird watching old films with New York City being the setting and seeing the Twin Towers; Shameless product advertising in Times Square with Sony, Coca-Cola, Tab, USA Today, Kodak, Yamaha, and National Auto Sales; Who just leaves a box of kittens on the sidewalk in New York City, and who’s watching over them especially if they are charging $5 a kitten?; Someone was watching the box because they changed the price from $5 to free, yet they didn’t bother to make sure Oliver was taken; That box must’ve really gotten wet if it just fell apart so easily; That was quite the place for Oliver to sleep, on top of a truck tire; New York Yankees hat; Maybe it’s just me, but I never figured Oliver was a fan of rap; That little kid clearly wanted to have Oliver yet for some reason, the mom wouldn’t let them unless she thought Oliver belonged to someone else even though he didn’t have a collar; I was expecting the hotdog vendor to shout “I’m walking here!” in an homage to Dustin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy”; A hotdog vendor who sings Italian opera; He must have great pride in his hotdogs if he calls them the best in New York; I don’t know if I would want to buy a hotdog from a guy who is smoking a cigar because the ashes might get in the sauerkraut; Dodger didn’t seem like the kind of character that would make puns; So Dodger doesn’t eat cats because they have too much fur, but what about cats that don’t have fur?; Not only was Louie smoking a cigar, but he has flies all around him; Oliver says he can feel the beat of the city when he was really feeling the vibrations from a nearby jackhammer; Dodger could’ve at least warned Oliver he was going to pretend to chase him, but I guess it did elicit a real reaction from Oliver; Dodger just grabbed those hotdogs and casually walked away while Oliver had to run for his life; That is a pretty dick move by Dodger to not give Oliver at least one hotdog after he did most of the work; They should be lucky that cement wasn’t quick-dry; Dodger should be careful playing with that water because he might get the hotdogs wet; Poor Oliver turned into a big ball of fuzz by being air-dried; A fun note is the visual of Dodger with the sunglasses was inspired by Billy Joel’s image at the time to the point they even had Dodger playing a piano; It looks like we got random appearances by Jock, Trusty, and Peggy from “Lady and the Tramp” along with Pongo from “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”; I don’t think I would want a collection of dogs just walking down the street blocking traffic, especially in New York City with how people drive there; Dodger walked a long way to get back to his hideout, I’m shocked the hotdogs didn’t go dry; A bulldog who is cultured in Shakespeare; Tito asks if Macbeth gets the girl not realizing that Lady Macbeth had already killed herself out of regret and fear; Francis is so bent on being called “Francis” and not “Frank” or “Frankie”; Tito says they need good, quality stuff yet nothing in that box matches the description; Dodger tells this elaborate story about getting the hotdogs and heavily embellishes Oliver’s appearance; Tito cries “Gang War” but how many gangs of dogs are there really?; Fagin should’ve realized that holding that box of dog biscuits in front of him was going to be a bad idea; That’s quite the perilous path to get from the pier down to the tugboat; It would be interesting to know how much money Fagin actually borrowed from Sykes because given how mobsters like to include “interest”, Fagin probably owed a lot of money to him; Fagin must’ve pulled with all his might if he could pull the side mirror off that easily; You have to give Tito credit for his willingness to fight Roscoe and DeSoto despite his size; Roscoe has a twisted sense of humor if he finds breaking a TV funny; Sykes clearly says that Fagin has 3 days yet Fagin’s version of math came out to 9 days; So it looks like this film takes place in real time because the calendar very faintly says 1988 which was the year the film was released; Those dogs are pretty loyal to Fagin though he clearly cares about them; Fagin was all ready to go to bed until Einstein gave him the book to read to them; Dodger had no issues with conning Oliver out of the hotdogs, but he quickly warmed up to him enough to let him share the same bed; Saying that dead men don’t buy dog food really puts things into perspective; I don’t know what section of the Wall Street Journal would have the type of “investment banking” that Tito is referencing; $1 for 5 apples is a pretty good bargain; More Coca-Cola advertisement; Oliver has becoming so engrossed in this group that he is even barking like a dog; Poor Jenny, she had to have the parents that are constantly away; Francis was really dramatic in his acting; The way Tito mentioned taking the car to Atlantic City gives you the impression that he thinks it’s just a short drive away; Poor Tito just became an electrified pinball; Einstein was knocked loopy when he hit the car yet got better when the light fell on his head; Jenny must be very confident in the belief that her parents won’t mind her bringing in Oliver; That was a quick transition for Winston to get out of the tie and put the bowtie and apron on; It is a bit fitting that Better Midler is voicing Georgette since Midler is a Diva and Georgette is also clearly a diva; The dogs must really love Georgette if one of them gave up chasing a cat and another dragged his doghouse the whole way just to hear her; What the hell is Jenny making that she made that large of a mess?; You would think Jenny would’ve at least found another bowl and not just assumed she could use Georgette’s; I get Jenny lives in a big house, but 200 people living there is a major exaggeration; Why is Jenny and Oliver just running around Central Park by themselves and where is Winston?; So when I was starting to write this review, I kept mistakenly writing Penny instead of Jenny and I realized that I was confusing Jenny with Penny from “The Rescuers”; That’s the smallest school bus I have ever seen; Who would’ve guessed that Winston would be a fan of pro wrestling; You would think that Winston would’ve recognized Francis as being the same dog that was in front of his car; I never considered Tito the type that would smoke cigars; Georgette was terrified of Dodger until he told her he wasn’t here for her and then she flips out thinking he’s not attracted to her; Now I see why Tito just uses the name “Tito” considering how long his real name is; She wanted nothing to do with them until she learns that they wanted to take Oliver; Dodger was quite offended when Oliver said he wanted to go back to Jenny’s; That was quite the assumption Fagin made that Oliver’s owner was rich just based on the collar; Another quick transition for Fagin to write that note and deliver it to Jenny’s house just before she got home from school; Georgette doing leg exercises after eating a box of chocolates; Again, it would be nice to know how much Fagin was demanding in exchange for Oliver; Fagin was so confident in rehearsing what he was going to say to Sykes only to fold up like a cheap suit when he actually met him; Sykes clearly told Fagin to push the door open and Fagin spend 15 seconds pulling it; The person Sykes was talking to must be quite the novice thug if Sykes has to walk him through the process of torturing someone; Dodger did well for himself fighting two Dobermans for a while; In fairness to Jenny, Fagin did do a haphazard job in putting that map together for her; Easter Egg spotting as one of Fagin’s watches had Mickey Mouse on it; The look on Fagin’s face when he realized Jenny was Oliver’s owner; Quick thinking by Fagin to throw Oliver in the box and make it look like he found him; DeSoto has got quite a good sense of smell since he seems to notice Oliver’s scent every time; Leave it to Tito to allow Georgette go first; Where were they able to find a pizza box in that building?; These dogs are risking their lives to save Jenny yet all Francis wants to do is watch ballet; Tito didn’t want to deal with anymore wires until Georgette swooned him into doing it, and another Easter egg as Tito sings “Heigh-Ho”; Sykes tells Jenny to open the door forgetting that she is tied to a chair; How in the hell did Jenny get freed from that chair from the time they dropped from the hook to when they landed on the conveyor belt?; You knew it was the beginning of the end for Sykes when he thought it was a good idea to drive a car down into a subway station and then drive on the tracks; I know it was nighttime, but the fact that the station was completely empty is mind-blowing especially since it was in Times Square; That was pretty crazy that they actually showed Roscoe falling onto the tracks and getting electrocuted; They are in the middle of a dangerous car chase and Tito wants to pretend that he is in a race; A truly fitting end for Sykes to be essentially dumped into the river; Tito had some good handling skills to be able to back the scooter down the beam perfectly; It is a bit weird that we see Sykes throw Dodger and Oliver aside before the train hits him though we never see where they ended up; Does Jenny have any friends because the fact that only Fagin and the dogs came to her party is a bit sad even though she looks very happy?; Winston should’ve been smart enough to realize that Fagin would bail without paying; I don’t know if Jenny is just being polite or if she really likes the “gifts” that everyone gave her; Tito was all about getting a private moment with Georgette until he found out she wanted to make him sophisticated and pampered; One last plug for the advertisements in Times Square as we hit the credits.

Overall Thoughts: Overall, this film was a fairly decent film though I don’t believe it deserves to be considered underrated as some people think it and I think that it is about properly rated.  While there were some aspects of the film that were good and made the film enjoyable to watch, it is a slight step backwards from the last film and I’m sure there were still questions as to whether the animation department was still viable. The 1980s have been a roller coaster decade for Disney as they were making great strides in many other areas, but as mentioned there was still some question as to whether the animated films could still succeed and we will see what happens when we get to the final film of the decade. As for this film, it is a good film that ranks about in the middle to the bottom of the Disney film canon and does not deserve its status as being underrated.

Final Grade: 6/10

Author: Steve Riddle

I have been a wrestling fan since 1993 and that is probably my biggest love, with movies being a close second due in part to being employed at a movie theater for over 9 years.

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