film & game reviews, the retro way.

REVIEW

OLIVER & COMPANY

DIRECTOR

George Scribner

WRITERS

Jim Cox

Tim Disney

James Mangold

CAST

Billy Joel

Joey Lawrence

Cheech Marin

Bette Midler

Robert Loggia

Natalie Gregory

Released in 1988, Oliver & Company was Disney's modern day, New York city-set, talking animal take on Oliver Twist as stray dog Dodger finds lost kitten Oliver and teaches him some "street savoir-faire".

The film received mixed reviews back in the day with some calling it too slight or scattered. It was the last film to come out before Disney's "Renaissance" kicked in the following year with The Little Mermaid so it was quickly forgotten. Somewhat more of a musical than Disney's previous film The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company banked on the popularity of Billy Joel, Bette Midler and Huey Lewis, with Joel even voicing Dodger himself. Midler's big number "Perfect Isn't Easy", written by Barry Manilow, is very grand, very Broadway while the rest of the songs in the movie are mostly 80's pop tunes so there's a slight disconnect there which makes sense for Midler's character, vain poodle Georgette, but also doesn't help make the movie feel any less distracted.

Story-wise, this is competent enough, though it sugar-coats Oliver Twist quite a bit, of course, and literally goes off the rails at the end (there's a train, it's a pun and I'm sorry). Fagin, voiced by Dom DeLuise, is flawed but he's very much a good guy and there's no tragic Nancy character, which, frankly, is a shame as that would have added some much needed drama. The villain is an intimidating loan shark called Sykes, voiced by Robert Loggia, he's a genuine threat and the character design there is good but he's barely in the film, only showing up here and there to scare Fagin and for the messy, surprisingly brutal climax. Frankly, a good bad guy song might have made Sykes worth it. 

The characters in the film are likeable and there's definitely a charm to Oliver & Company. Its depiction of New York City is appropriately chaotic and larger-than-life with the animation having a wide-angle lens feel to it. The songs won't be to everyone's taste and are very much of their time but it's hard to deny that Billy Joel's "Why Should I Worry?" is catchy as hell. This is not a bad movie and it had a lot of potential but so much more could (and should) have been done with just about every aspect of it. There's no real gravity to anything going on, even when the little girl is kidnapped, Oliver is way too passive throughout, Dodger is underused, too much time is spent breaking Oliver out of his new home, it's just overall underwritten and that hurts an otherwise enjoyable kids' movie.

Not essential viewing by any means, Oliver & Company is an uneven Disney outing that feels much too unfocused for its own good. It has its moments and it's enjoyable enough but it could have been so much more. It's a shame that it had to settle for a script without any real dramatic meat on its bones, which is a dog pun and you are welcome.

Just ok.

TheRetroCritic