Oliver & Company, Disney’s take on Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” is one of the most critically panned films in the company’s catalogue. It’s easy to see why since it followed The Great Mouse Detective, which is the movie that gave people faith in animation once again, and when you consider almost everything that came after, it is definitely lesser Disney. But it may have been because of the cuteness of the kitty or the energy displayed on screen, but from the get-go I was on board, and despite some flaws, I kind of loved it.
The biggest flaw of them all is that it actually doesn’t feel like a Disney movie. It doesn’t have that timelessness that movies like Bambi, The Jungle Book, and even Alice in Wonderland display. It is very much a movie of the 80s. Then there’s the animation. The backgrounds are not quite as detailed as we have come to expect. And with the exception of the character design of the four main male humans, the animators decided to give the humans realistic features, and there is flatness about them, as if we were watching a livelier motion comic. And finally, there are the tonal changes. One minute it is cuteness overload, then desperation, and then cuteness again, and then tension, then a heartwarming scene, then madness, then redemption, and finally a kidnapping.
But all in all, I’d say that the cuteness won me over. Plus, the fact that it is based on a Dickens novel helps the story stay afloat. Well that and a few catchy songs, some performed by Billy Joel, and some even written by Barry Manilow (see, it is a movie from the 80s). AND decent performances from the cast that includes Joel, Cheech Marin, Bette Midler, and master thespian Joey Lawrence in the early stages of his would-be illustrious career. And I must say that the villain’s death in this one is the darkest and coolest of any Disney movie so far (and probably from every movie since).
All in all, Oliver & Company may not be the best-written and magical entry in the Disney catalogue, but it makes up for that with cuteness, energy, and a heart.