My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
The Plot: An orphaned kitten joins a gang of wild dogs and learns to survive on the streets of New York City; they run afoul of a vicious loan shark.
The Songs: "Once Upon A Time In New York City," "Why Should I Worry," "Streets Of Gold," "Perfect Isn't Easy," "Good Company"
A Little History: Oliver & Company originally started production as a sequel to The Rescuers (1977), until the producers realized they didn't have enough story to sustain a feature film. They scrapped the idea and started from scratch, ultimately deciding on a loose adaptation of Dickens' Oliver Twist. This was the final Disney Classic to use cel overlay, a process which matched the animated backgrounds to xeroxed characters in the foreground. CGI was used extensively to animate the backgrounds and cityscapes, and other objects such as cars, buses, a piano, trains, and staircases. Marlon Brando turned down the role of Sykes, despite a personal offer from Michael Eisner himself. Peg, Trusty and Jock (from Lady And The Tramp) and Pongo (from One Hundred And One Dalmatians) make cameo appearances during "Why Should I Worry"; among the photographs of Georgette's many admirers are Professor Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective) and Scooby Doo. The film opened in U.S. theaters on November 18, 1988 - the same day as Don Bluth's The Land Before Time - and grossed over $74 million worldwide. Its success convinced Peter Schneider, Disney's senior VP of animation, to announce plans to release a single animated film per year. It was not, however, made available on home video until 1996.
How It Broke New Ground: The first Disney title with its own department devoted solely to computer-generated animation. Foley artists recorded many new sound effects for the film, to replace many Disney mainstays including the Goofy holler and castle thunder. Also the first animated Disney classic to feature extensive product placement (for "realism," the filmmakers claimed), with Coca-Cola, USA Today, Ryder Truck Rental, and even Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies given obligatory screen time.
How It Holds Up Today: It makes sense, actually. After the glut of creative disappointments that helped to define its late 70s/early 80s output, Disney rebounded with The Great Mouse Detective, a bright and bouncy take on a literary classic and their first successful bid to recapture that old studio magic in over a decade. So it's only fitting that, somehow, they'd manage to take all of that and trounce it completely, with Oliver & Company, a heartless, shameless, cynical mess that (for once) can't be disguised by a cast of furry animal characters. The backgrounds are dingy, the CG animation sticks out like a sore thumb, and we're actually expected to cheer along as our "heroes" cheat, scheme and steal, a little girl is kidnapped and ransomed, and the villain and his Doberman Pinschers (SPOILER) are obliterated on the city subway tracks. Even the much-heralded song-and- dance numbers sound desperate and dated - a virtual who's who of 80's pop stars (Huey Lewis! Billy Joel! Bette Midler! Ruth Pointer of The Pointer Sisters!) and not a single memorable tune between them. I could go on, but you probably get the point. Hands down the ugliest and most depressing of all Disney movies - and to think it comes only one year before The Little Mermaid!
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox And The Hound, The Black Cauldron, and The Great Mouse Detective. Please comment!