March 29, 1996 in Seven

‘Oliver & Company’ Has That Classic Disney Twist

Michael H. Price
 

Fort Worth Star-Telegram “Classic” is a distinction that studios often assign their own movies nowadays, and as such the word can no longer be trusted.

But it is also true that in the realm of animation, the only bad Disney is no Disney. So when Disney trots out one of its earlier productions under the “classic” banner, chances are it’s worth a look - especially for the grown-ups who weren’t convinced of the greater charms of cartoon features until “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” in 1991-92.

Actually, “Oliver & Company” (1988), reissuing this weekend, has already become “classic” (in the textbook sense) in addition to being a lively twist on Dickens.

The film defined the use of the computer as a cartoon animation tool, after tentative stabs at digital production in 1985’s “The Black Cauldron,” and it found Disney reinventing itself as a contemporary musical force by drawing Billy Joel and Bette Midler into the action.

Joel voices the role of Dodger, a cunning pooch, and gets the movie’s most fetching song, “Why Should I Worry?” Midler, who only two years earlier had renovated her career as a contract player at Disney, leaps wholeheartedly into the role of an arrogant canine named Georgette, who has a memorable song called “It’s Not Easy Being Perfect.”

The story, of course, is “Oliver Twist,” transplanted to present-day New York and “peopled” with talking animals and loony human caricatures. Fagin (voiced by Dom DeLuise) is a Bowery tramp who leads a mob of thieving dogs including Dodger and Tito (Cheech Marin). Oliver (voiced by Joey Lawrence) is an orphaned kitten who becomes an unlikely recruit. There are some riveting scares involving attack dogs and the creep (voice: Robert Loggia) who owns them.

Though hardly a Disney powerhouse on the order of 1955’s “Lady and the Tramp,” still “Oliver & Company” is a modest delight, and a watershed in pioneering the computer technology that came to flower on “Beauty and the Beast.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “OLIVER & COMPANY” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by George Scribner; featuring the voices of Billy Joel and Bette Midler Running time: 1:13 Rating: G

This sidebar appeared with the story: “OLIVER & COMPANY” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by George Scribner; featuring the voices of Billy Joel and Bette Midler Running time: 1:13 Rating: G

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