DVD Review: Oliver & Company (1988) -- 20th Anniversary Special Edition

Disney's Take on Dickens
Celebrates its 20th Anniversary
With this Special Edition DVD

Also Releasing on 2/3
With a
Plush Puppy Offer for
Joint Purchases
(While Supplies Last)

Previously Available

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The classic joke, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" seems as though it's older than... well, the work of Charles Dickens. So, when it came time for the House of Mouse to interpret Dickens and season their retelling of Oliver Twist with its trademark brand of kid-friendly humor, instead of chickens--in the late '80s-- one of the deceptively adorable four legged thieves in training asks "why would a cat follow a dog?" in Walt Disney's 1988 classic, Oliver & Company.

A witty rhetorical question rather than a punchline-- as we all remember from school, the easiest answer is usually the correct one and the reason the cuddly orange kitten Oliver (voiced by an impossibly young Joey Lawrence of Blossom fame) follows Dodger (Billy Joel) back to his pad at Fagin's hideaway is because he helped snare him some New York hot dogs and didn't receive his share of the sizzling swag.

While it's Dodger who should theoretically chase Oliver as is the nature of dogs to chase cats-- in this urban update of Dickens-- the street smart Dodger reveals he's essentially a wise-dog with a heart of gold as he takes the kitten under his wing and Oliver joins up with the rest of the group including the snobbishly priceless Francis (who gets some of the best quips such as "Isn't it dangerous to use one's entire vocabulary in a sentence?") along with the hilariously hyper Chihuahua voiced by Cheech Marin.

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However, after the group helps their dangerously indebted master Fagin try to pay back the greedy Sykes (whose dark limousine and attack dogs seems to be an extension of his frightening character), Oliver falls tail over paws for a lonely rich girl named Jenny who sets her heart on adopting the cat to live in her mansion alongside her prissy poodle Georgette (Bette Midler).

Unfortunately, when Sykes gets gets a look at Jenny's digs, he unleashes a scary kidnap for ransom plot that tests the mettle of the motley crew as they show him that even a tiny cat like Oliver will follow his scary guard dogs to meet another human need-- love this time, instead of hunger.

The 27th animated feature from Walt Disney Studios which took two and a half years to complete via 119,275 hand-painted cells by more than 300 technicians and artists working alongside 6 supervising animators-- Oliver & Company was the first film in the studio's history to have its very own department set up solely for the purpose of generating computer animation in a way that extended from the methods they experimented with two years prior with The Great Mouse Detective.

In their strict adherence to Disney tradition in relying heavily on hand-drawn and painted work-- the addition of computerized cars, cabs, and other features to augment the film and move the classic Disney style into its newer look helped pave the way for such masterpieces as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.

Admittedly, it's a much grittier film than Disney's traditional period fantasies as it's very much a product of its era. For, instead of castles with princesses and fairy godmothers-- we have the hustle and bustle of New York City. And this inevitably makes the film appear more dated than other works in the Disney catalog especially when watching now twenty years later, but despite this, it's one of the hippest works from the studio and one that broke so much new ground that its effects are still being evidenced today.

Instead of relying on one songwriter or composer or opting for child-friendly ballads, Oliver & Company is a movie that fully embraced rock 'n roll, involving the talents of Barry Manilow, Huey Lewis, Bette Midler and especially Billy Joel whose infectious tune "Why Should I Worry?" as his character surfs atop cabs jumping from one place to another while the animals engage in what the DVD reveals is Bob Fosse inspired choreographed animation.

Although it stayed true to its doggy roots by showing its surroundings from a dog's eye view as the DVD's "Fun Facts" reveal that production members walked around the city filming eighteen inches off the ground to get an accurate picture of what New York and its inhabitants would look like from the perspective of its furry cast, the film's dedication to its time period and contemporary feel is apparent right off the bat as the film opens with one of its many great sing-along numbers.

Speaking of sing-alongs and as a child of the Oliver & Company era who actually recalls going to see the film in the theatre, I remember begging for the soundtrack and also loving Disney's series of popular Sing-Along-Songs videotapes. Although both VHS and that series has vanished to the best of my knowledge, the DVD for Oliver & Company's 20th Anniversary did give me a fond recollection of those as it includes the two best tracks from the film-- "Why Should I Worry?" and "Streets of Gold" as sing-along extra features.

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Also boasting a five minute making-of documentary that was filmed in that time period-- featuring candid footage of Billy Joel in the recording studio wearing Dodger's trademark sunglasses, a Disney animated featurette on the studio's "History of Animals in Disney Films," "Return of a Classic" look at the '96 re-release of the movie into theatres, it additionally contains two animated shorts including the Oscar winning Mickey Mouse and Pluto cartoon Lend a Paw from 1941 and Pluto's Puss Cafe.

While adults will relish in the movie's highly informative "Film Fun Facts," kids will love the inclusion of "Oliver's Big City Challenge" all-new game. Equipped with Disney's FastPlay feature to give you the opportunity to get right into the feature film without the trouble of playing with your remote or being unable to bypass the numerous trailers-- the beautifully packaged feature film offered in English, Spanish and French language tracks-- is also enhanced to a 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio for the respective televisions.

And again, although initially it may seem a bit dated as we're now so fully ingrained in the era of all-CGI animated films and the eye-popping effects of movies like WALL-E, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, or Kung Fu Panda, Oliver & Company is a great trip down memory lane to an era where movies were still hand-drawn, animals surfed on cabs, and cats followed dogs.