"Oliver and Company" is a somewhat interesting case in recent Disney history. The film did well in theaters when it was released in 1988, raking in $73M. It was also one of the first major animated features to integrate computer work into the animation. Yet, 20 years after the film's release, the underrated "Oliver and Company" doesn't seem like one of the more talked-about of Disney's efforts from the time period. The film was the start of the Disney era that included films like "Lion King" and "Little Mermaid".
The film is an update on "Oliver Twist", with this feature, in traditional Disney fashion, turning Oliver into a cute kitten (voiced by Joey Lawrence). Adopted by a gang of dogs lead by Dodger (voiced by Billy Joel), the kitten learns how to survive on the streets. When he's taken in one day by a young girl named Jenny, he thinks he's found his place in the world. Yet, the dogs are out in the world, figuring how to break their new friend out.
While this may not be Disney's finest work, I still find it quite entertaining. The story is simple and the characters way too familiar, but there's an energy that keeps the film kicking along. The solid voice work by Cheech Marin, Lawrence, Joel and Bette Middler also helps considerably, as everyone offers energetic and well-timed performances. While the characters are a bit cliched, performers like Marin and Middler fill out their characters well and the script gives them more than a few memorable moments to shine.
As for the animation, it's reasonably good for the era. While it was likely remarkable for the time, looking back now, it seems inconsistent, with some exceptional scenes of the city streets and some sequences that look a bit more primitive in comparison. Some of the youngest members of the audience may also find some of the more intense scenes a bit scary, especially towards the ending. While "Oliver and Company" may never be remebered as fondly as many of Disney's other efforts, it's a cute and energetic film that definitely has its moments and some catchy tunes, such as "Why Should I Worry?".
VIDEO: Disney presents "Oliver and Company" in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. While most of the film looked fairly crisp and well-defined, there were a fair amount of instances where I noticed a bit of softness. The softness wasn't as much a concern as the grain, which was seen in moderate amounts during much of the film. The print was not entirely without wear, either, as a few specks, marks and the occasional scratch were noticed. On a positive note, no pixelation or edge enhancement was seen.
Colors looked fine, if not expectional. The film's color palette could occasionally look bright and vivid, but - understandably, given some of the settings - a little more subdued at times. This is certainly a respectable presentation, but I was expecting image quality that was somewhat smoother.
SOUND: "Oliver and Company" is presented by Disney in Dolby Digital 5.1. I'm guessing that this is the same soundtrack as the one that was presented theatrically when this film was re-released into theaters about five years ago. It's a pleasant enough affair, with some light surround use and enjoyable sound quality. The rear speakers are mainly used for the score and the occasional sound effects, such as during the storm early on. Audio quality was fine, if not too remarkable: everything's clear, but not particularly dynamic. Songs and dialogue are generally clear, although the songs seem a bit better recorded than the dialogue, as tunes like "Why Should I Worry?" sound crisp and rich, while dialogue can occasionally sound the slightest bit rough.
EXTRAS: The new addition this time around is "Oliver's Big City Challenge", an interactive game. The remaining features have been carried over from the prior release:
Making-Of: This is a 5 1/2 minute featurette that provides interviews with the animation staff as well as some of the actors who provided voices. It's not a particularly in-depth featurette, but there are a few details offered about the computer animation that was used in the film, which was certainly new at the time.
Disney's Animated Animals: A 1 1/2 minute featurette that's more a trailer for the re-release of the film than anything else.
Sing-Along: "Why Should I Worry?" and "Streets of Gold" sing-alongs.
Publicity Materials: The film's original TV spot and theatrical trailer, as well as a re-release trailer and short re-release promotional featurette.
Scrapbook: This is a 14-page section that provides concept art, character design and other early material.
Also: Fun film facts text and 2 shorts: "Puss Cafe" and "Lend A Paw".
Sneak Peeks: Sneek peek trailers for a wide variety of upcoming titles from the studio are included, such as Pixar's "Up", "Beverly Hills Chihuahua", "Space Buddies", "Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure" and "Bolt".
Final Thoughts: A jazzy, entertaining animated film from Disney, "Oliver and Company" still remains an underrated, charming film 20 years later. The 20th Anniversary Edition is largely unchanged from the prior release (with the exception of the new interactive game), so while this isn't recommended as an upgrade for owners of the prior edition, it is recommended for those seeking out their first purchase of the film.
The Film B+