The 80s weren't kind to Walt Disney Animation Studios. After Don Bluth's sudden departure, he became their main competitor, churning out films like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail and The Land Before Time, which were box office successes and surpassed their Disney competitors. At the end of the decade, the Disney studio returned to adapting a classic story, in this case Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. However, in very Disney fashion, they turned most of the characters into animals and the title character became an orphaned kitten, adopted by a gang of street dogs and their leader, Dodger. They work for a pickpocket named Fagin (one of the few characters from the original novel to remain human) who is in debt to a loan shark named Sykes. When Sikes gives Fagin an ultimatum, he and his dogs wander the streets to look for something to steal and, after encountering some misfortunes, Oliver ends up in the hands of a rich and lonely little girl named Jenny, who adopts him. This gives Fagin an idea of how to repay Sikes. If you are a Disney fan, you probably know that Disney have never been completely faithful to the source materials they adapt their movies from and some liberties are always taken, in this case however, the film marks a radical departure from its source material and in the end what is left from it is just the character's name and the fact that he's orphaned. Instead of setting it up in 19th century England, the Disney team set the story in present-day (or 1980s, anyway) New York and turned around some characters' natures (for example, Fagin is no longer seen as a villain but rather a victim of circumstances). Unfortunately, this 'adaptation' is a mixed bag, mainly because the main character (just like in The Black Cauldron) is a bland, one-noted personality. The supporting characters add some colourful moments and scenes, and some of the songs are catchy, but the animation feels cheap and rushed, not giving the characters or their surroundings any quality to speak of. The main reason to watch Oliver and Company is because this marks the introduction of brilliant lyricist Howard Ashman, who later on contributed to some of the most memorable Disney movies and created some of the studio's most unforgettable songs. However, on the whole, Oliver is just a modest and forgettable affair that has little replay value. Rating: 2.5/5.
Next Week: Animated Classic #28 Review: The Little Mermaid (1989)