"Oliver and Company" is a somewhat interesting case in recent Disney history. The film did terrifically in theaters when it was released in 1988, raking in seventy-three million dollars. It was also one of the first major animated features to integrate computer work into the animation. Yet, the film doesn't seem like one of the more talked-about of Disney's efforts from the time period, although that's likely in large part due to the fact that the video has only been released after what was likely one of Disney's planned out-of-print stretches that seem to effect every title they release at some point. The film also lead off the Disney era that included a string of considerably bigger hits, including "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 Laurence). 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.
Certainly, this isn't Disney's finest work, but I still find it basically entertaining. The story is simple, the characters way too familiar, but there's an energy that keeps the film kicking. 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 cliched, performers like Marin and Middler add enough touches and have enough moments to make them memorable.
As for the animation, it's simply fair. 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" will likely never be remebered as fondly as many of Disney's other efforts, it's a cute film that has its moments and some catchy tunes, such as "Why Should I Worry?".
VIDEO: Disney presents "Oliver and Company" in a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. While Disney's older animated titles usually have gotten fine treatment, I have to say that this new edition of "Oliver and Company" fell somewhat short of my expectations. The film's animation is inconsistent, going from striking sequences showing the city streets to rather flat and somewhat primitive scenes. 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. The film has a consistent layer of noticable grain that was often minimal, but could become more mild and bothersome in other scenes. The print was not entirely without wear, either, as a few specks were noticed. No pixelation or edge enhancement were noticed, though.
Colors looked fine, if not expectional. The film's color palette could occasionally look bright and vivid, but a little more subdued on occasion. This is certainly a respectable presentation, but I was expecting image quality that was somewhat smoother. English Subtitles.
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. French and Spanish 2.0 tracks are also provided.
MENUS: The DVD includes an animated menu that's fairly basic, with a few clips from the film going at once. Sub-menus are not animated, but have the score in the background.
EXTRAS: While called a Special Edition, the title doesn't contain the level of extras that most major (and some minor) Disney animated titles have provided. For example, there is no commentary from the animators and only a couple of short featurettes are included.
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.
Sneak Peeks: "Sneak Peek" trailers for other Disney titles: "Beauty and the Beast", "Lilo & Stitch", "Snow Dogs", "Return to Neverland", "Max Keeble's Big Move", "Air Bud", "Monsters, Inc." and "Teamo Supremo".
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".
Final Thoughts: While "Oliver and Company" is one of the studio's lesser animated efforts, it's still entertaining enough in spots to make it worthwhile viewing. Disney's DVD edition is decent, as I was expecting more in terms of both presentation and supplements. Recommended for fans.
The Film ***