Personal Overview: before The Little Mermaid rejuvenated, and to a certain extent revolutionized Disney, in 1989, we got Oliver and Company.
It’s actually a cute idea. It’s a retelling of the Dickens classic Oliver Twist, only the Oliver of the title is a cute kitten, the Artful Dodger is a streetwise dog voiced by superstar musician Billy Joel, Fagin is a down on his luck gambler who owes a scary underworld figure and most of the main roles are dogs. 1980’s New York doubles for 19th century London and it’s been cleaned up and altered to suit the modern younger audience.
With names like Billy Joel, Bette Midler and Ruth Pointer in the voice cast (although Ruth Pointer only performs the singing voice of one of the characters, not the speaking voice) music and songs were going to be a big part of this and they are. Unfortunately there’s nothing particularly memorable.
It’s kind of fun and has everything one would expect from a Disney production of the time, but it’s disposable at the same time and not something you’re going to remember a lot about.
Hero/es: Oliver of course is one, and you do feel for the plucky little kitten who falls in with a gang of thieving dogs and captures a little girl’s heart at the same time. The Dodger is another one that comes out as a hero, initially he tries to swindle Oliver, but comes to like him and winds up putting himself on the line for his friends even when it’s a two on one fight against Sykes' vicious pair of Dobermans. You could also argue that Jenny (the rich little girl who adopts Oliver, and I keep thinking of as Penny, because she reminds me of the girl from The Rescuers) is also a hero of sorts.
Villain/s: Sykes the loan shark fills the role of villain. We don’t really see much of him, but Robert Loggia’s menacing voice and his presence always make the temperature in the room drop a few degrees. His henchdogs; the Dobermans Roscoe and DeSoto, told apart because Roscoe wears a red colour and DeSoto’s is blue, are also good villains as they’re always willing to do their master’s bidding and that usually spells bad news for the heroes.
Cuteness Factor: Oliver himself walks away with this, because who doesn’t love a plucky homeless kitten? He’s also the odd animal out as most of the rest of the non human cast are dogs. Cheech Marin’s cocky Chihuahua Ignacio is sort of cute and comedy relief at the same time.
Animation: like with many of the funny animal cartoons that Disney did from the late 60’s up until the late 80’s there’s nothing special to really recommend Oliver and Company or set it apart. I was actually unaware that it was even a Disney until I started doing this. I thought it may have been one of Sullivan Bluth’s productions, that’s probably not all that surprising because before Don Bluth started his own studio he did work for Disney.
Final Words: it’s inoffensive enough and the time passes quickly as you watch it. It goes a little over the top even for a cartoon, I still can’t work out how Sykes' car ran on train tracks when all the rubber had been stripped from the tires or how Fagin’s scooter got from the train tracks to the supports of the bridge above and it back down again, but then again it is a cartoon and normal logic doesn’t apply. I guess if I can buy a group of talking cats and dogs I can buy that. Not one that’s really gone down in many people’s memories.