OLIVER & Co. 3 1/2 Stars With the voices of Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Joey Lawrence, Cheech Marin, Richard Mulligan, Roscoe Lee Brown and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Directed by George Scribner.
There was a time when the Disney name meant something. For their animated features it meant that they would recieve a wide release, stay as long as theatres would have them, then disappear only to be re-released every five years or so. Very few ever got to videocassette (PINOCCHIO, SLEEPING BEAUTY and ROBIN HOOD were perhaps the only ones), and that's how it was planned.
Then there was a time when the Disney name meant nothing. A period lasting until the mid-'80s, the animated film was dead. (Even 20th Century-Fox tried to revive it with 1982's dreary THE LAST UNICORN.) More mature Disney features like SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and the ahead-of-its-time TRON were also dead on arrival at theatres. But in 1985, the animated film was kickstarted again, by Disney, and in the last years of that decade the company once again began churning out great cartoons. By that time their original animators were gone, so these new attempts by a new breed were enjoyable but after recreating the lost genre they were forgotten, especially after Disney struck gold in '89 with the masterpiece THE LITTLE MERMAID. Disney soon changed it's ways and began releasing it's "classics" to videocassette for even more commercial success. 1987's unmemorable THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE was the least of the three forgotten '80s films, yet it earned a brief theatrical and video release in 1991. But what about the other two?
To my astonishment, the Disney company has now decided to re-release 1988's fun, funny OLIVER & COMPANY to theatres, then presumably to videotape for all kids to enjoy. This is a sweet re-telling of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist", re-set to present day New York City with an animal cast. Abandoned kitten Oliver (Lawrence) finds life to be a little more fun when he teams up with the street-smart Dodger (Joel), the excitable chihuahua Tito (Marin), the pampered Georgette (Midler), dumb-dog Einstein (Mulligan), the classy Francis (Brown) and the tough-talking Rita (Brown).
I saw this enjoyable family comedy on it's initial release eight years ago, and I think it's about time everyone saw it, probably for the first time. However, the slight downfall (especially in the era of Disney's TOY STORY, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH) is that the animation is not the best. It's just a hair above Saturday morning cartoon level. But just forget about that and enjoy.
Now, when is Disney going to re-release my favorite of the forgotten trio, 1985's ambitious (and undeniably frightening) sword-and-sorcery epic THE BLACK CAULDRON???? I can't wait. Mild violence.