Despite the title, Dodger is the most important character in Oliver & Company Somewhat daringly, since he had no relevant experience whatsoever, rock star Billy Joel was cast as the mongrel's voice; the experiment proved to be an astonishing success--"absitively, posolutely", as Dodger himself might remark. It is to Joel that we owe Dodger's other catchphrase, "Chill out, man" (to which some of the fainter-hearted reviewers objected).
One need hardly add that the casting of Joel made Dodger's song "Why Should I Worry?" something special: while many movie songs earn the description "suitable for all ages" simply because they work in context and don't repel anyone too much, this is a good, gusty rendition that could easily have made it as a successful single in its own right.
Supervising animator, Andreas Deja noted in connection with the scruffy yet charismatic mutt that
As noted in the discussion on Oliver, the relationship between Dodger and the kitten provides the movie's essential emotional dynamic, without which the rest of the action would be largely irrelevant. Also of note are the relationships between Oliver, on the other hand, and the gang members, generally including Fagin. Merely to say that Dodger is their leader would be oversimplistic: as the most affirmative personality among them, he is also their focus. It is only when Dodger arrives with the stolen franks that the personalities of the other dogs begin to take on their three dimesional quality: they seem to exists as personalities only insofar as they are reflections of Dodger's own. This is less true of Fagin; however, because the emotional dependence of Fagin on Dodger is so strongly depicted (and explicitly when Dodger has been beaten unconscious by Sykes's Dobermans), we again have this sense that it would be hard to imagine what Fagin would be like--what he would be thinking, what he would be doing--were we to encounter him in Dodger's absence.
It is likewise difficult to imagine what the real Dodger would be like on his own, for a great part of his character is the easy way that he shifts from one surface persona to another, so that, even though he dominates the other characters around him, the personality he presents is nevertheless to a large extent governed by them. We see this most clearly in the early sequence of the film, before he encounters Louie and Oliver. when he is in a setting that would for most people imply urban solitude: the crowded, bustling streets of New York City. But Dodger is not alone here: he is in a constant state of reaction to those around him, drawing their attention to himself through acts of extroversion that are, as it were, in themselves preemptive reactions. He dons and doffs his various personas in what we can describe as a continuous process of social camouflage, even though its purpose seems to be the opposite of concealment. Moreover, he seems to be perfectly conscious of the fact that this is what he is doing--and even of the mental immaturity behind it--as we see slightly later, when he has brought the franks to the gang and is acting the part of brave and resourceful warrior-leader:
Rita: So how'dya do it this time, Dodge baby?
Dodger: Let me tell you Rita, it was tough. Only I could have done it
Tito: Hey, wha' happened, wha' happened? I mean, did you have to fight, huh, huh, did you fight, how many were there?
Dodger: Picture the city. Eighth and Broadway, the crowd's bustlin', the traffic's roaring, the hot dogs are sizzling.
Einstein: I love a story with food in it.
Dodger: Enter Dodger, one cool puppy, not just out for himself but community minded--but he's not the only one out there. Enter the opposition--a greedy, ugly, psychotic monster with razor-sharp claws, dripping fangs. He comes at me, eyes burning. I knew my time had come. Suddenly...
And then, of course, Oliver falls in through the roof of the barge. Although the gang members (Rita excepted--her response is rather different, more like that of a tolerant fellow-parent) have been sufficiently swept into the atmospherics of Dodger's story that their initial reaction to this sudden incursion is panic, it is interesting to notice that none of them really believe the yarn--and Dodger doesn't really intend them to.
The trouble with such assertive superficiality--to which Dodger's flip speechmodes contributes--is that it may become so dominate that the true personality becomes submerged to the point of extinction. The scriptwriters and animators of Oliver & Company must have been very well aware of this pitfall, for it was crucial to the entire enterprise that, at the end, the true Dodger should be dignified in his acceptance of the fact that his pal (now!) Oliver is going to stay uptown while he and the rest of the gang are voluntarily returning to the slums. The solution that the scriptwriters used was to retain rather than discard Dodger's veneer while at the same time supply sufficient clues to the audience so that we knew what was going on under Dodger's self-created surface layer. This was quite a sophisticated treatment of the issue, and required great subtlety in building up our appreciation of Dodger's personality right through the movie--largely through those transformations of his attitude towards and relationship with Oliver.
At the end of the movie we're left with the wonderfully warm feeling that, somewhere out there in the streets of New York City, Dodger is still playing his way through life, surrounded by, if not the gang of followers we've come to know, then another one very like it. In a curious way, we sense that somehow Dodger will never die.
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