Yup … for two weeks in a row, the Saturday Morning Cartoons post title is a villain quote.
Oliver & Company (1988) is Disney’s animated and “animaled” take on Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (if you must indulge in the Dickens canon, this is probably the way to go). Oliver the abandoned kitten meets Dodger, the streetwise stray, and joins his band of canine thieves for a series of adventures in New York City. With this film, Disney also returns to the tradition of sprinkling full-out musical numbers throughout the movie for the first time since 1981’s The Fox and the Hound (having hired vocal talent like Billy Joel and Bette Midler, it only makes sense). Oliver is also the last movie to be released by the animation studio before the advent of the so-called “Disney Renaissance” of the 1990s, which kicked off the following year with the release of The Little Mermaid.
The voice actors in this film are rather unique to this movie in that most of them are taking their first (and, for some, only) dives into the Disney canon. There are some big names among this cast–it’s one of the first to feature some true superstars voicing the characters. Among them, we have Dom DeLuise (Fagin), Robert Loggia (Sykes), and Roscoe Lee Browne (Francis–the bulldog we meet as he’s watching Macbeth through television static). Browne is known a little more recently for Dear God (1996–my favourite of his roles), Babe (1995–in which he served as the narrator), and Disney’s Treasure Planet (2002).
My favourite member of the pack is Rita, and she’s played by Sheryl Lee Ralph, who fittingly was also the first woman to graduate from Rutgers College at age 19 (thanks, IMDb.com). Frankly, that makes her awesome by default.
The voice of Tito, the iconic Chihuahua, is–you guessed it–Cheech Marin. Billy Joel plays the infamous Dodger (yeah, it’s pretty perfect casting). Oliver is a young Joey Lawrence. Then, of course, there is Bette Midler playing Georgette the Poodle.
The voice talent may be a little new to Disney, but we do revisit some classic characters in one scene: Jock, Peg, and Trusty from Lady and the Tramp (1955) have a cameo, as does Pongo from 101 Dalmatians (1961).
I love the music in this one, but you never see it in the Disney soundtrack collections. The songs are great: they follow the story, they fit the city, and they’re fun, as every good Disney song should be.
It’s odd. This is one of my favourites, but I find it hard to say as much about this one. I don’t know why. It’s a great movie: funny, well-plotted, and the characters are brilliant. They’re vivid and memorable. And as Erin points out, it has Billy Joel, so you should watch it. It really is reason enough.