OLIVER AND COMPANY (1988):
Written by: Charles Dickens (original story), Vance Gerry, Roger Allers, Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, Dave Michener, Pete Young & Mike Gabriel
This one is odd, comparing it to the rest of the Disney Animated franchise. I mean, “Take a famous story and make them animals” has been done, and “people in modern times” had been done, but the fact that this is so 1980s (with BILLY JOEL playing Dodger, a Tramp-esque character) makes it really stand out- it’s about the only era-specific movie from it’s time period. It’s not a bad movie (I saw it about ten years ago), and I liked it enough as a kid, because it’s got a funny supporting cast of different breeds of dogs playing different roles.
The prissy English Bulldog was funny, and Cheech Marin is always at least a LITTLE amusing, especially playing the runty, lusty Chihuahua. It’s funny to see the notorious Fagin character done up as a down-on-his-luck guy forced into working for a criminal to pay the bills, but considering that the ORIGINAL Fagin from Oliver Twist is literally the most notoriously racist depiction of Jews in the history of fiction (at least… until Mel Gibson did… y’know), I can imagine why Disney would do it- last thing they needed was MORE accusations of antisemitism directed at the company.
It was initially going to be a sequel to The Rescuers, which is why the Jenny characters is basically identical to Penny from that film… but Disney then changed their minds and put a Rescuers sequel out TWO years later.
Dodger is a helpful, energetic, “lovable rogue” kind of character, much like The Tramp before him. He helps out the orphaned, abandoned Oliver, and leads his dog pack against the villains in the end.
About the Performer: UGH. Billy Joel is so notoriously schlock-y that Anthony Bourdain considered it an instant firing if someone played his music in one of his kitchens. He’s a notorious ’80s figure, not really respected, but Piano Bars have been playing “Piano Man” ever since it came out. It’s really, REALLY cheesy stuff, though “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is endearingly catchy. Joel was a HUGE star in the ’80s, but is mostly a relic after that point- somewhat iconic to the whole “Dopey musician can marry anyone he likes”, having married CHRISTINE BRINKLEY during her modeling prime in the decade, though the marriage wasn’t especially long.
Sykes is a mostly-forgettable villain, I thought, though I still remember that scene where he chokes Fagin using the car window (it suddenly came back to me while scoping out Sykes’ images- I was like “HOLY SHIT I REMEMBER THAT!”- keep in mind, it’d been probably close to twenty years since I’d seen the picture by that point). He’s a dirty, rotten loan shark, and only drops Fagin’s debt when Sykes figures to kidnap Jenny for ransom.
An intimidating figure with a lot of “quiet menace” to him (especially considering he’s a balding guy with glasses), Sykes is nonetheless one of the least-memorable Disney Canon villains.
About the Performer: Known to young people today largely because of a “Family Guy” gag about him spelling out his name, Robert Loggia was in a TON of stuff, appearing in “An Officer and a Gentleman”, “Scarface”, and “Independence Day”. A burly guy with a thick New York accent, he played a lot of toughs.
Reception & Cultural Impact:
In the overall scheme of Disney films, Oliver and Company important because it and The Great Mouse Detective were a Proof of Concept to Disney Studios that Feature-Length Animation was worth keeping around in the glut of Don Bluth-animated movies that were kicking Disney’s ass- it would be the last film made before The Disney Renaissance, which started with 1989’s The Little Mermaid.
And speaking of The Rescuers Down Under…
THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER (1990):
Written by: Margery Sharp (Original Books), Jim Cox, Karey Kirkpatrick, Byron Simpson & Joe Ranft
This movie is odd for the reasons mentioned earlier- an actual SEQUEL to a canonical movie, and the fact that it’s oddly inserted into the Disney Renaissance, the period started after The Little Mermaid came out and REALLY supercharged Disney’s fortunes. So it sticks out a fair bit, and is altogether pretty well forgotten in Disney history, but it’s actually a pretty solid film. George C. Scott hams it up to HIGH HEAVEN as your stereotypical Evil Poacher, the animals are funny, and despite being much brighter than The Rescuers, it still gets a little dark thematically when you consider it deals with endangered species.
In this film, Cody is an intrepid Australian boy (with no accent whatsoever) who is trapped by McLeach for trying to rescue Marahute, the giant Great Golden Eagle that McLeach is hunting (I guess for money, but mostly just FOR EVIL). Bernard & Bianca are chosen for the mission, being the best agents around by this point, while Bernard is trying to work up the nerve to propose. He’s temporarily C-blocked by their Australian contact, a brave and fighty Kangaroo Rat, but everything works out in the end (curiously, in the novels, it’s kept clear than Bianca could never marry someone of Bernard’s lower social status).
Cody is the Kid Protagonist of The Rescuers Down Under, and helps rescue Marahute, but then gets captured by the evil poacher McLeach, and himself needs to be rescued. Despite being Aussie, he has no discernible accent, likely because the animators just wanted the best actors available, and no good Australian ones applied. He’s remarkably gifted for a small child (he deduces that McLeach is a poacher quite easily, and rescues a few animals by himself, including SCALING A GIANT CLIFF, which is some Tom Cruise-level stuff), but is too small to be any good in a fight.
As one of the more awesome-looking creatures in Disney mythos, Marahute is kinda underrated. It’s inevitable though, since she couldn’t talk (despite Albatrosses being able to…). This totally majestic animal still annoyed me as a kid though, because she was clearly WAY too big to be a real animal. My mom insisted that she just looked big because Cody was such a little boy, but even then, I was like “no way”- this thing has a wingspan well beyond 20 feet, and is WAY bigger than any eagle that has ever lived- even the Haast’s Eagle wasn’t so massive. They call it a “Great Golden Eagle”, which may imply it to be a different species, and since this is a world with talking animals I feel less beholden to the laws of the natural world, so I care less about it these days.
There’s something utterly glorious about an actor that is truly hamming it up with great skill, and having the time of their life doing it. This is what George C. Scott (from Patton) is doing as McLeach, the “Captain Planet Villain”-styled poacher who’s the villain of this little tale. While hardly competent, he’s a nasty bastard who REALLY seems to enjoy being evil, up to and including grabbing a young boy, trying to be friendly to bluff him, then ACTIVELY threatening and trying to murder him when the little punk learns too much. And he has THE GREATEST TRUCK EVER- seriously, I thought that thing was SO FREAKING RAD when I first saw it at nine years old- I think every super-villain should have a truck like that.
About the Performer: George S. Scott is by far most famous for playing the title role in “Patton”, which featured the iconic line “Rommel, you magnificent bastard- I’ve read your BOOK!”. He was also in “Dr. Strangelove”, in which Stanley Kubrick had him do “rehearsals” in a hugely-campy manner (Scott refused to play the role that way)… then used the campy cut every single time, pissing Scott off thoroughly.
Reception & Cultural Impact:
The movie did very poorly in theaters, and is the lowest-grossing film of the Disney Renaissance (to the point where most people don’t even include it, despite it coming out AFTER The Little Mermaid). Opening the same weekend as Home Alone, it was absolutely CRUSHED at the box office, causing Jeffrey Katzenberg to pull all advertising almost instantly- the film floundered a lot as a result of this cold-hearted move.
It’s rather forgettable in light of the great (and crap) movies that surround it, but I agree with The Nostalgia Critic- it’s underrated and deserves a bit more hype. It’s also the first fully-digital animated film ever produced (using computer coloring instead of hand-painted cels). It’s also Eva Gabor’s final film, as she died very shortly after its release.