From the late '70s through the '80s, the Disney company had put out several fine films, some of them were even modest hits. But nothing from Disney had come along and wowed audiences in a big way until OLIVER & COMPANY. Based loosely on Charles Dickens' immortal Oliver Twist, OLIVER & COMPANY had more energy than any Disney film since 101 DALMATIANS, and more heart than anything since THE FOX AND THE HOUND. It's "street savoir faire", bouncy soundtrack and cast of quirky characters caught audiences by surprise, and they responded by making it the animated sleeper hit of 1988. The film out-performed both previous Disney films THE BLACK CAULDRON and THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE combined, as well as beating out the other big animated offering of the year, THE LAND BEFORE TIME.
Set in modern day New York City, OLIVER & COMPANY has some family resemblance to 101 DALMATIANS, THE ARISTOCATS and THE RESCUERS, completely different from the more lush, classical style of THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. The use of stars in the cast also hearken back to those films, but the approach is different. Film and television personalities still populate the cast of OLIVER & COMPANY, but not for the sake of novelty as in THE JUNGLE BOOK and other Disney films. This time around, the stars were chosen to fit the characters, rather than the other way around. Joey Lawrence, Roscoe Lee Brown, Bette Midler, Robert Loggia and Cheech Marin all fit their characters perfectly and Billy Joel is the most surprising as the street-smart Oliver the Dog. If he didn't already have a lucrative career as a pop singer and songwriter, Joel could carve out a nice niche for himself doing voice work as wiseguy New Yorkers. Comedian Dom DeLuise, never known as the master of subtlety, creates a believable and sympathetic Fagin, a poor street hood who wouldn't hurt a fly but is in debt to a mobster and sees no way out except to kidnap the kitten Oliver from his rich owners.
With a rousing finale featuring a car chase on subway tracks, several snappy and well choreographed production numbers, a beautifully stylized depiction of life in New York City, and a solid cast of characters and voice talent, OLIVER & COMPANY ranks as the best G-Rated Disney cartoon since THE FOX AND THE HOUND and arguably the best since 101 DALMATIANS. - JB