The 80’s were a turbulent time for Disney, when they had lost their dominant edge to rising competition from other studios, including their very own Don Bluth! Originally a Disney Animator, Don had left Disney to set up his own ‘Don Bluth Studios’ producing films such as ‘The Land Before Time,’ ‘An American Tail’ and ‘All Dogs Go To Heaven.’
For decades, Disney was ahead of the game and hadn’t really experienced this level of competition before. Following huge financial and commercial flop ‘The Black Cauldron,’ Disney had their work cut-out for them with the subsequent release such as of ‘The Great Mouse Detective.’
You may have read my previous blog about the excellently eccentric “Great Mouse Detective”, but Disney also released a “reflective-of-the-era” adaptation of Charles Dickens Novel ‘Oliver Twist’ – ‘Oliver & Company’ in 1988.
This film brought great promise, and Disney tastefully adapted Dickens to bring the characters to life in the form of a pack of orphaned animal misfits on the streets of 80’s New York.
In an attempt to end their floundering streak of failed films, Disney brought together some of the biggest names, including the voice of 80’s music – Billy “Dodger” Joel, who also delivers some stand-out musical and voice acting performances throughout.
Following the misadventures of tearaway misguided youths, Disney kept true to the
guideline story set by Oliver Twist and introduced Cheech Marin as Tito (with another terrific vocal performance), Richard Mulligan as Einstein the Great Dane, Roscoe Lee Browne as Francis the British Bulldog and Sheryl Lee Ralph as Rita the Afghan Hound.
Disney didn’t disappoint the fans. With every Oliver, comes an equally striking Fagin, this time played by Dom DeLuise! Other vocal talents even included Robert Loggia as the villainous Sykes.
I’ll tell no spoilers as it is shameful to say that many have yet to discover this diamond in New York rough, but I did want to share with you the aspects that make this film quite unmissable.
With music from Huey Lewis, Billy Joel, Ruth Pointer and Bette Midler, this film delivers the most recognisable 80’s atmosphere to any film Disney produced set in this decade. This is also one of the key traits that Disney succeeded with historic films such as “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Jungle Book”, which hadn’t been reflected in “The Great Mouse Detective” or The Black Cauldron” where the characters and voice artists sang the songs.
You can see this in more later films such as “Frozen”. Arguably, despite Tangled having music too, Frozen sold with song over story!
Now it wouldn’t be an MIC blog without clear notice of CG Animation!
Whilst this is not the first-time CG had been used with Disney (there was quite a lot of costly CG in The Black Cauldron and in The Great Mouse Detective), it was never really used to the level that Oliver & Company delivered.
The late 80’s was a transitional phase from traditional cel animation to CG. The last ever cel-animated Disney film was “The Little Mermaid” in 1989. In total, Oliver & Company used about 12 minutes of CG animation to show the landscape, New York skyline, Taxis and some of the pivotal action sequences. Toward the end, you can see the Sykes & Jenny car chase – predominantly designed by CG animation. Following the link below to a full HD version of Billy Joel’s main song ‘Why should I worry,’ you’ll likely notice some of the integration. Look out for the steel girder, cement mixer, piano, all the cars and more … Let us know what you spot.
The recipe was good, big names, top songs and edgy animation land marking a change in CG history, but Bluth was to be the Disney downfall.
Although Oliver & Co did well at the Box Office, “The Land Before Time” was also released to compete and turned out to be one of Don Bluth’s best films. As a result, Disney-branded “Oliver & Co” a huge failure and it’s marketing budget reflected their belief. Oliver was abandoned once again and placed on the shelf to gather dust.
But I feel this is a great shame, that films crafted with the latest technology, setting benchmarks in animated storytelling, can be abandoned to the darkest forgotten corners of your attic and archived into old VHS libraries never to be shown to the next generation for the failings of the transitional 80’s period.
What do you think? Let us know if you love or loathe ‘Oliver and Company’ in the comments. and for those who haven’t seen it yet, here’s the trailer: