Oliver & Company
Rated G, 73 min. Directed by George Scribner. Starring Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin, Richard Mulligan, Roscoe Lee Browne, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Dom Deluise, Taureen Blaque, Robert Loggia, Bette Midler.
There's a lot right with this updated version of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, in which abandoned kitty Oliver (Lawrence) falls in with a streetwise band of canine pickpockets in Manhattan. Billy Joel (who performs a song early in the movie) makes a very respectable movie debut, lending his voice to the production as the fast-talking leader of the pack, Dodger. Dom DeLuise, his voice drooping with style, plays Fagin, the sadsack human “patron” of the group, with world-weary resignation. The Divine Miss M. is deliciously campy as the voice of a pampered poodle who controls the Park Avenue household that adopts Oliver. Cheech Marin gives the film some local color with his spunky interpretation of a likeable but hyperactive Chihuahua. So what's wrong with Disney's 27th full-length animated feature? Its biggest problem is that it's too short -- a cheap shot, I suppose, given the high cost of animated features. But the point is Disney's always prided itself on sparing no expense for the sake of a good story, and this one's pretty skimpy: The characters, though colorful, are not fleshed out, and the doggy pickpockets' milieu is given short shrift in favor of the show-off computer animation techniques that surround the villain Sykes (Loggia) and his digs. Worse, the movie suffers from a subtle but crucial failure to engage. The evil here, personified by Sykes, is pedestrian; He's too ugly and too mean to be really frightening. Danger's never clear and present, but rather a convention. Simply put, Oliver & Company didn't work for me not because I'm many years past my sixth birthday but because it never scared me into forgetting that fact. ///Excerpted from Marie Mahoney's Austin Chronicle review than ran when the movie was originally released.
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