DVD Review HTF DVD Review: Oliver & Company: 20th Anniversary Edition

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Neil Middlemiss, Feb 15, 2009.

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  1. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    [​IMG]
    Oliver & Company
    20th Anniversary Edition





    Studio: Walt Disney
    Year: 1988
    US Rating: G - General Audiences.
    Film Length: 74 Mins
    Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
    Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, French and Spanish Language Tracks
    Subtitles: French and Spanish




    US Release Date: February 3, 2009
    Review Date: February 15, 2009

    The Film - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    “You're all right, kid, for a cat. We'll keep a spot open in the gang for ya. Vice president, uptown chapter. ”

    Walt Disney’s 1988 animated musical Oliver & Company based on Charles Dickens’ interminable classic tale, Oliver Twist, has Oliver as an abandoned orange kitten, lost in the vastness of modern (late 80’s) New York City. Alone, he stumbles into a canine street gang led by the confident Dodger, a mongrel with considerable ‘street savoir-faire”. The gang is filled with eclectic, well-meaning thieves; there’s Tito, an energetic Chihuahua, Einstein a Great Dane with a distinct lack of great intelligence, Frankie, a theatrically minded, proud and civil British bulldog and Rita, a smooth Saluki. Their human owner is the poor pickpocket Fagin, a kind and simple fool in debt to a gruff, hulking loan shark, Sykes.

    Fagin must repay Sykes for a loan within three days or suffer the consequences. When the gang of dogs, with their new orange kitten friend in tow, attempt a ruse on a limousine, things do not go smoothly and young Oliver is taken home by the rich young passenger, Jennie Foxworth. Oliver is treated to Jenny’s love and kindness, but. Mistakenly, his newfound gang friends ‘rescue’ him from the comfort of the Foxworth residence. This kicks off a sequence of events that involves kidnapping, ransom and danger to the entire street gang.

    When Oliver & Company opened, it had been 7 years since Disney had released an animated theatrical feature with musical numbers, as they tried to adapt to the changing audience desires in that decade. They would eventually find the right balance into the 1990’s, but in all honesty, the 80’s were a tough decade for the kingdom of magic. Beyond their efforts to produce films that captured the imaginations of audiences, as they had done for decades before, they faced growing outward threats from others producing animated features. Don Bluth’s wonderful The Land Before Time even opened the same day as Oliver & Company in the United States (and handily out-grossed it. An American Tail had become a beloved film. Times were indeed tough, as was the competition.

    Oliver & Company works okay as an ensemble of fun characters, but as a fun story peppered with Disney’s magic touch, it is missing several critical elements. Notably, the musical numbers are flat. Not just musically, but the animation that expresses them is uneven. For example, our introduction to the snobbish poodle, Georgette, despite having the voice talents of Bette Midler, lacks pizzazz. Only the final moment of that song, where the use of computer animation enhances Georgette’s proud strut down the spiral stairs, delivers the familiar fun and playfulness of which all musical numbers like this should be endowed. The dated, 1980’s soundtrack doesn’t help with its longevity either. But the most disappointing ingredient is the development of the Oliver character. When compared to Littlefoot from The Land Before Time and Fievel from An American Tail, young ones in similar dire situations who we empathize with closely and become emotionally invested in their struggle, Oliver just isn’t developed enough. We follow his woes in the big city at the movies opening, lost among the rain and fast moving feet and cars of the city, but don’t really feel for him. We see none of his sadness and feel none of his fears which robs us of our caring that much.

    The main strength of this film comes from the voice talent. Joey Lawrence as young Oliver is exactly what you expect to find, cute and innocent. Billy Joel carries off the self-assured Dodger nicely and adds energy to several songs, particularly the Golden Globe nominated “Why Should I Worry?” Fagin is voiced by Dom DeLuise, though he isn’t given any great material to work with for his shtick. Cheech Marin stands out as the full of zip Ignacio Alonzo Julio Federico de Tito (Tito for short). He has the best lines and the best moments. Francis the Bulldog is voiced by the wonderful Roscoe Lee Browne, Einstein is voiced by the heavy bass talent of Richard Mulligan, Sheryl Lee Ralph as Rita, Natalie Gregory as the young Foxworth girl, Jenny and Robert Loggia as the vicious loan shark, Sykes. A good, solid cast of voice talents.

    For this animated tale, Disney, after having experimented with computer generated imagery in certain sequences for both The Great Mouse Detective and The Black Cauldron, made more extensive use of it here. It’s particularly effective for Sykes’ car as the camera moves around the car at headlight level. The cabs and trucks of New York’s bustling streets along with the skyscrapers (outside of the background shots) are computer generated as well. The animation style, reminiscent of earlier works like Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians and others, is a strange bedfellow to the smoother CGI. But overall this was a positive sign for Disney dipping more than just its toes into computer animation realm.




    The Video- [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Oliver & Company’s 20th Anniversary Edition is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio and is enhanced for widescreen televisions. This is a fussy transfer, with softness pervading throughout and noise in the image. It isn’t that great of a transfer, and one that is in serious need of a proper remastering. And to celebrate this 20th anniversary release, that would certainly have been in order here. Tiny dust and specks are noticeable in lighter colors onscreen and the black levels are a little murky, especially in the barge home of Fagan and his canine crew.

    Colors aren’t as bright either, though Oliver’s orange and Jenny’s bright orange hair and outfits are quite prominent. It all seems drained, unimpressive which does not match the effort of other anniversary releases from Disney from the past few years and that makes it all disappointing.




    The Sound - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound option is very front focused. There is little to be found by way of directional effects or the surrounding music that the ambient city sounds from the New York City setting is ripe for. Dodger’s voice has an echo to it that does not fit the settings his character is in at all times. The rest of the voices are fine, focused in the center channel and most of the rest of the audio comes from the front channels. This audio lacks the balance of good bass, noticeable during the musical numbers more than at any other time. But the tinny quality detracts from what should have been a rich and full audio track. Disappointing.


    The Extra's - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Games & Activities
    All New! Oliver’s Big City Challenge Game - Complete three tasks, choosing a member of the street gang to help you, such as securing some hot dogs (by counting the number of hot dogs on the sidewalk) to win.

    Backstage Disney
    The Making of Oliver & Company – (5:31) An old feature made prior to Oliver & Company’s theatrical release. A dated promo piece.

    Disney’s Animated Animals– (1:28) – Another dated featurette created prior to the films theatrical re-release. Quality is mostly poor and of very limited value.

    Oliver & Company Scrapbook – Navigate through images, from concept art to story and character development. Select any of the images to enlarge them with you remote.

    Publicity Materials – Check out trailers and TV spots:
    - Original Theatrical Trailer (1988)
    - TV Spot (1989)
    - Rerelease Trailer (1996)
    - “Return of a Classic”

    Fun Film Facts – Page through 10 slides of written facts about the inspiration and making of Oliver & Company.


    Shorts
    Academy Award-Winning “Lend A Paw” Animated Short - (8:08) – Pluto rescues a kitten and saves the day.

    “Puss Cafe” Animated Short - (7:09) – Pluto and friends have an adventure.

    Music & More
    Sing-Along Songs - Sing along with “Why Should I Worry” and “Streets of Gold” from the film as the song plays and the lyrics appear onscreen.



    Final Thoughts

    Oliver & Company remains a middling entry in Disney’s animated feature library. It isn’t particularly exciting, doesn’t tug at the heart strings and doesn’t give you the ability to invest enough in the struggles and strife’s (and therefore the triumphs) of the characters. Individually, the characters that make up Fagin’s gang are interesting, even funny, but they are given too little to do and too modest an amount of time to excite as an ensemble of misfits. In the 20 years since this feature bowed, the animation landscape has gone through a revolution, but this effort, among the last set of traditional animation films, will not long be remembered as a favorite.


    Overall Score - [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Neil Middlemiss
    Kernersville, NC
     
  2. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Producer

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    I agree that this isn't a particularly good transfer, but it's actually an improvement over the original DVD from 2000. Not sure why it couldn't have been an even bigger step up...
     
  3. Chris S

    Chris S Cinematographer

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    Thanks for the review!

    There is an argument to be made here that it is Oliver & Company, and not its successor The Little Mermaid, that really started the upswing in animated titles through the 1990s. It's too bad that Disney didn't see fit to really do this release justice. I'll be giving it a rental before making a buying decision.
     
  4. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Producer

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    Yup. I discuss the perception in my review:

    "Mermaid remains one of Disney’s crown jewels, whereas Oliver seems largely forgotten by the public at large. So Mermaid must have blown away Oliver at the box office, right?

    Wrong. During its initial theatrical release, Mermaid indeed took in more money than did Oliver, but the differences don’t appear vast. Mermaid made $84 million during its first theatrical run, while Oliver took home $73 million. That’s not exactly an enormous gap.

    However, the perception of Mermaid as a classic that inaugurated a new era remains strong, despite the fiscal realities. Personally, I think there’s a good reason for that. While I don’t think Mermaid offers the absolutely best of Disney, it continues to hold up well and it certainly seems much stronger than other animated flicks Disney produced in the prior 20 years. That includes the relentlessly bland Oliver, a movie so flat that it continually reminded me what a significant achievement Mermaid really was."

    And that's why I think "Mermaid" is viewed as the launch of the Disney upswing: it's good, and "Oliver" isn't. "Oliver" was a hit at the box office, but it still felt like part of the mediocrity that ruled Disney animation for so long...
     
  5. Todd Erwin

    Todd Erwin Cinematographer
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    "Oliver & Company" was released on the heels of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which I think added to this film's financial success, and it was "Roger Rabbit," along with "Oliver & Co," that ushered in the animation renaissance of the 1990s. True, the animation here is not as slick as later Disney features, but if it were not for these two movies, the studio would not have loosened its purse-strings and increased the budgets on films like "Little Mermaid."

    However, for me, this film has never looked great, even in its original theatrical release and subsequent re-release. I remember this movie always looking kind of drab, which may have been the filmmakers intention, as this is a rather dark story set in modern-day NYC.
     
  6. Dick

    Dick Producer
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    It would be nice with recent releases such as this and ARISTOCATS, SWORD IN THE STONE, etc. if Disney would just give us the f**king definitive special editions, including well-produced documentaries, lots of photo galleries, commentary track and trailers. But, no, they keep giving us minor upgrades aimed at young children, ignoring completely the countless thousands/millions of adult fans who want to know more about the making of these films. To add insult to injury, these are (so far) not being offered in the Blu-ray format.
     
  7. Craig Beam

    Craig Beam Screenwriter

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    I highly doubt "countless thousands/millions of adult fans" are terribly concerned about second-tier Disney efforts like The Aristocats or Oliver & Company. Of course, I have no actual stats to back that up... but neither do you, right? Not every film is deserving of "the f**king definitive special edition" approach and, in Disney's case, I'd argue that they generally go all-out for the right films and the lesser titles... well, not so much. If you're actually insulted or injured by this.... wow, man.

    Did anybody actually expect Disney to release Oliver & Company on Blu-ray at this point in time?
     
  8. Malcolm R

    Malcolm R Executive Producer

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    I agree. I saw it in theaters and it looked pretty drab and soft even then.

    I also agree that it tends to get ignored regarding its place in the resurgence of Disney animation in the late 1980's. If this film had bombed, we might never have seen the Mermaids, Lions, Beauties and Beasts. [​IMG]
     
  9. Jon Martin

    Jon Martin Cinematographer

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    I was happy with this DVD release. One thing about the look of the film, it is supposed to represent NY City in the pre-Guiliani 80's. As I wrote, the animation is very gritty, closer to Ralph Bakshi (who the director of this worked for) than it is to later Disney.

    And the comparisons with LITTLE MERMAID, the one difference between the two, OLIVER has a collection of pop songs from a variety of different writers. LITTLE MERMAID would begin the trend of having a consistent score, closer to Broadway than MTV.
     
  10. Chuck Pennington

    Chuck Pennington Supporting Actor

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    I find it odd that the packaging notes that this release makes a point of exclaiming "new digital mastering" when the source appears to be exactly the same for this and the 2002 DVD release! The same grittiness, color timing (aside from only the slightest variation that can be attributed to the new encode), and odd print anomalies (check out the scene the last frame capture below was taken from - the image is very foggy for a few shots, especially the last fade out, which was an optical) that were a part of the last release are still here. The framing is almost exact, the new release removing a sliver of picture info from the top while adding a sliver at the bottom. In all, it appears the same master was used but a "new digital mastering" was made of it (i.e. a fresh encode). Perhaps this is as good as it gets, but I doubt it. Something can be done about a few scenes to improve things, especially the scene at 1:06:36 (unless it is supposed to look so milky and foggy).

    The one thing I can say is better that the opening few minutes of the film that were interlaced on the last release are now progressive. That makes this new disc a definite improvement as far as the authoring goes, but that's it.


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