Though The Little Mermaid is generally considered the turning point in the fortunes of Disney animation toward films that were more innovative, involving, and tuneful, there actually were glimmers of the great things to come in the animated film that preceded it, George Scribner’s Oliver and Company. With a score featuring some marvelous swing, genuinely funny characters involved in a tale that held one’s interest and moved well, and outstanding animation with early uses of computers to generate intricate backgrounds, Oliver and Company deserved its popularity at the time and makes for surprisingly entertaining viewing today.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Run Time: 1 Hr. 14 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVDkeep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 08/06/2013
Orphan kitten Oliver (Joey Lawrence) meets up with a gang of mongrel dogs led by the slick Dodger (Billy Joel) who take orders from street vagrant Fagin (Dom DeLuise). Fagin is in deep debt to master criminal Sykes (Robert Loggia) and has his dogs scouring New York looking for items of value he can pawn to repay his debt. But Oliver gets picked up and adopted by wealthy little girl Jenny (Natalie Gregory), and the dogs think they might be able to squeeze some money from her family for Fagin, but before they can hatch a scheme, Sykes kidnaps the girl himself with the idea of holding her for ransom. Now Oliver and his dog pals unite to come to Jenny’s aid in an attempt to rescue her and foil Sykes.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
While ostensibly based on some characters and situations from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the similarities are more ephemeral with Oliver and Company often going in its own direction. The mongrel dog gang’s members have their own distinct personalities (voiced by the likes of Cheech Marin, Roscoe Lee Browne, Richard Mulligan, and Sheryl Lee Ralph in addition to Billy Joel) that give them quite an edge over the original story’s more homogeneous gang. And their antagonists are a nasty trio: not only Sykes but his two vicious Doberman guard dogs (voiced menacingly by Taurean Blacque and Carl Weintraub) who make more than adequately frightening adversaries. Director George Scribner has paced the action remarkably well in the film with almost no scenes where interest flags or the forward momentum of the narrative peters away, and that’s a tremendous improvement from many of Disney’s animated efforts from the previous fifteen years.
The songs, each strong individually, are all by different hands so that there isn’t the consistent style or tone to them that one finds in, say, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, or The Lion King. Still, the movie gets off to a terrific start with “Once Upon a Time in New York City” swung with great verve by Huey Lewis on the soundtrack, and he’s matched every step of the way with Dodger’s expository theme “Why Should I Worry?” which follows, sung with wonderful style and sass by Billy Joel. And there are two more jivin’ items: “Streets of Gold” which Ruth Pointer sings for Sheryl Lee Ralph (not sure exactly why; Ralph is a Tony-nominated musical actress from the original Dreamgirls company) and the hilarious ode to her own magnificence “Perfect Isn’t Easy” sung by Bette Midler as Jenny’s pampered and envious poodle Georgette. Jenny has a more sedate little ditty “Good Company,” and the film ends on a high note with another rockin’ anthem “Fast Lane.”
The voice cast is amazing for the movie and ranks among the best line-ups in the entire Disney canon. While Cheech Marin probably steals all of the mongrel scenes with his streetwise chihuahua Tito, all of the voice work is tops, and Robert Loggia does so well as the malicious Sykes that he makes a case for earning a worthy place among the great Disney villains.
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The animation is impressive throughout the film, and the resolution really brings out the intricacies of the artwork without any fear of aliasing. Color is quite strong throughout and never blooms. There may have been just the slightest hint of banding early on, but it would rank as a minor problem at best. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is surprisingly active for an animated film from this period. There is sound effects activity split between the speakers in the front and rear and some pans across the soundstage that are impressive. Music gets wonderfully channeled throughout the available speakers and sounds marvelously rich and full. Dialogue is always completely discernible and has been placed in the center channel.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
The Making of Oliver and Company (5:31, SD): a brief behind-the-scenes look at the film’s 2 ½ year production schedule with sound bites from Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Huey Lewis, and director George Scribner along with comments from Roy Disney and animator Glen Keane on the use of computers to aid in background animation.
Special Features Rating: 2.5/5
Disney’s Animated Animals (1:29, SD): an über-brief rundown of the memorable animal characters who have appeared in Disney’s (then) twenty-seven animated features.
Lend a Paw (8:08, SD): the 1941 Oscar-winning short with Mickey and Pluto
Puss Café (7:10, SD): the 1950 Pluto cartoon
Trailers and Spot Ads (SD): a TV spot ad (0:32), the theatrical trailer (1:33), and the 1996 reissue trailer (1:40).
Return of a Classic (1:59, SD): a trailer announcing the rerelease of the film to theaters.
Sing Along With the Film: turns on the subtitles only for the song portions of the movie.
Promo Trailers (HD): Heroes United, The Little Mermaid, Planes, Super Buddies
DVD Copy: included in the package
Oliver and Company released originally in 1988 marked a distinct improvement in the quality of Disney animated features and looks and sounds wonderful on this new Blu-ray release.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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