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Oliver & Company(1988)
This contemporary re-telling of Charles Dickens' classic story follows the misadventures of an orphaned kitten who is taken in by a pack of pickpocket dogs, headed by Dodger, the coolest quadruped in Manhattan and their human master, Fagin. When a little girl from Fifth Avenue finds Oliver and takes him uptown to live among the swells, Fagin's evil boss, Sykes steps in and kidnaps the pair. His nasty plan to keep Oliver from having his customary nine lives is foiled however, when the ransomed kitty's "Bow-wow-wow"-ery buddies decide to use their street savoir faire in order to rescue their feline friend!
For more about Oliver & Company and the Oliver & Company Blu-ray release, see Oliver & Company Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 2, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Joey Lawrence, Cheech Marin, Bette Midler, Robert Loggia, Dom DeLuise, Richard Mulligan
Director: George Scribner
» See full cast & crew
Oliver & Company Blu-ray Review
"Perfect Isn't Easy..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 2, 2013
Thanks to the August 6th Blu-ray debuts of The Sword in the Stone (1963), Robin Hood (1973) and Oliver & Company (1988), only fourteen theatrically released Disney Animated Classics remain, two of which -- The Little Mermaid and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh -- are already set to arrive later this year. It's hard to believe that just five years ago the beautifully remastered release of Sleeping Beauty (followed by Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 2009) hinted at a then faraway, now closer than ever future in which Disney's entire animated features canon is available in high definition. No, the Mouse House hasn't always led fans and purists down the smoothest of restoration roads (The Fox and the Hound), but it's been an exciting journey with far more peaks than valleys, and 2015 looks to be the year that it reaches its long-awaited end. For now, though, completists have a new batch of classics to enjoy, the most underwhelming being Oliver & Company, a cute but mangy mutt next to the prize-winning Disney Renaissance pure breeds that would follow.
New York City. To an orphaned kitten named Oliver (voiced by Joey Lawrence), it's a jungle of speeding taxis and steel skyscrapers, and fresh food and a warm place to sleep aren't exactly easy to come by. Until, that is, little Oliver meets streetwise pup Dodger (Billy Joel), a scavenger and smalltime thief owned by a petty crook named Fagin (Dom DeLuise) who owns a number of former strays: bulldog Francis (Roscoe Lee Browne), Saluki Rita (Sheryl Lee Ralph), Great Dane Einstein (Richard Mulligan), and feisty chihuahua Tito (Cheech Marin). After running a few scams with Dodger and the other dogs, Oliver is taken in by a lonely but wealthy young girl named Jenny (Natalie Gregory), whose faithful family butler Winston (William Glover) cares for her whenever her parents travel abroad. Jenny owns a dog, spoiled poodle Georgette (Bette Midler), but sweet, selfless Oliver is more the kind of friend and companion she's been longing for. It isn't long, though, before Fagin tries to take advantage of Oliver's new digs, kidnapping Oliver and holding him for ransom; a plan that goes south when Jenny shows up to retrieve her kitten, only to be kidnapped herself by Fagin's heartless loan shark Sykes (Robert Loggia).
At a wooden and episodic 74-minutes, Oliver & Company isn't just one of the shortest Disney animated theatrical features, it's one of its flattest. It's also a rickety musical, a stilted comedy, and a rather rote, paper-thin adaptation of Dickens' "Oliver Twist." Did I mention the animation is more direct-to-video than big screen event? Now before anyone feels the need to spring to poor little orphan Oliver's defense, the film isn't an out-and-out failure. Joey Lawrence and Billy Joel hold their own in an otherwise unremarkable voice cast, Dom DeLuise is always a welcome personality (his wiry Fagin boasts a lil' bit of greed, a few good intentions, and a whole lotta redemption tucked under his cap), and as family friendly talking animal capers go, there's a nice life lesson mixed in with all the singing, dancing and ransoming. So a failure? No. If nothing else, the film has plenty of heart, and heart can go a long way. It's just a decidedly frail and flimsy effort that pales in comparison to the sweeping adventures and moving coming-of-age tales on which Disney continues to build its (admittedly) sometimes shaky reputation.
It doesn't help that Oliver & Company feels rudderless. With post-Nine Old Men Disney animator turned first-time director George Scribner at the wheel, a barrel-scraping budget, and a script that delivers neither big thrills nor big laughs, the studio's 27th animated feature scampers from one back-alley encounter to the next, slapping together a kidnapping plot and animal-mounted rescue that "borrows" scenes and storylines from The Rescuers' pockets. (No surprise considering the film was initially developed as a Rescuers sequel.) Then there's the desperately colorful dialogue, light but lazy laughs, and slippery stereotyping -- New York, 1988, Cheech Marin; you do the math -- none of which resonate or whip up a sustainable smile. Yes, young kids will giggle, nostalgic thirtysomethings will pine for their childhoods, and less cynically minded parents will enjoy Oliver and Dodger's lighthearted, inner city misadventures in classism and poverty. (Up by your boot straps, Ollie! You can do it!) And yet between all the off-the-leash filler, stray-dog songs, neutered animation and all-bark, no-bite third act, Oliver & Company isn't capable of standing on its own four legs. I wouldn't go so far as to say the twenty-five-year-old pup needs to be put down, but it's probably time to put it out to pasture.
Oliver & Company Blu-ray, Video Quality
Oliver & Company sports a decent 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer that's rougher around the edges than Robin Hood but not nearly the disaster that is The Sword in the Stone. First the good. Colors are bright and vibrant (a bit too bright, more on that in a moment), primaries bear their teeth on more than one occasion, and blacks are nice and inky (if you guessed a bit too inky, you're on to something). Detail is also quite serviceable, with crisp line art, passably resolved background brushstrokes, and a general boost in clarity that represents a notable improvement over the disc's standard DVD counterparts. Unfortunately, it doesn't amount to much more than an average upgrade, and that's where the trouble festers. Noise reduction has, once again, been applied to clean up dust, dirt, nicks and grain in the original elements, and, once again, the process has taken its toll. The ill-begotten side effects aren't anywhere near as egregious as those that cripple The Smear in the Stone remaster, but the de-graining is also a tad heavier and more taxing on the film than the DNR applied to Robin Hood's master. Not that noise reduction is the biggest issue here. That would be the presentation's contrast leveling, which has been cranked much too high. The image is often washed out and over-bright, further suppressing the more natural filmic qualities of the elements and robbing the movie of its true tone and texture. Too many scenes are dishearteningly dark, too many scenes suffer from bleached hues, and the finest details are sometimes lost at either extreme. Oliver & Company may not be my favorite Disney classic, but it certainly deserves more tender loving care than this.
Oliver & Company Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Of the three August 6th Disney releases, Oliver & Company's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track features the most assertive rear speaker activity. However, the resulting soundfield isn't consistently full or enveloping. Streetside sequences offer a nice sense of atmosphere, but interiors, alleyway conversations and most other scenes are flat and front-heavy, which makes for a hit or miss experience. And while that very well may be nitpicking, particularly since it traces back to the film's original sound design, it proved to be something of a slight distraction. Otherwise, there isn't much to complain about. Voices are clean and clear, with smart prioritization and very few muffled lines. Some tininess and hiss creeps in from time to time, but nothing I'd call an outright issue. Moreover, LFE output is restrained but reliable, dynamics are commendable, pans are smooth, and the score and songs sound better than ever. All things considered, it's a solid lossless experience; just not one you'll remember long after it ends.
Oliver & Company Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Oliver & Company Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Oliver & Company falls squarely among Disney's lesser animated theatrical features. It has a good bit of fun going for it, but it slips, stumbles and squanders its potential too often to earn the sort of affection reserved for the Disney greats. And its Blu-ray release isn't a whole lot better, unfortunately. Though backed by a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, Oliver's video transfer is problematic and its supplemental package is lacking. It isn't as troubled a release as The Sword in the Stone, but it isn't as satisfying as Robin Hood either. Fans will be reasonably pleased with the upgrade, I suppose. The presentation could just be more faithful and impressive than it is.
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Oliver & Company Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Oliver and Company Blu-ray - May 3, 2013
Walt Disney Home Entertainment has revealed the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release of Oliver and Company, Walt Disney Animation Studios' 27th feature. The 1988 animated adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" streets on August 6th.
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