Time to come out and say it. I've never read Oliver Twist. I know it's one of those classics that everyone should read at some point, but it just never happened to be assigned to me for school and I...just never read it. Come to think it I've never even seen the musical "Oliver!" or any of the film versions besides, well, this one. I may have seen the Wishbone episode? Anyway, if you are familiar with the "real" story, feel free to answer any of my questions about the plot in comments section, and I mean that.
If I had to guess, based on other Disney movies-based-on-classic-books-but-updated-to-a-different-time-period-and-setting, Oliver and Company probably follows the main threads of the original story while taking numerous liberties with the details. At least, I hope Charles Dickens didn't really write it like this. I mean, obviously he didn't write it about cats and dogs, but you know what I mean.
My main gripe is, who actually learns anything or changes as a character in this movie? You might suspect Oliver would learn about the importance of remembering his roots and appreciating those who helped raise him in the beginning, but...he...doesn't, really. Sure, he seems to have a renewed fondness for his stray friends in the end...after they help him get his owner back! How about Dodger? He learned that.....umm, pass. How about Fagin? The movie doesn't do a great job of convincing me why I'm supposed to like him. Sure, he's nice to his dogs and even reads them bedtime stories, but I really want to know how exactly he got into debt in the first place. Maybe I would feel more sympathy for him if I knew he was making some effort to get a job? And shouldn't he have known better than to borrow money from the double-doberman-owning unscrupulousness-oozing man with a dockside money-lending service? And he doesn't learn anything either! Except that, if you borrow money from someone and can't pay him back, things'll be okay because the guy you owe money to will happen to die in a horrible accident! Maybe Sikes himself learns the lesson that...if you lend money to someone, you'll...die in a horrible accident, because you kidnapped a child, and...no, never mind that one too. Penny, I mean, Jenny, learns that...if you don't get to spend enough time with your father, getting a kitty will fill that void and make you feel better. Her father learns that if you don't get to spend enough time with your daughter, it's okay if she has a kitty.
Who's the only character to actually change at the end? Georgette! Yes, and it's a gripe I have about other popular fiction "romances." Characters from Tito the Chihuahua to Bella Swan to Scott Pilgrim to even Phillip J. Fry (what I think is my lone Futurama complaint) teach us that, if you have a love interest that doesn't reciprocate to your liking, just keep at it and pester him/her, and eventually he/she will come around and fall in love with you. Or at least...loosen up enough to dance to Latin music with you.
So in short the characters are dumb. But maybe the music makes up for it? Not really, because I would be hard-pressed to tell you what all but one of the songs were. The one song I do remember is really fun and catchy though! Well, not really the whole song, since I can hear it several times without remembering most of it. But I do find this much stuck in my head:
"WHY SHOULD I WORRY?
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
(something something something)
CAUSE I'VE GOT STREET SAVOIR-FAIRE!"
Yeah, those three and some lines are classic. Guilty pleasure, that. It's in the middle of the tradition of "care-free" Disney songs, in the company of Bare Necessities and Hakuna Matata, and while it's not as karoake-able as those, I still prefer it over most of the melancholy tracks.
So yeah. There's not much enjoyability to be found here, but at least it isn't The Black Cauldron?
Favorite character: Uuuuuuhhhhhmmmm. Louie, the hot dog vendor!
Least necessary character: Rita. Bet you forgot there was a non-Georgette (Bette Midler) female dog in this movie, didn't you?
Overall: As far as animated 1980s Disney adaptations of Charles Dickens books with animals replacing most of the humans go, may I instead interest you in Mickey's Christmas Carol?
Unlike Kevin, I HAVE seen other versions of the Oliver Twist story and this is just another one of them. What I find interesting about the Oliver twist story is that it really doesn't have anyone learn anything. It's almost a day in the life of an urchin story. We follow this poor unfortunate soul (oh boy, next week!) through his ups and his down and get to like him as a loveable nobody enough to want him to be happy, but that's about it. In the book, Oliver's key personality trait is "wanting something better." The fact that he has the gonads to attempt to get better things in life by asking for them or running away or caring for a motherly caretaker is his key endearing trait. There's probably more to it than that, but that's all I managed to get out of it.
Doing it with cats and dogs is pretty novel I suppose and the characters do all have clear (if stereotyped) personalities so they are at least fairly memorable.
One of the big deals that this movie is the re-start of is the flagrant use of already famous actors as key roles. This is not something new, but it's now flauted as a key reason to go to the theater. The story is less important than the fact that you can hear the voices of Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Joey Lawrence, Robert Logia, and Dom DeLouise. Granted they do a fantastic job, but is a cast list as imortant as a memorably adapted story? Debatable.
Favorite Character: Tito. He's making a mockery of my people and I love him anyway.
Least favorite character: Desota. Are two dobermans really any more intimidating than just one? Up tells us no, and so do I. Roscoe was enough to get the dirty deeds done.
Overall: I don't hate it. It's a fun romp and I love Why Should I Worry? and Perfect isn't Easy. On the other hand the realistically drawn people are incredibly jarring compared to the stylized Fagin and Sikes. Just watch it. It's worth wasting an evening with some popcorn.