The 1980s are a bit of a lost decade for animated Disney films. They were still trying to figure out what to do after their golden age of classic films, one after another, and so many of the ’80s animated films kind of fell in between the cracks with audiences.
Some of these films were not much to write home about, similar to a lot of the post-2000 hangover era after the ’90s successes, but one film that deserves more attention than it has received is Oliver & Company.
A cute-animal adaptation of famed musical Oliver, it tells the story of abandoned kitten Oliver and his adventures with a gang of stray dogs and their homeless owner, as Oliver connects with a lonely, rich girl and gets involved in a showdown with a heartless criminal who has a weirdly invested intention of reclaiming a relatively small amount of money from said homeless dog owner.
This all unfolds in a brisk 63 minutes, filled with all the whimsy and twee you can expect from singing dogs and cats with celebrity voices. Everything is inoffensively wacky and the camaraderie between Oliver and the dogs, especially the Billy Joel-voiced Dodger and the delightfully theatrical Francis, is genuinely enjoyable.
On top of that, the quintessentially New Yorkesque music, full of jazzy snazz and snazzy jazz, fills the world of the film well for such a short feature.
In fact, it is the shortness, especially the barren plot, that lets the film down the most. There is the main plotline and the story of the lonely girl who seeks companionship with the fluffy animals, but other than that, there is little meat on the bones. The girl’s relationship with her parents and her valet is not built up enough, the vain Georgette feels like an appendix to the story and the villainous strand of the story is solved too quickly and neatly. Also, due to obvious budgetary restraints, there are precious few musical numbers in this musical film.
Nevertheless, Oliver & Company remains entertaining throughout, with lively and attractive characters, while it fails to live up to the outrageously high standards of the decades of Disney classics preceding it.