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One of the last pre-Little Mermaid era Disney animated titles gets a high-def upgrade. But is it worth adding to the collection....?
Buena Vista / 74 Minutes / 1988 / Rated G / Street Date: August 6, 2013
The Little Mermaidreally changed everything at Disney, didn't it? Not to say that Disney was by any means in serious danger of bankruptcy or extinction at the time - Disney's huge backlog of product could probably be sat on for fifty years and still turn a healthy profit - but their animation feature-film department was definitely in need of a boost. The Fox and the Hound was a nice success for the studio in the early 80s (it remains one of my personal favorites) but costly experiments like The Black Cauldron proved that the once-invincible Disney juggernaut was finally revealing some battle scars. Oliver and Company was the last of Disney's "lost weekend" flicks, a just-average tale with all the typical elements - a reinterpretation of an acknowledged classic (here Dickens' Oliver Twist), celebrity voices (Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, Bette Midler), and the Disney marketing machine that could sell ketchup popsicles to women wearing white gloves. But the film never really delivered, and ended up being just...okay.
Sure, it made back its production costs - only the costliest and most unappealing Disney animations actually lose money - but it didn't usher in a new era or open any doors for the beleaguered titan. And, honestly, it's not really all that good of a film. Sure, it has its cutesy charm, and talking animals always have the capability to engage a young audience for at least 80 minutes, but this is definitely substandard Disney fare. It's doubly frustrating because, in concept, it seems like it should have been a slam dunk. Alan Menken wrote a handful of the songs along with five or six other songwriting teams, and all are surprisingly blasé. It doesn't help that they're mired in those terribly embarrassing late-80s synthesizers that so many thought were cool and crafty at the time. Watching the sing-along versions of two of the film's songs on this new Blu-ray edition made it even more glaringly apparent that the music is this film is just not up to par.
But with The Little Mermaid finding release a year later, Disney was able to step right back up to the plate and hit a home run. It would usher in more than a decade of astonishingly lucrative films. For Disney aficionados or animation completists, Oliver and Company is a stunning curio, a messy, misguided film that, while it isn't all that bad, is a striking step back from the mastery the company is typically known for. Still, the kids should like it...