My opinion right after watching film
My opinion right after watching the film is that it is one of the most half assed, commercialized, marketing devices I have EVER seen. This makes DreamWorks look good. The heart and plot is so contrived, the music is barely memorable, animation is unnecessarily rough, and the characters are either flat, annoying, or both. Thank the lord this era is done with.
This film started production in 1985 after the flop of The Black Cauldron, and the crew met to pitch ideas for upcoming animated features, called a Gong Show. During this pitch, The Little Mermaid was brought up, but so was Oliver and Twist, which would become Oliver & Company. Katzenberg approved of it, since he wanted to make a live action version of Oliver at his old job Paramount, and the original title of the film was called Oliver and the Dodger. By this time, all of the 9 Old Men and the crew that were there in the earlier days were out of the studio, and the newer generation officially ran the studio.
It would have been a sequel to their biggest hit in 2 decades The Rescuers, where we would see Penny in her new life, but they scrapped it T
hank the lord she and The Rescuers did not have to go through this torment. This film (NOT The Little Mermaid) was the film that started the broadway musicals, and decided to return to musical form, which they did by hiring the duo Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and all of the Renaissance films would follow this formula.
This film is also the first in the canon to have advertising products from the real world in their film. They had Coco Cola, USA Today, Sony, and more.
The movie opens in the 1980s with the song Once Upon A Time in New York City, which is showing Oliver (Joey Lawrence) being in a box with a bunch of kittens, and all of them get sold but him. His box ends up getting destroyed and he is now homeless. This song establishes that he wants to be adopted, and that is his overall theme. This song should have been the theme sing instead of Why Should I Worry.
Speaking of Why Should I Worry, it is the next morning, and Oliver is trying to get food from a hot dog man. Dodger (Billy Joel) comes along and decides to “help him” because he is a rad, badass who is the cool one and gets what he wants (insert many eye rolls). Anyways, they team up to get the hot dogs, but Dodger abandons him and sings about how he does not give a crap because he is cool, and as the movie goes along, we are supposed to go along with that.
Sorry for the rant. Anyways, Dodger outmaneuvers Oliver, and escapes, with the cat to follow him to his house, where we meet his dog crew. For the love of everything sacred, these mother fuckers are irritating at the least. So we have a filler scene of Dodger bluffing his own ego about the story of how he got the hot dogs, and the other characters who do not deserve to get attention rants on with their dumb, stereotypical “jokes”. We are supposed to think these characters are cool and funny as well.
So their owner Fagin (Dom DeLuise) borrowed money from a successful shark and shipyard agent Sykes (Robert Loggia) who is determined to get his money back, and tells him he has 3 days, 3 nights.
So he returns home to have his dogs comfort him and beg him to read a book. He does that, but all of them ends up asleep, with Oliver ending up snuggling against Dodger, with no indication that they got that close.
So, the dogs and Oliver go out to steal a few things to give to Sykes, and now suddenly Dodger and Oliver are buddy buddy. They sing about Streets of Gold, which is about Oliver having to earn his stripes to get in the gang. Oliver goes with the spanish dog that refuses to be named by me (Cheech Marin), and Oliver screws it up, getting the dog shocked
yes and ends up being taken by Jenny (Natalie Gregory), who was in the back seat of the car.
We are taken to Jenny’s home and meet Georgette (Bette Meddler), who sings Perfect Isn’t Easy, which is a mere filler song. When she meets Oliver and gets the news that he is staying, she does not like it, and tension grows between them. Oh, and the dog crew are looking for a cat that they knew for about 18 hours.
Jenny has to practice her song Good Company on the piano, and as Oliver joins them, they have a montage of them bonding and having a good time all day.
Unfortunately, the dog crew has to be brought back in the movie, and as
Penny Jenny leaves, they come up with a plan to kidnap Oliver back to them. This is the 2nd day to get whet they need for Sykes. The spanish dog has a lust for Georgette, and she is glad that they are there to take the cat away. When Oliver realizes he is back at the gang house, he is mad that they kidnapped him from his home, which was his goal the entire time.
Anyways, Oliver and Dodger get into an argument when the former says he wants to go back to his own home, and the latter says that he is a part of the gang and Oliver acts like they are not good enough, blah, blah, blah. I am still not invested in their relationship.
So Fagin sends a letter to Jenny’s house about them giving them money if she ever wants to see Oliver there, causing her and Georgette to go to the slums of new York at dead night. Fagin goes to Sykes to tell him the plan, and then he goes on to say that tonight is the deadline; WHAT? He said himself, that he had 3 days and 3 nights, and it has only been 2 days and 2 nights. Sykes then gives him an extra 12 hours, but it would still be only 3 days and 2 nights. Plothole much?
So Penny shows up, and then Fagin realizes that this little girl is the owner of Oliver. Sykes is waiting in his car and kidnaps Jenny. Unshavedmouse brought up a good point; if you are a successful businessman, wouldn’t doing all of these undercover deals and kidnapping little girls tarnish his reputation and business?
We are at the 60 minute mark, and the climax starts. Another issue with the film is that it is way too short; 70 minutes. Anyways, the dogs and crew save Penny, and there is this long chase that the animators use to show off their CGI skills. Fagin leads them to a train track, where Sykes eventually does from crashing to a train and blowing up.
They celebrate Penny’s birthday (I forgot to mention that her parents could not make it because of business), and they all have a good time. Fagin and his crew leave, and Georgette gets dumped because she wanted to dress up the spanish dog, who I still refuse to name. Dodger says that there is still a spot open for Oliver, and the dogs sings Why Should I Worry for the closing scene. Usually, the last song that is played in a movie (whether it is a score or lyrics) establishes the theme of the movie, and this song fails at that.
The characters are infuriating, bland, or both. I do not like a single character in this film.
There is a lot of CGI in this film, and I do think it was used to show off. The backgrounds do not have as much detail and dimension that I think it should have, giving it a sharp and ugly feeling to it. The characters and the designs are decent, it does look like New York, and the colorings are very bold though.
The music in this film is 80’s broadway. I like how they used the broadway formula, but it is not really used well. Why Should I Worry is clearly THE song in the movie that we should remember, but under the context of the overall plot, it should not be the theme song. Some of the songs are useless, and most of them are unmemorable. It really does date the film, but it does work with the setting.
Reception at Release
When the film was released on November 18, 1988, it was a success, and the biggest hit in the 80s. It made $53 million at the budget, and was re-released in 1996. This success inspired the company so much, that they decided to release a film every year, and that still stands today, as the only years that did not have a release were 1993, and 2006. This squashes any rumors that The Little Mermaid started the yearly trends.
When it comes to the critical reception, it received mixed to negative reviews, which it still does today. Many called it episodic, lacking charm, is not as good as the others, a gimmick, unappealingly animated, and so on and so on. People like Roger Ebert liked it and said it is not offensive and harmless.
It was nominated for 3 awards, A Golden Globe for Best Original Song “Why Should I Worry”, A Golden Reel for Best Sound Editing, and a Young Artist Award for Best Family film. While this film is not the best, it did bring a lot of attention to the studio that has been missing for a decade.
Today, this film is known for being the final film in the Dark Era, and somewhat helped establish the Disney Renaissance, with starting the musical format, the first to have Alan Menken and Howard Ashman on the team, and the first film to heavily use CGI/ While it was a transitional film in many, it is also seen as one of the worst films in the era, and in the canon for being flat, contrived, and style over substance, and it is not deemed as a classic. Not many like it today.
= 22/40 =55%