On August 6, 2013, Oliver & Company finally comes out on BluRay. Aside from remastered picture and sound, the edition seems unchanged from its last DVD issue. When asked whether the Disney Store might do a lithography promotion, a cast member stated “maybe online but it’s not one of the prime films. Our next lithograph promotion is The Little Mermaid next month.” Current Oliver & Company offerings on DisneyStore.com are the DVD copy and the Vinylmation Whiskers and Tales Series which features one character from the film. Yes, that’s right, you have a large choice of TWO items!
Why is Oliver & Company’s merchandise relegated to a large blitz in 1988 and 2003 aside from sparse items in between?
In 1984, Michael Eisner was bought in to run The Walt Disney Company and he gave the film department to Jeffrey Katzenberg. Oliver & Company was the last film that was started before Katzenberg starting overseeing each animated film. While there was nothing to be done but editing on such films like The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company was in its infancy. It was radically changed from a sequel to The Rescuers about a girl adjusting to life in the big city to an adaptation of Dickens and contained the first usage of many hallmarks we now take for granted with animated films.
Big Complicated Story!
Oliver & Company was the first Disney animated adaptation of a book not normally found in the children’s section; Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. At the time, it was blasted for this.
Gene Siskel: Little Oliver’s story gets sidetracked in a film that I think is too convoluted a story and too complicated in an attempt to play to the different age groups. A more simple story would have been better.
Multiple storylines? An animated film trying to appeal to multiple ages?
Nowadays, an animated film is blasted if it doesn’t employ these techniques.
Ebert: Doesn’t it depress kids? Couldn’t there be a happy kid that the film could be about?
And what would the conflict be about? Isn’t that the first rule of screen-writing, there must be conflict? Merida doesn’t want to marry. Neither does Belle, Mulan and Jasmine. Mike wants to become a Scarer despite not being scary. Woody doesn’t want to be replaced.
Still, the flack from this venture created lasting scars. When William Shakespeare’s Hamlet was transposed to the African savanna, they claimed it was an original story and named it The Lion King.
It was nearly eight years later in 1996 when they would release their next claimed adaptation of an adult classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
It’s a Musical!
The modern audience takes it for granted that Disney films are musicals. However, in the 1980s, this wasn’t a given. Live action films were no longer musicals. The genre was perceived as uncool and dead at the box office. Apart from a couple of songs in The Great Mouse Detective, characters hadn’t sung multiple songs as part of the narrative since the 1977 release of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Oliver & Company was a huge gamble that was lessened in the studio’s eyes by using current pop music legends of the day like Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow and Ruth Pointer.
It even features the first song in a Disney film by Howard Ashman who impressed them so much that they had him work on the next three films until his death in 1991. The success of Oliver & Company at the box office and its soundtrack album allowed them to keep the musical numbers in The Little Mermaid and make grander and grander pieces in each of the following films. They later asked pop culture icon Elton John to write songs for The Lion King. Now, we have a variety of musicals from Randy Newman to Mandy Moore to Phil Collins and Alan Menken.
Ebert: I don’t think it’s really meant to appeal to the Bette Midler and Billy Joel crowd because I’m not sure that people when they go to animated movies even think about who the voices are.
Siskel: Oh, and you know what they do? They put them in the front! It’s thing, first of all, that I don’t happen to like. I don’t want to know who the voices are. I don’t know who the Dwarves were, who Snow White was, you know… When it’s a celebrity, it loses…
Ebert: Yeah, but that’s how they know, they used to have anonymous voice over artists, now they have famous people.
Yes, the general audience used to be trained not to care who voiced their favorite characters. Then, The Rescuers came along. Audiences loved Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. However, Oliver & Company was the first to have a whole cast of celebrities. Now, this is common practice as well. In order to entice people to the very first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, was billed as Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.
CGI is the Future!
Everyone discusses about how CGI revolutionized the animated film in Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin but it started before that. Katzenberg started a special department department for using computers in their animation and the first film to use CGI throughout was Oliver & Company. Vehicles, buildings and a bridge were all created with computers.
Actual Product Names!
Oliver & Company was the first Disney animated film to have real copyrighted products like Coca-Cola. Can you even imagine the Toy Story films without such branded toys as Slinky Dog, Barbie or Mr. Potato Head?
Was it the box office that killed it?
Oliver & Company made a very respectable 49.5 million which was diminished by the blockbuster success of The Little Mermaid making 79 million the following year. The Little Mermaid was given the title of starting the “Disney Renaissance”. Disney’s attention focused on their princesses, Roger Rabbit and their Saturday morning children’s television. Oliver was orphaned yet again…
Is it fair? Do you believe that Oliver & Company deserves a lithograph set with its BluRay release? Should there be more of a theme park presence? Are you going to the give the film a second look?
Siskel & Ebert is property of Disney and the quotes used are found footage from Youtube.