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Oliver & Company: 25th Anniversary Edition

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // August 6, 2013 // Region 0
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 2, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Quick! Pick up a pencil and jot down a list of all the Disney animated films you can think of. It's okay; I'll wait. Chances are that pretty much anyone savvy enough to track down Blu-ray reviews online could
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rattle off dozens of Disney's timeless classics without even stopping to think all that hard about it. Chances are also that no matter how long and exhausive your list is, you probably left off Oliver and Company. Anthologies and repackages aside, we're talking about the most forgettable movie to steamroll into theaters with the Disney animation stamp on it. When I say "forgettable", I mean that literally too. I've come across Oliver and Company over and over again in various articles and retrospectives, and every single time, I scratch my head and think, "wait, that was a Disney movie?!" Even after hammering out this review, I'll still probably make that same mistake a few months down the road.

I guess I should tackle the whole plot summary thing before I forget about that too! Oliver and Company grabs a dog-eared copy of "Oliver Twist" off the shelf, shifts the setting to modern day New York, and recasts Dickens' characters into something a whole lot more furry and four-legged. Okay, okay, just about everything winds up getting changed other than the names. Oliver (voiced by Joey Lawrence) is a too-cute little kitten with no idea how to make it on the mean streets of New York City. That's alright, though; he has his new kinda-sorta pal Dodger (Billy Joel) to help show him the ropes. Heck, Oliver even winds up joining Dodger's gang of pickpocketing doggie thieves, a bunch of down-on-their-luck mutts trying to rustle up enough loot to pay off their semi-kind-hearted owner's debts. You see, Fagin (Dom DeLuise) is in deep with a loan shark named Mr. Sykes (Robert Loggia), and if he doesn't pay up in the next few days...gulp! Oliver tries to help out but winds up getting separated from the rest of the pack. The good news...? Oliver is taken in by an adorable little rich girl named Jenny who loves the heck out of this little furball. The bad news...? Oliver is going to have to make a choice about who his family really is. The even worse news...? Now that Oliver's moved into a ritzy brownstone on 5th Ave., Fagin and Mr. Sykes think they've found their payday.

I started this review off by harping on about how forgettable the movie is, but don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Oliver and Company -- the last Disney production before the 'Renaissance' era -- is bad. It's cute, sugary sweet, and very earnest. Then again, it's no wonder that I keep forgetting that Oliver and Company is a Disney movie. There's nothing all that Disney
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about it. The animation lacks the fluidity, polish, and expressiveness long associated with the studio. Its stabs at humor never manage to score a laugh, and the big action setpieces are nicely done but aren't much of an adrenaline rush. Despite big names on the bill like Bette Midler, Huey Lewis, and Billy Joel, hardly any of the songs run the risk of getting stuck in your head. Kitties, doggies, and the two-legged set alike are so thinly-sketched that they aren't really characters. You could sum up pretty much any one of 'em with two words or less and maybe an accent. These cute little critters lack that extra spark to nuzzle up next to your heartstrings the way so many classic Disney characters have. His name may not be the one in the title and all, but the streetwise doggie Dodger is the only really memorable character in the movie. Oliver and Company is always, always, always moving, and that sort of steamrolling kind of hurts it. The movie's so frantically rushing to the next big setpiece that nothing that happens really matters, and emotional hooks like Jenny falling for her new best friend don't get a chance to sink in. The introduction to pampered pooch Georgette (Bette Midler) is a big, lavish, Busby Berkeley-style musical number, and rather than get caught up in that spectacle, I instead wondered "wait, why is this even in the movie?" Oliver and Company just feels overly cluttered and awfully rushed.

Awww, I don't want to sound as if I'm all stone-faced and scowling, though! Again, Oliver and Company is still pretty adorable. The animation isn't where I want it to be, but there's still some really ambitious camerawork, and the size and scale of some of the setpieces continue to impress. I sure do love the look of New York here too, with extra credit for using so many real-life brands to help make this animated Big Apple feel a little more real. Oliver and Company blends in quite a bit of computer animation, and even in these somewhat early days, the digital work is married with the traditional animation astonishingly well. There are certainly things I like about Oliver and Company, but the rough-hewn animation pales in comparison to what Disney would deliver the following year with The Little Mermaid, and the story, characterization, and heart just aren't there either. Rent It.

This high-def remaster of Oliver and Company is kind of a cat-astrophe. Get it? I guess Disney set out to remove the film grain and the rougher edges from the xerography, and the end result is an image devoid of any texture whatsoever. There's not a speck of grain anywhere on here. The linework is watery and bleeds. Oliver and Company has been filtered within an inch of its life, to the point where it looks like the movie was animated in Flash. To be fair, if you're a wide-eyed six year old, you probably don't care. Ditto if you're one of those people I'll never understand who watch movies on your phone. Splashed across a 60" HDTV, though, Oliver and Company just looks wrong. I mean, geez:

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There are also a few moments early on where the quality completely plunges off a cliff. Two cases-in-point:

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You might look at all of these screenshots and have no idea what I'm complaining about. Personally, it sorta makes my skin crawl. Oliver and Company isn't as much of a digital noise reduction disaster as The Aristocats, but it's still a sloppy, lazy "restoration" and one of Disney's more disappointing releases on Blu-ray.

Oliver and Company arrives on a single layer Blu-ray disc, encoded with AVC and presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

At least I get to say something nice about the aural end of things! Oliver and Company's six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track really does sound terrific. I love how tight and punchy the lower frequencies are. I was a little underwhelmed by the use of the surrounds early on -- the snarls and barks in the first few minutes sound as if they're bleeding into the surrounds rather than deliberately placed there -- but those sorts of concerns almost immediately fade away. This remix of Oliver and Company ensures that the Big Apple always sounds bustling and alive. It's an especially atmospheric approach, and sometimes the remix will even work in some pans like those squawking gulls as they soar all across the soundscape. The multichannel approach does a commendable job beefing up the more action-oriented sequences, and the voice acting remains wonderfully clean and clear throughout as well. Thoroughly impressed.

A lossy stereo surround track (DD 2.0; 320kbps) has also been included. Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs (640kbps) are dished out in French, Spanish, and Russian. There are subtitles in each of these languages as well, including a pair of English streams (one traditional, the other SDH).

This may be a 25th anniversary edition of Oliver and Company and all, but don't expect a whole lot in the way of extras.

  • Featurettes (7 min.; SD): There aren't any retrospectives or anything like that this time around. "The Making of Oliver and Company" is
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    a five and a half minute behind-the-scenes piece from the late '80s, briefly offering peeks at the state of computer animation back then, the voice actors at work, storyboards, and conversations with quite a few of the folks involved, among them Glenn Keane and Roy Disney. "Disney's Animated Animals" clocks in at a minute and a half and is more of the same. You can probably guess what the emphasis is there. Both featurettes skew pretty promotional in nature, but at least "The Making of Oliver and Company" has a little meat on the bone too.

  • Animated Shorts (15 min.; SD): It's kind of a drag that these two shorts with Pluto -- 1941's "Lend a Paw" and 1950's "Puss Café" -- haven't been properly remastered. They probably look the same as they did when I caught them on the Disney Channel thirtysomeodd years ago, not taking advantage of anything that Blu-ray (or DVD or, heck, even Laserdisc) has to offer. Anyway, both shorts pit Pluto against some feline foes, with "Lend a Paw" in particular playing nicely with Dodger and Oliver's first encounter elsewhere on the disc.

  • Publicity Materials (6 min.; SD): One TV spot. One trailer from its original theatrical run. Two re-release trailers. Lousy quality all around.

  • Sing Along with the Movie: Just Oliver and Company with the lyrics to the musical numbers onscreen. There's not even a cute bouncy ball or colored cues to let you know what to sing and when; just plain, white subtitles.

Oliver and Company is a combo release that features a shiny new DVD as well, and this all comes packaged in an embossed slipcover.

The Final Word
As a lifelong Disney animation fanatic, I can appreciate Oliver and Company for its place in the company's storied history, at least when I remember that the movie exists. It marks the end of one era and the dawn of something greater. Decades-old techniques like xerography stand side-by-side with bleeding-edge computer animation. As a film, though, Oliver and Company is pretty much completely forgettable. This mediocre movie has scored an equally mediocre release on Blu-ray, making Oliver and Company that much tougher to recommend. For completists and nostalgiacs only. Rent It.
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