Oliver and Company
The Disney take on Oliver Twist, set in present-day New York City. Oliver is an abandoned kitten. Dodger (voiced and sung by Billy Joel) is a streetwise mutt, leader of a gang of stray dogs. Fagin is a human bum (voiced by Dom DeLuise) who is in debt to Sykes, a loan shark who drives a big black Cadillac and has two Dobermans named DeSoto and Roscoe. All the dogs are quite well characterized, with the star being Cheech Marin as Tito, who is absolutely like every Chihuahua you’ve ever met: hyperactive, mouthy, insanely fearless in spite of his size, and with a high opinion of himself. Francis, the English bulldog, is voiced by Roscoe Lee Browne. There are also cameo appearances by mutts from Lady and the Tramp and One Hundred and One Dalmatians. As in the novel, Oliver is taken into a wealthy home. Unlike the novel, the dogs think they are “rescuing” him, instead of taking him back because he knows too much. He’s loved by the little girl in the 5th Avenue mansion, but not by the resident Best of Show poodle, Georgette (Bette Midler), who schemes to get rid of the little furball. It all works well, from story to art to characters.
There is a production number with Georgette that I think had a lot of influence on the real Disney renaissance, which was just around the corner. There is a distinct Broadway flavor to it, and it reminded me of “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid and “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. (Interestingly enough, both those movies were later turned into Broadway musicals.) It was the Broadway musical influence from the new faces at Disney—most importantly Alan Menken and Howard Ashman—who mostly came from a theater background, that was the real spark that boosted the coming films back to the level of the classics of the ‘40s and ‘50s.
CGI was used much more extensively here than in The Great Mouse Detective, though it was still in the stage where it was only useful for geometric, inanimate objects like buildings and cars. The New York City settings are great, and three-dimensional in a way quite different from the old multi-plane camera. CGI enabled the animators to save huge amounts of time, moving through a 3D landscape. And even here those 19 sub-humans of September 11 are able to reach out and hurt me. Several shots of Lower Manhattan feature the World Trade Center.