At 25: “Oliver & Company”

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November 18, 2013 by billysparrow

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Oliver & Company
Released: November 18, 1988
Starring the Voices of: Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin, Dom DeLuise, Bette Midler, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Richard Mulligan, Roscoe Lee Browne, and Robert Loggia

It is fair to say that I was a little too old for “Oliver & Company” when it was released in 1988. I was 12, which isn’t absurdly far out of the age range, but I don’t recall many of my 7th-grade classmates anxiously awaiting the release of a G-rated Disney movie.

And that is yet another strike against it–not the G-rated part (though that wasn’t exactly a check in the plus column) but the Disney connection. Brace yourself: I wasn’t into Disney movies growing up. Or really much about Disney at all. Perhaps this is because my family never went to Disney World. Or Disneyland. Or showered me and my sister with Disney products. Or perhaps it is due to the fact that Mickey Mouse is the single most annoying character in the history of cartoons (or maybe the history of the world…I’ll have to think about that). Whatever the case, I liked approximately one Disney movie before 1988 (“Robin Hood”).

So with these strikes against it, why was I so excited to see “Oliver & Company”? Well, that can be summed up in two words: Billy Joel. Even though my musical tastes were still in flux in 1988, there were two rocks on which the foundation was being built. One was, of course, Huey Lewis (who had a song in “Oliver & Company”), and the other was Joel, who was the closest thing to the Official Musician of Catholic School Boys as one man could be. So, with word that Joel would be one of the main voices in “Oliver & Company,” I was most definitely in. In fact, I was so in that I jumped at the chance to get a musical Christmas ornament of Dodger. I don’t know what we did with the gift certificates. I do think the Dodger ornament is still in the Sigman Family Ornament Box, though.

Having watched “Oliver & Company” 25 years later (on a VHS tape I recently bought at a highway Salvation Army store somewhere in Pennsylvania), I can comfortably say that Billy Joel is the main reason to watch the movie. And that’s not to say this updating of “Oliver Twist” with cats and dogs is bad, or that Billy Joel is an amazing voiceover talent. It’s more because just about the only thing you’ll remember about the movie after watching it is Joel’s song “Why Should I Worry?” which I will still occasionally hum in idle moments (yes, I know you wish you were as hip as I am). I have tempered my love for all things Billy Joel in the last 25 years, but I stand by the statement that “Why Should I Worry?” deserves to be mentioned alongside what are perceived to be the Disney classics, if for no other reason than it includes the phrase “savoir faire.” Billy Joel will even teach your kids French? What can’t he do? (I hear your snide answers to my rhetorical question, and I do not care for them.)

But enough talk. Here it is: Enjoy.

I am hesitant to really go too deep into analyzing “Oliver & Company” because there are few things that make me sadder than a grown man picking apart a movie made for children. And, sure, we could argue about me being a grown man, but let’s just say that “Oliver & Company” is a fine movie set in New York City (always a plus in my book). Your kids will laugh at Cheech Marin’s hyper Tito the chihuahua, Roscoe Lee Browne’s erudite Francis the bulldog, and Bette Midler’s haughty Georgette the show poodle. And it’s not so treacly that adults will feel it’s a chore to watch. So, yes, it’s a Disney movie I feel comfortable recommending.

That was a little painful to write. I think I have to stop now.

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