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The journal of an aspiring animation filmmaker. Inspiration, Film Analysis, Animation Art, Student Work, Book Notes, Book Store, Composing Pictures, and much more!

Jun 7, 2008

Not How I Remembered It: The Failure of Oliver and Company

Last week I watched Oliver and Company for the first time in over ten years. I've had the film in my DVD collection for some time now, but only recently had time to watch it. I was pretty excited to see it again seeing as I had fond memories of this film as a kid. If I remember correctly I saw it in the theater which would have put me at about five years old. I remember bugging my mom forever incessantly asking her when it was coming out on video so I could watch it again. I never did watch it again, but it was forever hyped in my mind as the ultimate in Disney entertainment. The songs were so entertaining, and that dog, what was his name? I loved him!

Ten years later, I'm not so easily impressed. I would have to say that this is one of the worst animated features I've ever seen. I just hated it, from start to finish. I was actually inspired to analyze why I think it didn't work and post it here. I've seen many film and animation students break down great movies before in an attempt to learn better film making. I've also heard Mark Andrews say you can learn just as much if not more from bad movies as you can from good ones. And since I immediately followed Oliver and Company with the Disney masterpiece that is Beauty and the Beast, the contrasts between a good and bad film became incredibly clear. So I thought it was a good place for me to start breaking movies down and trying to understand why this film just doesn't work for me.

Now I'm aware that this film is based on Oliver Twist, which is a classic, and to bash the story would be a little over my head. That's not what I'm trying to do here. I'm trying to pin point through screen grabs, what made this film so boring to me the second time around. Why couldn't I get engaged? Why didn't I care? Here goes:

The movie starts off with what looks more like conceptual art or storyboard panels than a finished background. The opening sequences contains some of the ugliest feature animation I've seen.

Look at these people, they look like zombies. I can't believe this is Disney!

So our main character has been established. The unchosen one, a little orange kitten. He never gets picked by one of the zombies above, and we move onto him fending for himself. We don't know anything about him, who was selling him, or why. We've just been dumped in the middle of this situation with him. This is where I think the film is sorely lacking. Watching it for the second time, I found myself waiting for some kind of indication of exactly what the heck is going on. Some narration would be really helpful here.

Sure it's more than obvious what is basically going on through the visuals alone, but this scene and the following could have been thoroughly enriched with character instead of just letting us watch everything like it's wild life footage. I get that were supposed to be experiencing what the character is experiencing, but after 7 minutes of nothing but street noises, I lose interest without some indication of character, or even dialog.

Okay, so once we finally meet Dodger, the dialogue starts, and we have a goal in site: Food. It's simple, but hey it's something to interest the audience at least temporarily.

Dodger and Oliver get the food, but Dodger tricks Oliver out of it, and we proceed with the infamous musical sequence riding on cars and balancing on pianos that I was so fond of as a kid.

These dogs look familiar? How many times can Disney re-use them?

So far we have a series of events. There's no goal, no insurmountable odds. No point to any of it. It's just a series of happenings with nothing interesting behind them. Maybe if I had some empathy for our main character, I would care about his circumstances, but I don't.

Next we meet Dodger's crew or streetwise dogs:

The problem with this ensemble is that throughout the entire movie they prove more and more why this type of posse couldn't exist. The chihuahua fits the mold, but the bulldog is too refined, the girl dog is way too independent, and the big gray dog is too dumb. A group like this simply wouldn't exist. This was a bad effort at slapping together a diverse group of dogs with lots of personality.

Next we meet our human character. He seems to be the leader of this group of dogs, and we find out quickly that he's in debt to a rather evil businessman.

This plot point is really weak because why would this guy ever lend a bum that live with dogs under a dock any money in the first place?

Furthermore this evil business man character is supposed to be our antagonist, but he doesn't work either because he never backs up his threats with any examples. Why should be feel threatened for characters we don't know and therefore don't care about, especially when they're being threatened by under-developed villains we aren't afraid of?

Great films with great villains get the respect they deserve as evil bastards because they make an example out of someone for everyone to see. This proves they mean business. But this evil businessman never actually does anything throughout the entire film that gives us any reason to fear him.

At this point our main character Oliver still has no goal, or task at hand. Were still just watching a series of events strung together, and were thirty minutes into this nightmare. So after another musical number in the streets the dogs hatch a plan involving a limousine. Are they going to steal it? And if they do, what then?

It never really get explained because it's obvious it's just a bridge scene to introduce Jenny. Once again connecting a bunch of events rather than telling a character driven story. Oliver still doesn't know what the heck he's doing, or what he wants. He's an empty character. But he ends up going home with Jenny, where she adopts him. This is where were introduced to probably the most interesting character in the film, Georgette:

Now Georgette is actually interesting because she has a place in the world. She confirms her identity with a big song and dance number appropriately voiced by Bette Midler. This establishes her character (Much like Dodger did earlier). But Georgette actually develops a little over the course of the film. She also has a goal, that being getting rid of Jenny's new pet, Oliver. This further reveals her character, and makes her interesting. Finally something is going on in this movie!

So now we have a little bit going on. The unorthodox dog posse is set on springing Oliver free of his new "captor". Georgette has a similar goal in mind, getting rid of Oliver from her home. But now Oliver finally wants something. He likes his new home with Jenny. I wouldn't say it's a goal, but its the start of something for Oliver, who is after all, THE MAIN CHARACTER. We are now 40 minutes in.

The dog posse springs Oliver free. So now what?

Oh right, back to the human character and his debt. Somehow the gang has to find a way to get mister unconvincing bad guy his money, or our human character will get it. At least that's what were led to believe. You see how were going back and forth between different characters goals, characters we really don't care about? This is not only confusing, but not entertaining either. It always feels empty.

Back to the bad guy problem. The scariest part about this guys is his two Doberman "hench dogs" and even they get thwarted by a blanket in the end. So where's the fear? Where's the drama?

Let's get through the rest of this quickly. After a ridiculous chase sequence over some train tracks, the bad guy is blown to pieces, and everyone has a party at Jenny's.

This is the end of the movie. But there's just one problem. NOTHING COHERENT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. What did I just watch? There's a reason why I didn't remember anything from this movie but the musical portions involving a dog wearing Ray Bans. That's all there was worth remembering.

There was no character development. No struggle. No evil to overcome in order to reach a goal. Oliver didn't mature. He didn't end up any different. He's still just a naive little kitten that doesn't have any real depth beyond being a cute little kitten. Dodger didn't develop much. None of the characters changed, or learned anything. Except maybe Georgette, who learned to love the Chihuahua, and accept Oliver. But this movie isn't about her, she's a secondary character. The three main characters, Penny, Dodger, and Oliver gave the audience nothing to identify with. So there's nothing to remember about them.

On top of a bad set of characters, this movie looked like crap too. The great thing about good Disney films is that they all have their own distinct looks. Sleeping Beauty wreaks of Eyvind Earle. Alice in Wonderland is Mary Blair's masterpiece. 101 Dalmatians, thanks to Ken Anderson, is so graphically pleasing. Bambi is about as beautiful as an animated film can get. Even Aladdin has the Hirschfeld influence.

Oliver and Company has no style. It's clearly and early experimenter of computer graphics, making everything look flat, geometrical, and boring. Theres no color design, or art direction. It just looks bleached out, and bland, like a bad Saturday morning cartoon. There's a reason I remember more about the Jungle Book, and 101 Dalmatians. I remember specific scenes, and plot points to those films. Those movies are purely character driven. If I remember the character, I remember their circumstances, and consequently, I understand and empathize with them. I also watched Robin Hood recently, and I was surprised at how bad the story was in that too. I don't remember it being that bad, but it doesn't matter. I remember the characters. It's all about character. That's where story starts.

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Blogger David Gale said...

Nice analysis. I saw the movie when I was about the age you were, and I remember NOTHING! You're right about it looking terrible, too. Did they farm it out to Filmation?!

The film's sole virtue may be that it's the last one to NOT have that horrible digital airbrush shading. Does anyone else hate that stuff as much as me?

June 08, 2008 4:52 AM

Blogger Dan said...

I think this was one of those movies handled by the new kids and old timers that never got the top jobs. Bird speaks of them a lot on his interviews. This one and Black Cauldron were just terrible films. I won't even waste my time on Cauldron.

I know the look you are referring to, and I hate it too.

June 09, 2008 5:57 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I love Oliver and Company still. After all these years. (I'm now 16) I can see your point of view but I remember as a young child I knew exactly what Oliver’s goal was. He wanted to fit in somewhere, to have a family. Even though it never says this, it shows it. He tries to grove with the guy carrying the radio; he tries to play with the little boy. He gets honked at when he tries to cross the road, and yelled at when he just wants something to eat. You’re worried for him because it’s obvious he can’t look after himself. This is why everyone likes Dodger. He knows what he is doing. You then get to see how happy Oliver is when he joins Dodgers gang. Oliver’s goal: to find a family that loves him. Dodger’s/Gang’s Goal: To get money and food. I have to admit though; I was more scared of the bad guy’s dogs then I was of him.

November 29, 2008 10:16 PM


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