Today In Disney History ~ June 5th
Oliver & Company is a 1988 American animated musical buddy comedy-drama film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released on November 18, 1988 by Walt Disney Pictures. The 27th Disney animated feature film, the film is inspired by the classic Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, which has been adapted many other times for the screen. In the film, Oliver is a homeless kitten who joins a gang of dogs to survive in the streets. Among other changes, the setting of the film was relocated from 19th century London to late 1980s New York City, Fagin’s gang is made up of dogs (one of which is Dodger), and Sykes is a loan shark.
Oliver & Company began production around 1987 as Oliver and the Dodger. The film was re-released in the United States, Canada, and the UK on March 29, 1996. It was then released to video later that same year, and again in 2002 and 2009 on DVD. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in 2013, commemorating its 25th Anniversary.
Because personalities are considered the greatest strength of Disney animated films, the filmmakers sought believable voices to match the movement of the animation. For this film, the filmmakers cast fellow New York natives including Bette Midler for Georgette, Sheryl Lee Ralph for Rita, and Roscoe Lee Browne for Francis. Comedian Cheech Marin was cast as the chihuahua Tito. Because energy proved to be the key to Tito’s personality, Marin claimed “I was encouraged to ad-lib, but I’d say I just gave about 75% of the lines as they were written. The natural energy of a Chihuahua played right into that feeling. George [Scribner] was very encouraging as a director: He kept the energy level high at the recording sessions.” Pop singer Billy Joel was recommended for the voice of Dodger by Scribner because of his “New York street-smart, savoir-faire attitude”, and auditioned for the role by telephone after being given dialogue. Additionally, Joel confirmed he did the role because it was a Disney movie, and admitted that “I had just had a little girl. It’s a great way to do something that my little girl could see that she could relate to right away.”
The soundtrack of Oliver & Company contains an instrumental score by J. A. C. Redford under the supervision of Carole Childs, while Jeffrey Katzenberg had the idea to bring in big-name singer/songwriters, each of whom would contribute a song into the film including Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, and Huey Lewis. At his suggestion of his friend David Geffen, Katzenberg brought in lyricist Howard Ashman, who composed the song “Once Upon a Time in New York City”. Musical composer J.A.C. Redford was brought to compose the score who had a working relationship with Disney music executive Chris Montan on the series St. Elsewhere. Ashman, who, with Alan Menken, would write the songs for the next three Disney films. Billy Joel, in addition to voicing Dodger, performed the character’s song in the film.
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