Bad Movies Done Right — Oliver and Company

Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Why should I worry?

The tagline for the late ‘80s Walt Disney cartoon proclaims Oliver and Company to be the “first Disney movie with attitude.” Apparently, having attitude translates to featuring animals that are portrayed as racial caricatures that perpetrate stereotypes.

All ribbing aside, I have a special spot in my heart for Oliver and Company— a spot in my chest cavity that no amount of now-dated ‘80s references can chip away at. The film may not be a perfect (or, as I’m sure hack critics liked to say upon the film’s release, “purr-fect”) movie but it has its charming moments.

Taking the original Charles Dickens story of Oliver Twist and placing it through the Disneyfication process, the movie is a about Oliver, a lonely kitten who is taken in by a gang of pick-pocketing canines. After he is accidently adopted by a Disney standard-issue precocious brat, Oliver has to choose between his furry friends and his new life as the pampered pet of a 5th Avenue latch-key kid.

Featuring the voice talents of Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin, Dom DeLuise and Bette Midler, Oliver & Company is very much a film of its time. Seeped in that special kind of ‘80s cool that featured a predominate use of sunglasses, piano solos and heavy eye shadow, the movie is a soulless piece of commercial consumerism disguised as a talking animal picture. Heck, Huey Lewis sings the movie’s opening song.

While Mr. Lewis may be a little too “black sounding” for some, his presence in the film helped usher in the new era of Disney cartoons that was as conscious of its marketing tie-in potential as it was its character design.

Like I mentioned above, though, I have a special fondness for the film. I remember constantly watching the movie with my sister when we were young — each of us trying to outdo the other with our Tito impressions.

While now I can look at Oliver and Company as the bitter cynic that I have become and see a latent racism behind the stereotypical Latino Chihuahua voiced by Cheech Marin, back then I was just happy to see a Hispanic character in a cartoon.

It is this kind of childlike sense of forgiveness that I’m trying to recapture with my recent embrace of bad movies. I would love to remember what it was like to be able to watch a movie and not constantly be on the look out for things to dislike or get angry about.

I don’t know if this pessimistic attitude was created during my stint as a movie critic or if it is a byproduct of having seen so many movies during my short-life, but it is definitely a habit that I feel the need to break.

So for the rest of the space I have allocated myself for this column, I will focus on the positives:

I loved, loved, loved Billy Joel’s very cheesy yet very catchy musical number “Why Should I Worry”. I had forgotten how much I liked that song and, after hearing it again, instantly went out and purchased it off iTunes.

Also, I can get behind any animated movie that features a loan shark as the antagonist. How very ‘80s of Disney! Don’t we have enough cartoons that feature mustache-twirling evil relatives as the bad guys? It’s nice to see a villain that is more concerned about the profit-line then he’s concerned about marrying the princess against her will.

Oliver and Company may not be a great film and it may not have aged well, but neither have most ‘80s Disney cartoons. At least this one has a Billy Joel song.

Robert Saucedo has got street saviore faire. Follow him on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.

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