Making the Grades
Billy Joel plays it cool as the voice of Dodger, the hippest mutt on four feet, in this Disney re-release. Joel steals the show, but the real story lies with Oliver, an orphaned kitty who bonds with Dodger and his gang of ragtag friends. They spend their days picking the pockets of New York, so they can keep their down and out human friend, Fagin (Dom Deluise) safe from the big bad loan shark Sykes (Robert Loggia). Oliver is happy with the arrangement until one day he stumbles upon a sweet little girl, Jenny (Natalie Gregory) who offers him a home like no other. Now rich meet poor, and Oliver is caught in the middle.
There is no doubt that most children (and adults) will love at least two of the musical numbers from this flic, as Joel belts out the stick-in-your-head lyrics, "Why should I worry? Why should I care?" Another fun number, Streets of Gold, celebrates the pack's willingness to see the positive side of life. That's significant considering that these pups live in a leaky old boat with no guarantee of where the next meal is.
This situation may concern parents, as some children may not understand just how bad living on the streets really is, as the well done tunes tame the realities of life. Another caution may lie in the violent plot. After Fagin can't make good on his loan, Sykes kidnaps Jenny, and the whole gang chases him. The action winds up on a subway track, where two dogs are electrocuted and Sykes is finally stopped after being hit head on by a train and thrown from a bridge. This scene ranks as one of the most violent Disney get-the-bad-guy setups I've seen.
Often children find violence more unsettling when it is portrayed by humans in a location they can relate to, like a subway or a street. Other Disney films have had violent moments, but in surroundings that are foreign to their audience. Parents may want to keep these points in mind when viewing Oliver & Co.