Making the Grades
This year (1997) The Wonderful World Of Disney, a Sunday night television tradition for many families, has been given new life and huge budgets. The results are new movies produced for television with a quality better than some Disney theatrical offerings. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella was the first hit, followed by Dickens' Oliver Twist. Both are now available on video.
In her dying words, the mother of an illegitimate son imparts to him her greatest gifts: A locket and the hard learned knowledge that "goodness is rewarded." This orphan, Oliver Twist (Alex Trench), is left in an abusive 19th century English workhouse, and tossed into the streets of London at the age of 12. Here he quickly meets up with The Artful Dodger (Elijah Wood) an older lad who offers to teach him how to make a living. He takes Oliver back to his hideout in the hopes the orphan will meet the approval of ringleader Fagin (Richard Dreyfuss) and become a valuable member of their gang of thieves. However Oliver is uncomfortable with his new "family", and as desperate as he is for food and shelter, still grapples with what he knows is right and wrong.
Dickens' story involves serious and tragic moments of abuse against women and children. Disney's version doesn't water down this tale with singing and dancing, but at least most of the violence happens literally in the shadows. These scenes illustrate well how all of the characters in their desperate struggle to survive, are making dishonest choices. This can be a valuable teaching tool for parents.
Oddly enough, over 150 years later we still have too many children who feel they cannot determine where their lives are headed because of decisions their parents have made. Even with so much against him, Oliver decides to take control of his life and cannot bring himself to steal. It is when he is observed making this decision that his window of opportunity is opened, proving his mother's advice was right. This is one message that isn't in need of a new Twist.