Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Oliver & Company

People always give me weird looks when I tell them this is my favorite Disney movie. It's more obscure than it deserves to be, and people don't seem to think it's as awesome as I do, but it's been love at first sight ever since I first saw this movie when I was about nine. First of all, I've always been obsessed with Charles Dickens and his stories of the haves and the have-nots and how these groups intersect and interact in society. We grew up pretty dirt poor when I was a kid, so these kinds of stories always seemed relatable even if Dickens was writing about times in the distant past and a kind of poverty I never knew. "Oliver Twist" is a pretty depressing story in a lot of ways, but it still resonated with me enough for me to like almost every story even remotely related to it.

Being a Disney movie, this version changes many aspects of the story (the most obvious being, well, the characters are stray cats and dogs instead of orphaned kids) but the sense that these are the outcasts of society is still pretty strong with me. I relate pretty strongly to animals anyway (I kid you not, when I picked up my kitty from the animal shelter I had to suppress tears the whole time and I wanted to take all the animals with me...seeing them abandoned there broke my heart). This movie opens with a scene that never fails to make me cry. Oliver is a stray little kitten who is in a box on a street corner with his brothers and sisters eagerly awaiting someone to come by and take him home. The look of happiness and hope in his eyes every time someone looks into the box, and then the let-down after someone chooses one of the other kittens and leaves Oliver behind, is heartening. Oliver keeps a smile on his face though, always hopeful, until late that night when all the other kittens have been chosen and he's abandoned and alone in the rain...seriously, it cuts me to the bone every single time. The lyrics to the song that plays over this scene get to me, too:

"How could anyone stay starry-eyed when it's raining cats and dogs outside and the rain is saying 'now you're on your own?' So, Oliver, don't be scared, though yesterday no one cared, they're getting your place prepared where you want to be. Keep your dream alive - dreaming is still how the strong survive - once upon a time in New York City."

Not to get all melodramatic here, but Lord do I EVER relate to that. It's hard getting back up and trying and trying and trying again just to get kicked back down over and over and over again. Sometimes I repeat these lines to myself, that dreaming is still how the strong survive, and it helps. It helps me keep going. So it's good, and it touches me, and I don't care if it's a kid's movie, it's more inspiring than most of the sermons I've ever heard in my life. So there.

So Oliver keeps fighting to survive, and finds friends (though at first, they don't seem that friendly...Dodger the dog, voiced by Billy Joel, is very much a "don't let yourself get attached to anyone" kind of guy) and the gang of friends he eventually finds are all stray dogs who work for Fagin, who in this version of the story is much more loving than he is in other versions. Here he's not just exploiting and using the gang, he actually loves them, and they love him. When Fagin is down and depressed about not having the money to pay off his creditors, the dogs cuddle with him and bring his slippers and share their dog biscuits with him in an effort to cheer him up, and it's sweet and touching. I really love it.

Of course, this being a Disney movie, there are more twists and turns coming, and a little girl who will love Oliver and give him a forever home, and if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go hug my adopted shelter kitty and give her some treats now. Yes, I'm a sap. I blame the movie.

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