If you’ve ever wondered where the painfully “hip” DreamWorks Animation movies began, well, here’s a good place to start. Originally pitched by animator Pete Young in one of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s infamous “Gong Show”
pitch meetings where animators would throw out ideas and bad ideas would be “gonged” out of the room (the pitch was simply “Oliver Twist with dogs”), it sparked to Katzenberg’s desire to make a big budget movie out of Broadway standard Oliver! while at Paramount Pictures. Now he could do it! With dogs! While a modest hit at the box office, the movie is a creative disappointment (and many at Disney shared this opinion at the time). The grab bag of pop musicians and musical personalities wedged into the movie (among them: Billy Joel, Huey Lewis and Bette Midler, who was something of a Disney stalwart at the time) in a desperate bid for contemporary relevance made for a less cohesive vibe. It is worth noting that this is the first Disney animated feature to showcase the lyrical abilities of the legendary Howard Ashman, who along with Alan Menken would go on to become a key component of Disney’s renewed popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was also the first film to ditch actual paint; the movie was largely colored instead by the CAPS system that was developed with the help of a struggling computer firm in Northern California named Pixar. (The Rescuers Down Under would be the first film to utilize the process completely.) While these are interesting asides they add nothing to the actual enjoyment of the film, which feels lame and disjointed.