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For fifty years, it has not been common for Disney animated features to be set in a time and place that much resemble those of their making. The country such a film is set in is substantially more likely to be England than the United States; the year is most often identified sketchily, if at all.

Times and the Disney studio have changed, and Oliver & Company announces its identity as a product of the Walt Disney studio of the late 1980s in many ways: its setting in a fairly realistic present-day New York; the product placements located strategically throughout the film; the presence of Bette Midler. Happily, Oliver manages not only to survive all this, but also to be a better film than The Great Mouse Detective, The Fox and the Hound, and even some of the Woolie Reitherman films it recalls.

The heart of what's right about Oliver & Company is the success with which it makes Fagin's gang of thieving dogs into real, likable personalities. (Oliver himself is just a cute kitten, but then, Dickens's Oliver Twist was essentially a cute orphan boy.) The film has its share of slapstick, chases, and other loud and funny material meant to please kids; but it's admirable how often it slows its pace to deal in some very well-done character comedy. The scene in which the dogs tuck Fagin into bed and slip a dog biscuit into his mouth is one of the funniest, most genuinely warm moments in any Disney cartoon in years.

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