Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Why Should I Worry" about Oliver

I would like to thank one of my readers for this topic idea...
Why are Oliver and Company cels so cheap/affordable?

The Disney company has dismissed Oliver and Company as a "training" film for the generation of animators who would go on to revive the Disney brand. In short, the film has been sidelined by Disney and hence collectors.

If you had to describe Oliver in one word, it would be "scruffy." From the storytelling to the art itself (by all accounts, it was a stylistic decision), the film feels as unpolished as any cartoon the studio ever released.

But Oliver and Company marks some key transitions in Disney animation, as captured in the cel below. (Currently for sale at Wonderful World of Animation for $395.

First, it advanced the use of computer animation. Take the stairs here: designed in a computer but painted by hand. Of course, at the time, the studio swore computers would never replace humans. And while 2D is coming back, hand-painted production cels are not. Oliver and Company is the second to last full-length Disney feature to release cels.

Second, Oliver and Company aggressively promoted the use of celebrity voices in animation. One of the key selling points of the film was that Billy Joel and Bette Midler (along with Cheech Marin, Joey Lawrence, Richard Mulligan, etc) were starring in it. Disney executives - hungry for a hit - wanted to make a movie which would appeal to as many people as possible and decided stars would be one way to do that. Sure, there are celebrity voices in previous Disney cartoons (especially in the 1970's) but Oliver went for "cool" stars. Billy Joel and Better Midler were riding a second wave of popularity at the time and their participation gave the film the street cred it needed.

Third, it was a hit, albeit a modest hit. While it was not as successful as Roger Rabbit, it gave Disney animation some much needed momentum. When promoting Rescuers Down Under and Beauty and the Beast, Disney used the success of Oliver and Company to show The Little Mermaid was not an anomaly but part of a trend.

So, why can you pick up the following cel (great image of Jenny and Oliver with cool effects) for $250 at Van Eaton Galleries? Sure, age is a factor, but Little Mermaid cels can fetch as much as any Disney film from the 1950s.

Well, Oliver and Company is not a perfect film. Despite its attempts to be cool, the storytelling makes it hard for anyone over the age of 12 to fall in love with it. And really, the best Disney films (the one whose cels still command top dollar) appeal to people of all ages.

However, it's also worth noting that after the success of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast (and the failure of the exciting Rescuers Down Under), Disney decided to focus on creating "timeless" classics. It no longer made sense to promote Oliver and Company since it takes place not in a fantasy world, but in our own time.

So, where does this leave the collector? It's a buyer's market. If you love Oliver and Company, as many people who grew up in the '80s do, go ahead and buy a great cel. Cel collecting should be about love (and, if you so choose, money).

So why not go for one of these great cels also from Van Eaton Galleries:

Oliver and the gang for $400.
Tito, at his most appealing, for $125.
And my personal favorite: Jenny, Winston and Oliver waving goodbye for $200! (Much better than the $200 spent on a Roscoe and Desoto cel highlighted in a previous cel).

So, do you collect Oliver cels? Or do you avoid them? Is my analysis fair or way off? Please chime in!


WickedOne said...

Thank you for this post!

I do agree that the film is scruffy and has a very unfinished/unpolished feeling to it. And there are SO many glitches in the animation itself.. places where characters simply disappear! One of my favorite glitches is near the end of the film, after the bridge chase. Jenny is holding Oliver, and you hear him meow.. but his mouth doesn't move at all. lol

I also love the VERY 80's feel of the film. Of course, that would make sense since the film was released in 1988 and was set in the same year. Sometimes if I pop it in to watch, I feel silly because of how dated it is. And it's not the same dated feeling you might get while watching say, Lady & the Tramp. That movie feels timeless, while this feels.. well, as I said, a bit silly in a way.

Aside from the unpolished feeling, the over the top voice cast, and the dated 80's look and feel, the film still holds a place in my heart. And it probably will for a long time. I expect my children to think I am crazy because of this. hehe

The cheap Oliver cels make collecting easy for me and probably many other Oliver fans. But it is sad to see them go so darn low. Back in the mid 90's, a few of the Oliver & Co cels I bought were no cheaper than $600. So to see them go as low as $50-$100 now, feels a little weird. More time may change that though and the prices to buy may start going back up. But I don't know... I have seen a huge drop in prices over the years for MANY Disney cels. Especially the older films.

Anyway, since I had mentioned this in one of my comments, I thought I would share some of my cel collection with you. You will have to forgive me for some of the horrible photos I have taken, and my rather poor descriptions. But this gives you an idea of what covers the walls of my house. And of course, there will be more to come, as I find other wonderful cels to collect and treasure!

Brian O'Neil said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Oliver is one of my childhood favorites too. But it was a much different movie to me by the time it was rereleased in theaters in 1996. What I once thought was a really cool movie, seemed rather lame. But there will always be a warm spot in my heart for it and it is a better movie than most of the stuff Disney animation has released this decade.

You have a great Oliver and Company cel collection. Your Dodger cels are really something. The expressions on his face are very appealing.

I stopped collecting cels from about 1995 until 2006 and during that time the market has completely bottomed out. Malls used to have stores like Circle Gallery and the Disney Store selling cels across the country (and they were not cheap). Of course, Disney animation was hot back then. But now, between the lack of supply and the lack of demand, only the most rare cels (courvoisier, master set-ups) are commanding the kind of prices they were getting in the mid-90s.

Having said that, there is still a marketplace. Buyers and sellers are out there. Part of my goal in this site is to let people know where the market really stands. What deals are out there and how many amazing finds there are.

I hope you'll keep reading!