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Saturday Matinee

Saturday Matinee #69: "Oliver & Company VHS Preview" (October 4, 1988) - published April 28, 2012

by Albert Gutierrez

One of my earliest memories of Disney is the FBI warnings that preceded VHS tapes in the late 80's. You know, these things:


Thanks to the wonderful Fair Use exemption in copyright law (
http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html), I am legally allowed to present a duplicated image of these warnings against duplication!

I often associated those FBI warnings with our VHS tapes for the likes of Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, and Cinderella. The last one, especially, holds a special place in my Disneyhood as it was the first Disney animated film I ever saw. However, even before Cinderella, we were treated to a special trailer for Disney's latest (at the time) animated feature: Oliver & Company. Every viewing of Cinderella would be preceded by this promo, which made my young self all the more eager to actually see this film. Even though I was really young at the time, I remember quite a lot from the marketing for Oliver & Company. It seemed every time there was a commercial break on television, they'd be promoting Oliver & Company. Phrases like "the little furball," "why should I worry," and "if this is torture, chain me to the wall!" were commonly heard. I'm sure I still have a couple finger puppets of Dodger, from an old McDonald's happy meal.

The minute-long preview is fast-paced, and is quick to introduce us to the characters, with an even quicker exposition of the story. Much of the preview is expectedly spent on shots set to Billy Joel's "Why Should I Worry?", the signature song in the film. They picked out plenty of shots that would become iconic images for the film. Dodger singing on top of pianos and cabs, for example. And Oliver's enthusiastic "Yeah!" could be seen as another. And, of course, the preview ended with Cheech Marin's line, "If this is torture, chain me to the wall!" When I was younger, that line always flew over my head. Coupled with Marin's accent, it sounded like, "And this is for her, Jamie Toola Wall!" Who was Jamie, and why was she important in Oliver & Company?

This preview always enthralled me as a child, because it was a promise for something new from Disney. To a three-year-old, anything from Disney was already going to be new. But talking cats and singing dogs? Surely this film would be something special. Strangely, I would not see Oliver & Company until 1996, when it came to VHS shortly after its theatrical re-release in March 1996. By this time, I was older and firmly invested in my "Star Trek" fandom, although Disney was still an active player in my recreational time. Unfortunately, my viewing of the film left me rather cold. Granted, I was eleven now and not so easily swayed by Disney magic. But even watching the film again in recent years, the final product never lives up to the trailers and my youthful expectations. It is my least favorite animated film from 1980's Disney, although the trailer is still one of my favorites. I probably enjoy it more than I do the actual film, due to the rampant viewings of Cinderella that went on in my early childhood. Heck, even watching Cinderella on DVD feels wrong sometimes since the movie is no longer preceded by the Oliver & Company preview.

In hindsight, the jump-cut nature of the Oliver & Company trailer wouldn't seem appropriate when it's followed by the Sorcerer Mickey "Walt Disney's Classics" ID, and then the operatic "ah-ahh-ahhh!" beginning of Cinderella. These days, many of us take for granted the trailers that show up before we get to a menu on our DVDs and Blu-Rays, but at the time, ads before a film was very uncommon on VHS. Then again, Disney wasn't looking to provide an imitation of a 1950 theatrical viewing experience for Cinderella. And if it were, we likely would have seen a trailer for an upcoming RKO film (since RKO was still distributing Disney features), a short cartoon, and a studio newsreel. In 1988, this simply was an opportunity to promote their latest film - Oliver & Company - on a home video release of a treasured classic - Cinderella.

Even at the time, an ad before a the film was uncommon in Disney VHS. Including a preview for Oliver & Company was a studio first. Disney didn't promote The Black Cauldron on the December 1984 VHS release for Robin Hood, nor did we see any preview for The Great Mouse Detective when The Sword in the Stone arrived on VHS in March 1986. However, some versions of The Sword in the Stone on VHS included a preview for The Journey of Natty Gann. Still, we never saw a preview for a Disney Animated Classic until 1988's Cinderella. Oddly, the next year's release - Bambi in September 1989 - did NOT include a preview for The Little Mermaid.

I'm sure it doesn't need saying by now, but you can find the Oliver & Company preview on the 1988 VHS for Cinderella. Sadly, while DVDs for Oliver & Company do include a section for trailers (the theatrical trailer, and the 1996 re-release trailer), the VHS preview is not among them. To date, none of the special VHS previews from the late 80's/early 90's have shown up on the film's DVDs. I should know, I've compared plenty of VHS tapes with the DVDs. It's a real pity, since some VHS previews had unique footage not seen elsewhere. For example, the 1990 Peter Pan VHS included a special preview of The Rescuers Down Under that featured behind-the-scenes footage and pencil animation, along with brief sound bytes from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy E. Disney. While the actual theatrical trailer is included on The Rescuers Down Under's DVD (released on 2000), this really cool preview didn't make the cut. Maybe that's Disney's way of ensuring that we still hold on to our worn-out VHS tapes. Or they enjoy torturing us by withholding such powerfully-nostalgic previews.


"If this is torture, chain me to the wall!"

Oh, hush, Tito.

 

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