My passionate love for all things New York City began with the rollicking technicolor adventure of Disney’s Oliver & Company. While it can’t be possible because I was born in 1983, but I recall seeing Oliver & Company on the big screen movie; but I still maintain that The Little Mermaid was my first big screen Disney movie. The pop-songs of Billy Joel and the bright colors of New York City were candy to me. Oliver & Company had it all, as far as I was concerned: quick, hand-drawn animation; various styles of humor; a lesson about family; and the pop-songs of Billy Joel. The Disney film’s Manhattan adventures helped lay the foundation that created the landscape that fueled my queer escape fantasies.
Oliver, the remaining free-to-adopt kitten in the box, reflects the emotional isolation queer students feel throughout middle and high school, watching other students pair off to experiment with the opposite sex. Oliver is separated from his peers. Abandoned, Oliver falls into friendship with the thief Fagin and his dogs – Dodger, Tito, Francis, and Rita – paralleling the found family friends that homosexuals find in similar people; either because of disapproval or knowing how difficult life would be for the child. During his time with Fagin’s crew, Oliver meets a similarly abandoned young rich girl, Jenny. Upon meeting Jenny, Oliver is offered an opportunity of acceptance; and vice-versa for Jenny, who is consistently left with only a butler while her parents travel. The basis of that acceptance is that Jenny doesn’t truly know Oliver, or his life as a thief, which eventually catches up with him. For queer identity development Jenny represents the dreams and goals that are imposed by the majority. Oliver, like young queers, has mixed feelings about owning the newly discovered world or the normative from which they came. Choosing neither endangers the clarity of life’s path. Only at the end when both worlds, that Oliver doesn’t want to meet, do meet is he able to find happiness in his identity and create unique goals for himself.
Oliver & Company painted the picture of New York City with the experiences and people I wanted. The characters kept a sunny view towards the world, despite the hardships that were thrown at them, regardless of the collar-color of the problem. While they scrounged for food scrapes the dogs made playful games of their thievery to alleviate. The cast of Oliver & Company took their lumps, learned, and then tried again with new vigor. They had grit, ambition, and motivation to make steps. No matter how many knocks life gave them, Fagin & Crew dreamed of a utopian life, nurtured with their communal domestic routine. As in the found family, Fagin & Crew, shared their spoils and comforted through their failures. They were early models of friendship and family in its purest forms. A New York City of bohemian friendship, where there wasn’t much, but what was had was shared willingly.