I’ve been trying to read the classics, so I finished reading Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. I found it to be a difficult read because Dickens paints a very bleak picture of human existence. Little Oliver Twist, an orphan, grows up without being given an ounce of compassion. He gets swept up by a band of thieves and befriends a young pickpocket who goes by the nickname “Artful Dodger”, but even Dodger ends up betraying Oliver to the police after an incident. The novel is full of filth and shady characters – it includes the horrifying murder of a young woman, child abuse and manipulation, drinking and deception.
So after having read this novel, I remembered a Disney movie called “Oliver & Company” that was based on Oliver Twist, and I wondered what sick, twisted individual read Dickens’ novel and said, “Aha! I know! This novel will make for an EXCELLENT kids’ movie!”
Then I wondered about the nature of the Disney adaptation, and whether such an adaptation could possibly still hold true to the novel’s underlying message. The idea of adaptation is that you take the plot and message of a story and transpose it into a different place and time. One of my absolute favorite adaptations is the Akira Kurosawa film “Throne of Blood”, which is a Japanese version of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, complete with samurai. The reason that adaptation works is that the message of the piece transcends the other elements, like setting.
In the Disney film “Oliver & Company”, the setting is in New York and the thieves are dogs, while Oliver is a cat. In Dickens’ novel, Oliver’s mother dies after giving birth to him. In the Disney movie, Oliver the kitten remains after his siblings have all been taken from a box. Oliver still struggles, all alone, through life, but his troubles seem more removed and lighthearted because they are the problems of a cat instead of a little boy. In both versions, Dodger takes Oliver under his wing and provides him with food and a measure of comfort. Fagin is portrayed as a wimpy dog owner instead of a menacing killer. Although a dark current runs through the movie, it still manages to be much more lighthearted than Oliver Twist and the music is great. Overall, this movie passes the test of a good adaptation, as it stays true to the idea behind Dickens’s novel. This idea is that life is really, really hard sometimes, but no matter how many times and ways it knocks you down, there’s always hope.
Leslie Soule is the author of Fallenwood, a fantasy novel published by Decadent Publishing. To find out more about Leslie and her writing (and perhaps even buy her book!), please visit her website at http://www.lesliesoule.com/.