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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Oliver! is a lavish 1968 adaptation of the Broadway musical based on the classic Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. It's warm and memorable -- and won six Oscars, including Best Picture -- but some of the scenes depicting street urchins and the poor of London in the mid-1800s might be troublesome for some families. Some of the younger characters are shown smoking pipes, and their "employer," the notorious Fagin, leader of their gang of pickpockets, has them drink gin. There are also scenes were poor people sing and carouse in a tavern. The film is over two-and-a half hours long, which could be an issue for younger viewers.
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What's the story?
Based on Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, OLIVER! (an Oscar-winner for Best Picture) centers on young Oliver (Mark Lester), an orphan who so outrages the orphanage staff by asking for a second bowl of gruel that he's sold to undertaker Mr. Sowerberry as an apprentice. He runs away from the abuse and meets charming rapscallion Artful Dodger (Jack Wild). Dodger is part of a gang of child pickpockets led by Fagin (Ron Moody), who takes young Oliver in as his new apprentice thief. Oliver is arrested for picking the pocket of wealthy Mr. Brownlow, who takes an interest in him and brings him home. Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed), a murderous thief who works with Fagin, kidnaps Oliver to prevent him from giving away the details of their enterprise. Bill kills his girlfriend, Nancy, when she tries to help Oliver escape. Bill himself is killed, and Oliver is returned to Mr. Brownlow, who turns out to be his uncle.
Is it any good?
With many truly glorious songs and stellar performances, this 1968 film version of the Broadway musical earned six Oscars. Although young Oliver is truly alone in the beginning of the film, Fagin and the boys give him a sense of family, singing warmly to him that he's to "consider yourself one of us!" They're the first to see him as an individual instead of as a troublesome animal, and the first to give him any affection.
On the less warm-and-fuzzy side, there are some truly nefarious adult characters in Oliver!. Bill Sikes is entirely amoral, willing to do anything to further his own interests. Orphanage manager Mr. Bumble and undertaker Mr. Sowerberry, both considered by themselves and those around them to be sterling, law-abiding citizens, aren't much better. Like Bill, they have no compunctions about putting their own interests first, no matter what the cost is to others. But Nancy and Fagin have limits. They'll engage in small crimes, but have some sense of fundamental integrity.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the power of Charles Dickens' storytelling in Oliver!. What is it about his stories from the 1800s that make them remain popular today, and so adaptable for plays, movies, and musicals?
How does music help tell the story in this film adaptation?
Oliver wants someone to "buy" his happy moment and save it for him. If you could pick a day to have saved that way, what day would you choose?
- In theaters: December 10, 1968
- On DVD or streaming: August 12, 1998
- Cast: Mark Lester, Oliver Reed, Ron Moody
- Director: Carol Reed
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Book Characters, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Gratitude, Perseverance
- Run time: 153 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: January 21, 2021
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