As work started on Oliver and Company, the Disney animation studio was, to put it mildly, in a depressed mood. Roy Disney had returned to head the animation department—a plus—but the animation department was still dealing with newly arrived Disney CEO Michael Eisner and newly arrived chairman of Walt Disney Pictures, Jeffrey Katzenberg. The animation department had a particularly tense relationship with Katzenberg, who had not liked The Black Cauldron at all and done something the animators considered unforgivable: personally cut the film. The glory and success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was still in production and had not yet appeared on screen, and the entire animation department was now glumly working in a warehouse instead of their nice animation studios.
Yet, despite all this, an unsympathetic Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered the animation department to produce one film per year. This was an ambitious order for a department that had barely managed to do this under Walt Disney’s direction, and not at all in the years since his death, and for a department that was understaffed and—despite The Rescuers and The Black Cauldron—not trained to the rigors of the old days.
It was probably the perfect time to focus on adapting Charles Dickens’ mercilessly cheerful work, Oliver Twist.