** (out of four)
A year before Disney began their streak of high-quality animated films like THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE LION KING, out came OLIVER AND COMPANY, which lives in infamy as one of the most mediocre cartoon movies ever. As with the vast majority of Disney cartoons, this is based on a classic of literature, Charles Dickens' OLIVER TWIST. Also in the Disney tradition, this features talking animals in all the major parts.
OLIVER AND COMPANY takes place in present day New York, Oliver being a cute orange kitten with the voice of Joey Lawrence. Abandoned and homeless, he meets up with the dog Dodger (voice of Billy Joel -- yes, you read me correctly) to steal some hot dogs. That's right, hot hot dogs. Dodger doublecrosses Oliver, saying something like "only the good die young," and runs off with the hot dogs. Cue the cute chase scene and a song from Dodger.
The two end up in the headquarters of Dodger's two-bit thievery gang, which consists of a bunch of dogs, including a fiesty Chihuahua voiced by Cheech Marin. They live with one of the token humans in the film, Fagin, a low-life who has three days to pay off the evil Mr. Sykes. That means Oliver and the dogs have to work extra hard to rob the New York citizens blind, in that cute, musical Disney way, of course.
One of their scams involves having the English bulldog in the gang pretend to get hit by a car while Chihuahua Cheech makes off with the car radio. This time, it's a limo with a cute little rich girl in it, and Oliver gets left behind in the limo. The cute little girl falls in love with the cute little kitty and takes it home to the mansion, where the egomaniacal French poodle is displaced from her position as favorite pet. So she conspires to get rid of Oliver at the same time the other dogs conspire to break in and rescue Oliver.
The cartoon goes on after that, not too much longer after that, mind you. It's only 72 minutes long, but that's one of the more attractive selling points. The movie is short on plot and a little too long on the songs. "Under the Sea" and "Hakuna Matata" they ain't, even if the Piano Man is at the helm of most of them. There's no real reason to seek this one out unless you've already grown sick of every other Disney animated classic.
It's no accident that OLIVER AND COMPANY took eight years to be released on video.