Disney // 2003 // 71 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // September 22nd, 2008
A new hero unleashed.
I'd never seen any of Disney's direct-to-DVD sequels to its classic theatrical animated features prior to sitting down to 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure. All I knew about them was that their titles are uninspiring (The Return of Jafar? Peter Pan II: Return to Neverland? Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure? Cinderella III: A Twist in Time?) and that Pixar honcho John Lasseter put the kibosh on the entire sequel enterprise when he was named Disney animation's Chief Creative Officer because he considered it a cheap money grab that diluted the animation studio's brand. So, I wasn't exactly bristling with anticipation as my three-year-old and I sat down to watch this sequel to 101 Dalmatians, Disney's 1961 classic about a mad woman's quest to make a fur coat out of puppies (how's that for a concept for a kid's flick?). But, lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised. 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure is a decent little flick. It's not up to the standards of its predecessor, but as direct-to-DVD productions go, it's top-notch.
As the movie begins, the Darlings are preparing to move from their London flat to a country farmhouse in order to accommodate their army of pooches. Already feeling a little lost in the crowd, Patch (one of a handful of puppies given distinct personalities in the first film) is left behind during the move. He wanders into the city and meets up with his hero, a German Shepherd television star named Thunderbolt (Barry Bostwick, The Rocky Horror Picture Show). The action hero is out of work because of the scheming of his Welsh Corgi sidekick Lightning (Jason Alexander, Seinfeld). Meanwhile, Cruella De Vil (Susan Blakeslee, Shrek the Third), who was given a slap on the wrist for her crimes in the first film, falls head over heels for the work of Lars (Martin Short, Three Amigos), an avant-garde artist who paints exclusively in black and white. Taking the role of his benefactor, she decides that Lars could make the ultimate piece of art by working in the medium of Dalmatian puppies (what's wrong with this woman?) and sets her lackeys, Jasper and Horace, on a mission to collect the dogs.
It's been years since I've seen 101 Dalmatians but what sticks in my mind are the frenetic, spastic, fart-in-a-whirlwind movements of Cruella De Vil and her belching jalopy. She's a clinic in memorable character animation. With its more modest budget, 101 Dalmatians II doesn't reach the same heights of physical comedy (and menace), but it does succeed in reproducing the original's overall design. The movie's London cityscape is rendered in the same bold lines and blocks of solid colors that pin the original Dalmatians to its early '60s setting. Roger and Anita Darling, Pongo, Perdita, Nanny, Cruella, Jasper, and Horace look the same as in the earlier film, though their movements aren't as supple.
Though directors Jim Kammerud and Brian Smith (Tarzan II) were as exact in reproducing the look of the original 101 Dalmatians as their budget allowed, they didn't quite manage to recapture the feel of the classic. Great children's stories are often weird, frightening, and a little bit gruesome. Cruella De Vil's obsession with turning puppies into high fashion is certainly that. Patch's London Adventure is considerably brighter and softer around the edges, despite the presence of Ms. De Vil. Whatever woes Patch and Thunderbolt experience, there's never the sense of real danger that infuses the original film. Still, little ones will be caught up in the dogs' adventures (mine was), while adults will find the 71-minute running time a pleasant mix of competent storytelling and quality animation.
The voice cast -- a mix of recognizable live-action performers and experienced voice actors -- is solid throughout. Barry Bostwick plays Thunderbolt with full-throated, faux-heroic glee. Martin Short is completely over-the-top as the turtlenecked and goateed Lars, but in a good way -- I accepted him as Lars rather than being constantly aware that it was Martin Short doing Martin Short-style shtick. Susan Blakeslee (House of Mouse) takes over for Betty Lou Gerson in the role of Cruella De Vil and does a fine job. Samuel West (Howards End) steps solidly into Rod Taylor's shoes as Pongo. Young actor Bobby Lockwood is appropriately cute and emotive as Patch. The weakest link in the voice cast is Jason Alexander, but that may be a personal bias on my part. Having been a huge fan of Seinfeld, I couldn't hear Lightning speak without the image of George Costanza popping into my head.
I haven't a clue whether this special edition of Patch's London Adventure offers an upgraded transfer over the original 2003 DVD release (I'd guess not), but the 1.66:1 anamorphically-enhanced image is gorgeous. The print is pristine, colors are bold and beautiful, and digital artifacts are non-existent.
The English-language DTS track on the original release has been dumped in favor of a Spanish dub, but that's a minor issue. The Dolby 5.1 English mix is sufficient. Audio is crystal clear throughout, though the full soundstage is only used during the movie's action sequences.
All of the extras from the original release are retained in this special edition, including a 7-minute making-of "dogumentary," an interactive featurette called "Thunderbolt: A Look Inside" that provides a glimpse of the fictional canine star's trailer, and two music videos. Added to this release are two games that can be played with your DVD player's remote: "Patch's Twilight Adventure" and "Lost in London."
Does 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure stand alongside the great Disney classics? No -- not even close. But I have to believe it's among the best (if not the best) of their direct-to-DVD line of features. Young kids will love it. Adults will find it mildly charming.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Behind-the-Scenes "Dogumentary"
* Thunderbolt: A Look Inside
* Patch's Twilight Adventure Game
* "Try Again" Music Video
* Lost in London Game
* "You're the One" Music Video