Judge Clark Douglas wonders what sort of cruel devil would subject him to a sequel like this.
A spotless new tail is going to be unleashed.
"The last time I underestimated a puppy, I wound up in the pokey!"—Cruella De Vil
Facts of the Case
It's been a few years since Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close, Air Force One) tried to murder nearly 100 innocent puppies. She's been undergoing some rather unusual psychological therapy in prison. After some intensive mental conditioning, Cruella has seemingly changed a great deal. Suddenly, she is positively in love with dogs and finds the idea of fur coats repulsive. She is released from prison and vows to create a better life. She does this by saving a rescue shelter for lost dogs, which is run by a rather friendly fellow named Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd, Fantastic Four).
Cruella's parole officer is Chloe (Alice Evans, Blackball), a dog-loving woman who is very suspicious of Cruella. Chloe is a Dalmatian-lover and is the current owner of Dipstick, one of the original puppies. Now Dipstick has his own children, and Chloe wants to be sure to keep them safe from Cruella. She's not convinced that Ms. De Vil has really changed, and she intends to find out for sure. Has the world's greatest threat to innocent Dalmatian puppies truly changed, or is she simply cooking up another scheme?
Though the live-action 101 Dalmatians was not exactly a cinematic masterpiece, it worked well enough as a cute family film. This is largely because they were working with a solid story that originated in the novel of the same name and then further popularized in the enchanting animated version. Here, the luxury of working with predictably reliable material is gone. An entirely new story is created, and I'm sorry to report that it's really quite a mess. Almost all the charms of the first film have vanished, replaced by a series of tiresome slapstick gags and obnoxious action scenes.
In the previous film, Glenn Close was reduced to falling in the mud and being attacked by pigs. This time around, Close is given dignity by default. She only comes across well because everybody else is busy embarrassing themselves terribly. Gerard Depardieu (Babylon A.D.) plays a fashion model whose only significant trait is that he calls puppies "poopies." The once-funny Eric Idle (Monty Python's The Meaning of Life) voices an obnoxious parrot who thinks he is a dog. Unlike most parrots, this parrot does not mimic anyone, but rather is able to carry on a perfectly sensible conversation and make all the requisite pop culture references that a film like this requires. Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Evans are forced to recreate a scene from Lady and the Tramp. You know, the one in the Italian restaurant. It's about as awkward as it sounds.
The plot is nothing short of ridiculous. I never could figure out why on earth Cruella De Vil felt the need to steal somebody's puppies when she could just breed her own. I still can't figure it out. I'll accept it, though. That's just part of the story. However, I can't buy the idea that Cruella could somehow be miraculously healed and then (spoiler alert) have her mental conditioning undone by the chimes of Big Ben. That's not even the worst of it. Everything involving the police or legal matters is just bewildering. A judge randomly decides to make Cruella give her eight million dollar fortune to a dog shelter if she ever attempts to kidnap another dog. So, Cruella decides to get a job at a dog shelter, frame the owner and make it look like he was trying to frame her in order to get the money and then get control of the dog shelter for herself. That whole thing is such a terrible idea in so many ways.
But let's just say that the plot doesn't even matter. Let's just buy everything this movie asks us to swallow. It still doesn't work, thanks to the fact that this film relies much too heavily on dreary toilet humor and poorly-executed slapstick scenes that involve lots of people falling over and hitting their heads (and other body parts). Suffice it to say that composer David Newman is called upon to employ pizzicato strings and bassoons far more often than I would have liked. Ever since Home Alone, the chaos-driven slapstick comedy genre has retained at least some measure of popularity. These films are often mediocre at best, and at worst they're 102 Dalmatians. This one was directed by Kevin Lima, who has made some nice movies (Tarzan, Enchanted). This is most assuredly not one of them.
The transfer is decent, though at times is seems a bit too soft and washed-out. Not much, mind you, just enough to keep it from seeming vibrant. Sound is solid and well-balanced. While 101 Dalmatians has received a bare-bones re-release from Disney, this disc is loaded down with plenty of special features. There's a commentary from director Kevin Lima and numerous animal trainers which offers some decent technical info (though little else). There are also three making-of featurettes included. All are pretty light on substance, but welcome nonetheless: "Creating Cruella," "Animal Actors," and "Designing Dalmatians." Pretty self-explanatory. Additionally, "Dalmatians 101" is a cutesy little thing about how to pick a dog based on your personality. "Puppy Action Overload" is a music video-style montage of puppy auditions, scenes from the film, and more puppy-related things. Meh. One deleted scene is worth taking a peek at, while two interactive games ("Visual Effects 102" and "Cruella's Costume Creator") are strictly for the kiddies. Finally, there's a theatrical trailer. Not much here really interested me, but it's still a pretty generous batch.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Glenn Close actually gets to have a little bit of fun here…for a while, anyway. The first 35 minutes or so of the film contain at least a few laughs, thanks to Close's inspired turn as the "reformed" Cruella. Once she reverts back to her true nature, it's more of the same old yelling and screeching, which just isn't all that interesting.
Even if you liked the live-action 101 Dalmatians, please be extremely wary of checking out the sequel. It's a messy, grating waste of time that will confuse kids and irritate their parents. What a dog.
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