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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
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Dodie Smith's delightful 1956 novel, The One Hundred and One Dalmatians has proved to be quite the cash cow for Disney, with varying degrees of quality for each successive installment. The classic animated film of 1961 (which pioneered the use of the Xerox animation process, revolutionizing the art form at that time) inspired the 1996 live action remake. That film (starring Glenn Close as the Grande Dame of Disney Villainy, Cruella de Vil) was a dark, mean spirited romp that relied heavily on Home Alone-style slapstick violence that stripped the original story of it's simple charms. Nevertheless, the film was successful enough to spawn a mediocre Saturday morning cartoon series, Disney Stores filled with spotted puppy merchandise and this requisite follow-up. Released as Disney's big holiday film last year (it under performed and was surpassed at the box office by the black sheep Emperor's New Groove), 102 Dalmatians is now available on VHS and DVD.
Continuing the story three years later, we find that Cruella, locked-up for her dog-napping shenanigans in the previous film, has undergone a miraculous transformation. Brainwashed to rid her of her insatiable desire for fur, this is a kinder, gentler Cruella. Her two-toned hair neatly coifed into an exaggerated pageboy, clad in animal friendly but still sartorially splendid designer fashions, she insists on being called "Ella" to reflect her new "leash on life". (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
However this is the same woman who snarled the immortal line "I don't care how you kill the little beasts, just do it! Poison them, drown them, bash them in the head ... you got any chloroform?" So any proposed rehabilitation is destined to be short lived. Allying herself with portly pret-a-porter peddler Jean-Pierre Le Pelt (Gerard Depardieu, who should lay off the French pastries), she promptly re-hatches her scheme to create a spotted dalmatian puppy fur coat, now hooded, thus the need for one hundred and two dalmatians.
Don't expect to see a lot of familiar faces in this installment. No Pongo and Perdita, no Roger and Anita. In fact, besides Cruella, the only other character from the 1996 film is puppy hero Dipstick, now grown with a family of his own: mate Dottie (you knew they would use that name eventually) and their three pups, Domino (white spots on his black ears), Little Dipper (black on his tail like his pop) and Oddball, so named for her complete lack of spots. They are joined by their "pets", Alice Evans as Chloe (Cruella's parole officer) and Ioan Gruffudd as Kevin (owner of a dog shelter). These two actors do a game job of staying out of the way of the fabricated doggie stunts.