102 Dalmations (2000)
The next time you hear neighborhood dogs barking in the night, think twice before complaining. They may be stopping a crime.
(based on the novel by Dodie Smith)
Eric Idle (voice)
Yes, Disney's dalmatians are back and they're smarter than ever. They play computer games, they help women pick out clothes before dates, they answer doors and stick Disney videos ("The Lady and the Tramp") in the VCR all without a great deal of slobber. Oh, and they provide clues for their clueless masters on how to stop crimes being perpetrated against other dogs.
The film begins with the rehabilitation of Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close), the fur-loving designer who was sent to prison for dognapping in Disney's 1996 feature, 101 Dalmatians. Dr. Pavlov (the first of many jokey names) has invented a behavior control therapy to make friends out of predator and prey. He shows off cat and canary, dog with rabbit, and Cruella smothered happily by dalmatian pups. It's her ticket to freedom. But is she really cured? Well, yes, except for one small proviso: the therapy wears off if the subject hears Big Ben's chime. Since her new parole officer, Chloe (Alice Evans), works across from Big Ben, it's not long before the inevitable occurs.
Meanwhile, Ella, as she now likes to be called ("Cruella sounds too cruel," she tells the press), gets a job at a dog shelter called "Second Chance," which is run by a bland, good-looking dog-lover named Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd). Chloe is also a bland, good-looking dog-lover, so their getting together is another of the film's inevitabilities. They're aided in this endeavor by their respective dogs. His are mutts, plus a Macaw parrot named Waddlesworth (voice of Eric Idle) who thinks it's a rottweiler. Hers include Dipstick, a dalmatian from the original film, and Oddball, a spotless runt who, ashamed of her spotlessness, is constantly getting into trouble trying to manufacture spots whether through copier ink or by stealing the spotted sweater off a Punch and Judy doll.
There's an ongoing but facile disagreement between Chloe and Kevin: he trusts people and she doesn't. At one point she says, "People like Cruella don't change," which is an interesting attitude for a parole officer to have. When Big Ben finally strikes, she wins the argument. Cruella, in partnership with the French fur-designer, Jean Pierre Le Pelt (Gerard Depardieu), immediately plots to steal 102 dalmatian pups for her new coat, pinning the blame thanks to the stupidest police force in existence on the overtrusting Kevin.
At the screening I attended, most kids seemed to get a kick out of the movie, and adults will probably enjoy the cartoonish evil of Close and Depardieu, as well as the outlandish costumes designed by Anthony Powell. But the plot is dully formulaic, and the comeuppance of the villains is of the incessant, sadistic Home Alone variety. In the press-kit, director Kevin Lima calls this "empowering" for children, since "if puppies can conquer evil, they can too," but other, less-palatable lessons are probably seeping through.
Then there are the puppies, which are cute but so well-trained as to be appear, at times, lifeless. Throughout its history Disney has anthropomorphized everything from mice to candlesticks, but if these things become too human they cease to be interesting. Gather 102 dalmatian puppies together, for example, and you'd expect a little more romping about and a little less soldierly discipline. Put it this way: after watching "102 Dalmatians," I simply wished to be around some intelligent people, and some sweet, stupid dogs.
originally published in The Seattle Times
© 2000 Erik Lundegaard