erik lundegaard


101 Dalmations (1996)

The animated version terrified me more.

Written by:
John Hughes (yes, that one)

Directed by:
Stephen Herek

Glenn Close
Jeff Daniels
Joely Richardson
Joan Plowright
Hugh Laurie
and lotsa puppies

Yes, I was a child when I saw the animated version, and children scare more easily than adults, but there's also an antisceptic quality of the new film. Didn't the cartoon dogs have to go through greater trials? Wasn't there a moment when they dipped themselves in coal dust to turn black and hide themselves from Cruella De Vil? Nothing like it here. The puppies are stolen by bumblers. They are rescued by other dogs. Even the cops are out looking for them. Where's the tension? When Cruella is in the stable searching for the puppies, we don't worry too much. The cops aren't far behind, Cruella is by herself, and even if she finds them, what's she going to do? Pick up 99 puppies with her hands? She's outnumbered from the start.

None of these problems, by the way, can be blamed on Glenn Close, who's marvelous. I also like the two bumbling henchmen, although their schtick is quickly reduced to Pesci's and Stern's in the Home Alone movies: a series of painful, humiliating encounters with frozen fountains and rotten floorboards and tailpipes and electric fences. Sadism is funny. No surprise that John Huges wrote the script.

The movie is at once old-timey (milk bottles delivered each morning) and modern (video games), with a pro-family, anti-feminist message (the wife quits her job to have a family despite the anti-male rantings of Cruella De Vil). And talk about shameless! At one point the dogs are watching The Aristocats (a Disney production) on television, only to change the channel to The Incredible Journey (another Disney production). The video game that Jeff Daniels works on prefigures Disney's own video game about the movie. There are promotions within promotions here. It's a small world after all.

—November 27, 1996

© 1999 Erik Lundegaard