It may have seemed like an unlikely film to make at the time, but Disney’s live action take on the animated classic 101 Dalmatians proved to be a fruitful venture. Not only did they snag Glenn Close for the role of Cruella de Vil, but they modernized the story to help it feel more up-to-date for some of the other characters. The studio opted to mute the animals, likely due to the technology just not being there for live action mouths on dogs, instead providing them with the occasional CGI facial expression that let you know what they were thinking. In an effort to capitalize on its success, Disney later released a sequel, 102 Dalmatians which wasn’t quite as successful but still remains a favorite for children today.
The story is well known by now: Cruella de Vil (Close), a fashion designer, loves fur. When one of her employees, Anita (Joely Richardson) shows her a design she was working on that employed the spots of a Dalmatian, Cruella fell in love with the design so much so that when Anita’s own Dalmatian had puppies, Cruella was instantly drawn to them for no other purpose than to make a fur coat out of them. When Anita and her husband Roger (Jeff Daniels) refused, de Vil broke out the henchmen and soon Roger and Anita, as well as the puppies parents Pongo and Perdy, scoured the city to find the stolen Dalmatians pups that joined a much larger selection of stolen puppies, totaling over 101 Dalmatians.
You may question as to why I’m combining the film reviews for the first film and the sequel, 102 Dalmatians. Well, to be completely honest…the two are not really all that different. Cruella’s character, released from prison after receiving a bill of health that she was “over” her obsession with the puppies, really didn’t change at all and instead just set out to make another coat. Seriously, that’s all the second film was—just a slightly altered version of the first that was tailored to fit Cruella’s new supposed disposition. It’s not entirely surprising a sequel was made, but they could have attempted something a little different. Simply put, if I were to review the two separately I’d be finding myself going over the same plot bits and exchanging character names for one another. Of course there are some additions to the sequel, such as a talking parrot who thinks it’s a dog (voiced by Eric Idle), but to be quite honest the sequel was just dull and boring.
I think what made the first one work so well in live-action was the fact the characters in it were already well known from the original cartoon adaption. True, we didn’t get to hear the dogs talk and the humans took a bigger focus because of it, but simply watching the dogs interact with one another just made for a good time. The way the dogs were trained for not only the first film but also for the second was just extraordinary and how they were able to get the puppies at such a young age to behave as they did is just mind blowing to me. This isn’t a film you necessarily watch to have your mind blown, but having cared for dogs since I was young, I’ve never seen a puppy behave so remarkably well.
Another element I enjoyed in the first film was the updating of Roger’s profession (he’s no longer a composer but a video game designer). Surprisingly the game that he created didn’t even look that dated—perhaps because games still haven’t really come to the point where it actually looks like an animated film in motion, but we’re probably only a couple game designers away from that development. Also entertaining was Hugh Laurie as Jasper, something I never realized when I was younger (why should I have?), but after seeing his role on House, M.D., watching him as the henchmen Jasper was nothing short of hilarious. Ron Weasley’s dad from the Harry Potter films, Mark Williams, played Horace and together Williams and Laurie made for some of the most entertaining pieces of the film (just as they did in the animated version). It’s a shame that more couldn’t have been done with the animals, as we so rarely see Pongo and Perdy once the puppies are captured, but, again, likely due to the limitations of both the budget and the CGI available at the time.
For 102 Dalmatians can almost cut and paste the characters of Kevin Shepherd (Ioan Gruffudd) and Chloe Simon (Alice Evans) in the roles of Roger and Anita, while Jean-Pierre Le Pelt (Gérard Depardieu) is some kind of weird hybrid of Skinner and Jasper/Horace from the first film. Basically what I’m saying is you can safely skip the sequel if you’ve seen the original as it’s just really more of the same. But if you want to see Glenn Close provide some truly off the wall insane acting, then by all means, 102 Dalmatians should be spinning your player right now—she’s just that crazy.
Overall I still recommend the first film, but that may just be me enjoying watching it again for the first time since I was twelve. As for the sequel…I never watched it when I was younger (even then I avoided the glut of Disney sequels that came out) and maybe that led to me not enjoying it as much, but either way you cut it 102 Dalmatians is just a repeat of the first one, but with less going for it.
101 Dalmatians: Recommended
102 Dalmatians: Rent It
Both of the films have seen DVD release before, but they’d long since gone out of print. I was just wondering to myself when they might see the light of day again when lo’ and behold these two show up. Neither feature any new extras, but there are anamorphic transfers in tow this time around so that’s enough of a reason to upgrade for some. Both releases come in standard DVD cases with inserts containing the Reward Zone code as well as outer foil embossed slip covers.
First up on the A/V front is 101 Dalmatians which shirks its previous letterboxed transfer in favor of a much more 2008 appropriate anamorphic widescreen transfer. I can’t say they cleaned it up any as it can get kind of grainy and dirty at times, but in all it’s not too bad of a transfer and is certainly nicer to watch than the previous OOP release. Included for 101 Dalmatians is the same menu system as the original release as well as the same Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks, with optional French and Spanish tracks. In essence I think all they did was drop an anamorphic transfer onto this release, but considering how hard the original was to find I’m not going to begrudge them for bringing it back out.
For 102 Dalmatians, the most difficult thing about that original release was how rampant the full screen copies were. Finding anything but that proved to be a chore and I’m not entirely sure there were even that many anamorphic mixes on the market to be honest. In any case, we get the anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1, a change from the 2.35:1 ratio for the first film) here which looks clean and clear and as you’d expect from a relatively new (2000) film. A DTS 5.1 English track is included and it provides ample surround usage throughout the room for the films many “exciting” sequences. A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is included in English, Spanish and French. As a bonus, there are Spanish subtitles and a THX Certified rating. Not exactly the film I really would want one for, but hey, whatever is available I suppose.
While the first film has zero extras (boo!), the second film is quite packed (…boo!). The first is an animal commentary with Director Kevin Lima plus the animal coordinators and trainers. This is an odd mix for a commentary, but once you settle into it slowly becomes less strange to have the puppy handlers talking about what’s happening on screen. Before long you realize that the dogs are really all there is to talk about with this film, so I guess it’s really all that strange to have them paired with the director. Not a bad track, and it’s certainly interesting, but it just means you have to watch the film again and I’d rather just spend that time on the first one again.
A mix of other extras are scattered around the disc and included a deleted scene (“Cruella’s Release”), three behind-the-scenes featurettes (“Creating Cruella,” “Animal Actors,” and “Designing Dalmatians”) which give us a fair glimpse into the production of the film and a mixture of other extras that are straight up children’s fodder. “Puppy Action Overload” features, and I quote directly from the back of the box, “puppy auditions, outtakes, great scenes from the film – music video style.” You can imagine how that one goes for yourself and the other pure DVD extra is a “Dalmatians 101” extra that shows you how to pick a dog that fits your personality, as narrated by Eric Idle (as Waddlesworth). Another extra in the form of a DVD-ROM exclusive (“Visual Effects 102” and “Cruella’s Costume Creator”) round out the extras on the disc.
Overall these re-releases are just that—reprints of the previous DVD releases. There’s nothing new and unfortunately the first film has no new extras, but it does have an anamorphic transfer so it has that going for it in the very least. The ratings are the same as those for the films:
101 Dalmatians: Recommended
102 Dalmatians: Rent It
101 Dalmatians and 102 Dalmatians are now available on DVD.