101 Dalmatians (1996)

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A daft attempt at comedy in a real life telling of the classic Disney animation of the same name. Apart from a few good moments and a fantastic performance from Glenn Close it falls short from delivering any laughs or any interest.

The story is of an American named Roger deciding to live and work in England, don’t ask why. Surely his video game would be better received in the US but anyway. After being dragged across London by his dog, Pongo he meets and ends up marrying a British fashion designer who too has a dalmatian, how lucky hey? Perdita gives birth to 15 puppies and Anita’s boss Cruella DeVil tries to buy them but she and Roger refuse leading to her hiring some halfwits to try and steal them to turn them into another fur coat for her zoological wardrobe.

Perhaps I didn’t like this film as much due to having a love for the classic. A Disney film stands the test of time and there’s a charm in the animation even if the plot is somewhat odd and also dark. Transforming a cartoon into live-action can work but on the most part they don’t and I don’t see why they need to be updated. This movie loses a sense of comedy and heart in its translation from drawing to reality. Actually having it real makes you question a lot more than when you watch a cartoon. The way it all just works out and they have enough money for a manor to hold all the dogs is far-fetched and how did the other dogs DeVil stole manage to convene with Perdita’s pups?

The script work is by John Hughes and you can certainly feel his presence as the story progresses. He was a good writer and an intelligent man in general but in this film it all feels forced. The pratfalls and slapstick are too much, in fact they become tiresome and they turn Jasper and Horace into pathetic characters. At least in ‘Home Alone’ the Hughes magic gave some menace to the burglars, here it just fails. Some of the animal creativity also leads to shortcomings when it shows more than it should. Imagination is a powerful tool and so it didn’t need to show a shoddy woodpecker knocking on the door or animatronic raccoons looking plain silly.

The rest of the creature craziness is actually good clean child fun with dogs showing they can be taught new tricks and Pongo in particular doing a lot. The bike pulling scene near the start is a little sequence of brilliance and is slapstick used to story effect unlike the Jasper/Horace dynamic. I mean how did they even think their version of hopping over an electric fence would work? Dumb!

The best feature of the movie comes with Glenn Close getting under the vile skin of Cruella. A recognisable villain of the Disney film and she becomes the role believably and gets her manic laugh down to a T. She looks and sounds the part and through all her finale crawling and mud soaking she still leaves with dignity, though how there’s ever a skunk in Surrey baffles me. The costume helps capture the horrendous obsession of fur and her hair gives wild style to the colour of the dogs she wants to use. A truly wicked performance as she goes through the film and you feel the same dread as the dalmatians every time she appears. One of the closest qualities of this film to resembling the original animation.

A film that only really has Close’s Cruella to stop it being a complete dud with no spots. Fun in places with some use of animal acting but this is the Cruella DeVil show. If she doesn’t scare you no evil thing will.

5.5/10

 

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