102 Dalmatians

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Lots of comic peril, not too intense
Diversity Issues: All white cast
Date Released to Theaters: 2000

In “101 Dalmatians,” all-time movie villian Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close) is sent to jail for dognapping with the intention of making the dalmatian puppies into a fur coat. As the sequel begins, Cruella has been rehabilitated through the experimental efforts of a behaviorial scientist. Now, she wants to be known simply as “Ella,” a friend to all animals. So, she is released from prison and assigned to a sweet parole officer named Cloe (Alice Evans), who just happens to own a family of dalmatians. Ella tosses away all her furs, and takes over the “Second Chance” dog sanctuary, run by the adorable Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd).

But “Ella’s” rehabilitation, it turns out, can be reversed by the chimes of London’s famous clock tower, Big Ben. A couple of gongs later, she is back to Cruella and her old passion for a dalmatian puppy coat, only this time she wants it with a hood. And that means that she will need 102 of them. With the help of fashion fur designer Monsier LePelt (Gerard Depardieu) and her loyal henchman Alonzo, they capture the puppies, making it look as though Kevin took them, and take off for Paris, followed by Cloe, Kevin, and their assorted animals, including a parrot who thinks he’s a dog.

It’s better than the first live-action version, though still not as good as the original animated classic. The problem is that other than Cruella, the human characters are bland. In the live-action versions, the dogs do not talk, which makes it much harder to connect to them as characters. That leaves us with not much more than a plot that is already very familiar (Cruella takes dogs, dogs get rescued) along with a great villain, cute puppies, and sensational costumes. Although there are some nice moments and a satisfyingly silly fate for Cruella, the movie is slow going — the credit sequence is livelier than the movie that follows. In a particularly poor choice, there is a scene in which the dogs watch a video of “Lady and the Tramp,” enjoying the “Bella Note” scene while Cloe and Kevin, out on a date, share a plate of spaghetti. It may be intended to induce nostalgia and a sense of connection, but what it induces instead is regret that we are watching this movie instead of that one.

Kids may find parts of the movie confusing, like the brief scenes with “Dr. Pavlov,” who explains that he has cured Cruella with behavior modification and her subsequent relapse, triggered by a clock striking. One of the dalmatian puppies has no spots, and is named “Oddball.” As we expect, she feels bad about being different and then proves her worth. But this mild little message is undercut by having her then develop spots as a part of the happy ending.

Parents should know that the movie includes a lot of comic peril and slapstick humor. A character’s repeated injuries are treated as jokes. The overall theme of catching puppies so that they can be killed to make a fur coat may be upsetting to some children.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Oddball felt bad about not having spots and the way the people who love her tried to help. Kevin explains that he was arrested once for kidnapping dogs from a laboratory, and families may want to discuss how people decide to break rules in defense of more important values. They may also want to talk about what does happen to people in jail and how decisions are made about releasing prisoners.

Families who enjoy this movie should see the original animated version of “101 Dalmatians” and “Lady and the Tramp.”

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