Senior HTF Member
- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Studio: Walt Disney
US Rating: Rated G for General Audiences
Film Length: 103 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, French and Spanish Language Tracks
Subtitles: Optional English SDH
US Release Date: September 16th, 2008
The Film - :star::star::star: out of :star::star::star::star::star:
“You beasts! But I'm not beaten yet. You've won the battle, but I'm about to win the wardrobe. My spotty puppy coat is in plain sight and leaving tracks. In a moment I'll have what I came for, while all of you will end up as sausage meat, alone on some sad, plastic plate. Dead and meaty and red. No friends, no family, no pulse. Just slapped between two buns, smothered in onions, with fries on the side. Cruella De Vil has the last laugh!”
The live-action adaptation of Disney’s celebrated 17th feature animation film, itself based on the beloved book ‘The One Hundred and One Dalmatians’, had quite a lot to live up to. And this 1996 updated version tries hard to succeed as a worthy remake of that timeless classic, but just doesn’t seem to be able to come together.
For the updated version, young and innocent Dalmatian owners Roger and Anita and their four legged friends Pongo and Perdy have a fateful meeting in the park. They quickly fall in love, get married and owners and Dalmatians alike find they are expecting. Roger is a video game maker and Anita works for the eccentric and pitiless Cruella De Vil as a fashion designer. Anita catches the evil De Vil’s eye one morning with a design piece inspired by her sweet Dalmatian Perdy. When Cruella discovers that her talented employee has been distracted from her fashion work by a man, she is mad, but once she hears that there are baby Dalmatians on the way, her sinister love for animal fur kicks into overdrive as she covets the idea of a fashion piece made from the soft fur of those puppies.
Employing two bumbling henchman, Cruella steals the puppies, setting in motion an adventure with hundreds of legs.
The standout performance is of course Glenn Close doing almost as much with the simple and evil Cruella as the cartoon from 1961. She plays the infamous De Vil with vengeful eyes, a cutting tongue and a theatrical exuberance that belongs to annals of superb children’s movie villains. It is perhaps the grandness of her performance that, despite descending to an almost absurd operatic level, provides the rest of the feature an insurmountable hill to climb; setting the bar high enough for the otherwise merely pedestrian effort to fall against. 101 Dalmatians is by all accounts a cute film. The puppy hi-jinks are enough to elicit a lengthy “aaawww” from even the most ardent critic. And the coalition of animals across the animal kingdom (of rural England) coming together to help the puppies-in-distress, is entertaining and even a little warming to the soul. But besides a few scenes with Glenn Close hamming up the screen, it is a full forty-five minutes before any real excitement kicks in.
The film is mostly slowed by the relationship elements thrust uneasily into the plot by the once capable screenwriting skills of John Hughes. He was the man who really seemed to ‘get’ what being young was all about with his sentimental and resonant 80’s flicks. His Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful and The Breakfast Club were the pinnacle of his career (at least for me). The soft and ‘nice’ characters who meet, fall in love and preside over their loved Dalmatians bringing 15 adorable puppies into the world are played by Jeff Daniels (Roger) and Joely Richardson (Anita). They occupy the first act with a little physical humor, but mostly a plodding sweetness and dryness that, a likeable befuddlement aside, distract and weigh down the pace more than should have been allowed. Joan Plowright also plays a familiar role as the caring mother, sounding like so many animated mother characters from the library of Disney greats.
The task of bringing this treasure of a story to the big screen was handed to John Hughes as screenwriter and co-producer and Stephen Herek (Mr. Holland’s Opus) as director. Good use is made of the London locations and all around, the high quality of the production design, sets, lighting and cinematography is first rate. And the action is just fine for a children’s film, despite not achieving something more than merely suitable. Industrial Light and Magic handle the special effects, of which there are fewer than you might expect. Mostly CGI puppies performing the more slapstick puppy sequences (the drain-pipe escape in particular). The effects blend quite nicely with the well choreographed live animal work, which, pleasingly, make up the greater majority of the animal fun.
The film also employs the talents of some British comedic greats. Before he was Dr. House, Hugh Laurie, who plays the bumbling Jasper, was a delight on British television in shows such as A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Blackadder and Jeeves & Wooster. His even dumber onscreen partner in crime is The Fast Show staple Mark Williams as Horace. You can even find Laurie’s Blackadder co-star Tim McInnerny as the sniveling Alonso, although his talent is wasted here.
The result is a film which succeeds as much as it fails. A fantastic performance by Glenn Close balanced by a weak script absent of wit and only a restrained sense of excitement and a soppy opening act define this adventure. Delightful performances by the Dalmatians and a hundred reasons to want to visit the animal shelter and take home man’s best friend may very well be the lasting impression made on this reviewer.
The Video - :star::star::star: out of :star::star::star::star::star:
Walt Disney has simply repackaged the original DVD release from 2000 (check out the primitive menu), although they have corrected a problem with that version . The film is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 and is now Enhanced for 16X9 displays. Though there are flaws, this is a reasonably good image. There is noticeable dust and debris on the print which exist through the entire film, though never more clearly than during the title sequence. And although the bright image appears sharp and even crisp at times, some of this clarity appears to have been arrived at artificially through edge enhancement. That being said, the image still provides some good detail, good flesh tones and a light, bright pleasant image.
The Sound - :star::star::star: out of :star::star::star::star::star:
101 Dalmatians comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound option that is heavily front focused but manages a few surprises in the sub-woofer and in the surrounds when absolutely called upon. Michael Kamen’s romantic and playful score is allowed to shine at times, although the immersive nature of this particular audio track won’t win any awards for being outstanding. The storm scene sounds good and the clap of thunder stands out, but there just isn’t as much of that kind of surrounding audio effect to make a difference. A slightly less than average track.
The Extra's - :star: out of :star::star::star::star::star:
101 Dalmatians is only somewhat entertaining and once the first forty to forty-five minutes has passed, will hold the attention of your children absolutely. But a stronger first half, a more solid dose of adult appreciated wit and a little more zip to the pacing could have turned this into a genuinely charming family film. The sweet English world created here, with lush countryside, tight streets and gobs of (fake) snow help, but if Glenn Close had not performed as deliriously as she had, we might not even be talking about this film today.
Overall Score - :star::star::star: out of :star::star::star::star::star: