101 Dalmatians (1996)
When Walt Disney started his company some seventy years ago is started a new trend in family entertainment. This expanded to film, television, and even entertainment parks for the whole family to enjoy together. Of all these accomplishments, the ones that are most beloved by generation after generation are the animated movies. Each generation has their own favorite, usually released the time they were five to eight years old. For us, baby boomers, one of the main animated movies was the 1961 'The Hundred and One Dalmatians.' When my own daughter was around that age she was completely captivated by the flick and her room was filled with stuffed Dalmatian puppies. Quite a few of the Disney classic animated movies have been given a live-action treatment in more recent years. In 1996 this tread was continued with '101 Dalmatians'. While no real action movie could ever capture the sheer whimsy and delight of those animated wonders this one comes very close. It is fun for the whole family and that is what matters. The choice of making this with actors was brilliant since no one can resist a room full of puppies romping around the screen. The basic story is changed although some necessary modifications were included to accommodate the use of real actors and more importantly real animals. The foundation has remained intact with the most delicious villainess of all time Cruella De Vil played to the hilt by Glenn Close. This is silly fun for all and if you have kids or grandkids running around it will make an excellent addition to your DVD collection. It is even the kind of kid's flick that the adults can stick around and watch without wanting to run from the room. It has the full force of the Disney company behind it to make sure it has the quality and entertainment value we grew up expecting from them. In fact, you can make a Dalmatian marathon some weekend since the sequel' 102 Dalmatians' and the animated '101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London' all come out on the same date.
When the Disney company decided to make a live-action movie out of one of their most enduring and popular animated films, they knew they had to get the best possible for the cast and crew. After all, the parents and grandparents taking their kids to see this will be very well acquainted with the original, and you just don't mess with such positive childhood memories. The task of writing the script went to a veteran of the business, John Hughes. He was the creator of a whole series of popular teen angst flicks in the eighties including 'Breakfast Club,' 'Sixteen Candles' and 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.' By the end of that decade, Hughes had moved his creative pen towards a slightly lower demographic age. He knows about writing for kids and dogs, as evident with his scripts for all the 'Home Alone' and 'Beethoven' flicks. To be fair, some of those lamentable sequels were done under a pseudonym; 'Edmond Dantès.' Even with this said, Hughes knows how to write a simple story that the children will be able to understand, and the parents will find amusing. To this end, Hughes had to create more in the way of backstories for the human characters. A few of the professions had to be updated from the original, such as the lead human Roger (Jeff Daniels) has been changed from a songwriter to someone who designed computer games. His wife Anita (Joely Richardson) now works for Cruella in her fashion house. There is, of course, plenty of scenes written to allow the dogs to steal the shot and take over the movie.
Directing this film is Stephen Herek, and he certainly has an eclectic resume. Herek has helmed comedies such as 'Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure' and 'Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead' as well as family fare like 'The Mighty Ducks.' He demonstrated with more serious themes as in 'Mr. Holland's Opus'. He also had a few bombs, including 'Rock Star' and 'Holy Man' but everyone has an off project or two in life. Herek chose to take this film in a slapstick direction. It is silly fun to be sure, but the film doesn't live up to its animated predecessor. Perhaps the difficulty here is so many in the audience will remember that classic that nothing could rear the bar it set as family entertainment. Herek allows the human actors to be more cartoon than real people which detract from the talent of the cast. He does move along the film at a good clip which is vital considering the target audience here. He gets right into the antics with the kinetic meeting between Roger and Anita as well as the canine leads Pongo and Perdita. Credit is due for the people who had to control over 200 dogs to make this film. My family has four, and we can't get them to come inside at once, let alone hit the camera marks on cue.
The film opens, as did the original, in London. An alarm clock literally rings off the shelf, hitting Pongo on the head. This signals him to get his human, Roger, up for the day. He's a great dog who gets things ready for Roger by starting the shower before pulling the covers from him. Pongo even starts the coffee maker. Our dogs just sit on the kitchen floor, waiting for a bagel to fall. This one can turn on the computer and get the milk left at the doorstep; we are talking one Einstein of a dog here. On the television, a reporter is covering a story of the disappearance of animals all over town. Later, in the park, Pongo says hello to his canine friends passing by. As they leave the park, they pass Anita sitting with Perdita. At the iconic fashion establishment, the House of De Vil, we get the first sight of Cruella. She is dressed in low flowing fur and holds an extremely long cigarette holder as she passes her minions. In short order, Roger and Anita meet after their dogs catch sight of each other and are soon married. Anita works for her and has come up with a design for a black and white spotted line of clothes. Cruella decides it needs real Dalmatian fur. Perdita gives Pongo a litter of puppies, and when Cruella finds out, she wants them. When Anita refuses to sell them, she is fired, but that is not the end of it for Cruella. She sends her henchmen, Jasper (Hugh Laurie), and Horace (Mark Williams) to steal them and over 90 other Dalmatian pups. What follows is a lot of slapstick folly and mayhem.
The human cast here is excellent, although not given much to showcase their considerable talents. Close is perfect as Cruella, holding herself above everyone else in the scene. She just exudes pure evil in every shot. Daniels is well accustomed to playing quirky roles to the hilt and does his best as a second banana to a herd of dogs. One notable performance is by Laurie. Now, he is best known to American audiences as Doctor Gregory House in 'House M.D..' In that show, he plays a man of uncommon intelligence. Actually, Laurie is a well-known comedian in England and shows that he can still take a pratfall with the best of them.
This movie is cute and will keep the younger set occupied, but it just isn't the original. It will do for a rainy day or a long road trip to keep the kids contained but do them a favor and let them see the 1961 animated feature as well.
Posted 09/09/08 Posted 02/24/2020