×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

101 Dalmatians

Glenn Close and the lead dogs are great, but a key conceptual decision and a less-than-inspired climax prevent Disney's new, live-action "101 Dalmatians" from being the cat's meow. Given the irresistible, time-tested premise, ultra-stylish production and giant promo push, nothing could prevent this from being an international B.O. smash.

With:
Cruella DeVil - Glenn Close
Roger - Jeff Daniels
Anita - Joely Richardson
Nanny - Joan Plowright
Jasper - Hugh Laurie
Horace - Mark Williams
Skinner - John Shrapnel

Glenn Close and the lead dogs are great, but a key conceptual decision and a less-than-inspired climax prevent Disney’s new, live-action “101 Dalmatians” from being the cat’s meow. Given the irresistible, time-tested premise, ultra-stylish production and giant promo push, nothing could prevent this from being an international B.O. smash, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its full entertainment potential.

Original 1961 animated film, reissued several times since, remains a Disney favorite among many for its relative lack of schmaltz and visual style that was somewhat harder-edged than usual for the studio. In adjusted dollars, pic actually ranks as the fifth most popular film of all time, and second only to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” among Disney features.

This popularity, augmented incalculably by video sales, will carry over into tremendous want-see for the new version. Fans of the original will not only not feel betrayed or let down, but will delight in certain elaborations in John Hughes’ new screenplay, most notably in the treatment of arch villainess Cruella DeVil, whose most passionate desire is to make a unique fur coat out of the too-precious puppies.

Set contemporaneously but in a London with a feel of decades ago, tale gets off to a terrific start, as the attraction between the Dalmatians of Yank computer game designer Roger (Jeff Daniels) and fashion designer Anita (Joely Richardson) brings their masters together into instantaneous marriage. Slo-mo scene of Roger’s pooch, Pongo, melting at the sight of Anita’s hound, Perdy, is priceless, and subsequent chase through London streets and parks, with Pongo pulling Roger’s bicycle in a desperate attempt to catch up with his inamorata, is handled with outstanding smoothness and skill.

Canine lovebirds are soon expecting, as are their human counterparts. Disgusted by the latter development, Anita’s boss, the outlandish, fearsome fashion-world diva Cruella DeVil (Close), is more intrigued by the prospect of some little doggies, as Anita has inadvertently given her the idea for her latest creation, an authentic Dalmatian coat.

Suspecting the worst, the young couple refuse to sell the litter — 15 in all — to Cruella, who furiously vows revenge. To do her bidding, she turns to two bumbling crooks (Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams) who have just managed to procure an endangered white Siberian tiger for her from the London Zoo; in short order the pups are kidnapped and spirited to a distant old mansion, where 84 other Dalmatians await a cruel fate.

From here on, story becomes considerably more conventional in its handling. While a baffled police force can only hope for the best, word passes on the animal network as to the doggies’ peril, and a local barnyard battalion springs into action, dispatching the hapless kidnappers and guiding the pups to safety. With the conclusion foregone, final act is protracted needlessly and even a bit tiresomely, and pic suffers by losing the emotional identification provided by Roger and Anita and Pongo and Perdy, who essentially disappear until the wrap-up.

Where the film misses its biggest bet, however, is in depriving the animals of the voices they had in the animated version. The intelligence and sincerity of Pongo and Perdy’s dialogue and readings, along with the distinctive vocal characterizations for the other animals, accounted for much of the picture’s charm, creating a parallel universe for the four-legged personalities that was appealing and convincing. One might have expected that, in this post-“Babe” era, the dogs here would have been given the same capacity for verbal expression, but, alas, they just bark, whimper and growl. Within the film’s terms, the two canine leads are extremely expressive, and the puppies are irresistible (except when some are obviously animated toward the end). But it seems that much more was possible.

Although the two hopeless pup robbers come directly from the original film, they also are straight out of the “Home Alone” movies — penned, as was this one, by Hughes — and their shenanigans grow a bit tedious. Joan Plowright pops up as a stalwart nanny even before any offspring arrive, and Daniels and Richardson prove winning and well-matched as the earnest and affable central couple.

But the human side is dominated — if human she be — by Close. Fully conversant with the grande dame persona after her turn onstage as Norma Desmond, Close is like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford combined as the fashion-plate witch who delights in making humans and animals alike quake at the thought of her, who treads the Earth as if she owned every inch of it and brandishes her scarlet cigarette holder as a symbol of the terror she relishes spreading everywhere she goes.

Close delivers show-stopping line readings that are simply nonpareil, while the character’s externals — the skunk-like black-and-white hair, the brilliantly extravagant gowns (down to manicured nails built into her gloves), her sleek Coupe DeVil and outrageous office — have been provided by expert hands led by costume designers Anthony Powell and Rosemary Burrows, and production designer Assheton Gorton.

Film in general is appointed as luxuriously as a Rolls, with lenser Adrian Biddle’s widescreen framing ideally suited to doggie dimensions, and director Stephen Herek wringing maximum emotional mileage out of the unspoken but emphatic paralleling of the human and canine family values. Michael Kamen’s proficient score outwears its welcome simply because it virtually wallpapers the picture, especially in the final half-hour.

101 Dalmatians

Production: A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Great Oaks production. Produced by John Hughes, Ricardo Mestres. Executive producer, Edward S. Feldman. Directed by Stephen Herek. Screenplay, John Hughes, based on the novel "The One Hundred and One Dalmatians" by Dodie Smith.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Adrian Biddle; editor, Trudy Ship; music, Michael Kamen; production design, Assheton Gorton; supervising art director, Alan Tomkins; art direction, John Ralph; set decoration, Joanne Woollard; costume design, Anthony Powell with Rosemary Burrows; sound (Dolby digital), Clive Winter; special visual effects and animation, Industrial Light & Magic; visual effects supervisor, Michael Owens; animatronic creatures, Jim Henson's Creature Shop; head animal trainer, Gary Gero; stunt coordinator, Simon Crane; associate producer, Rebekah Rudd; assistant director, David Tringham; second unit director, Micky Moore; second unit camera, Harvey Harrison; casting, Celestia Fox (U.K.), Marcia Ross (U.S.). Reviewed at Walt Disney Studios, Burbank, Nov. 21, 1996. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 103 MIN.

With: Cruella DeVil - Glenn Close
Roger - Jeff Daniels
Anita - Joely Richardson
Nanny - Joan Plowright
Jasper - Hugh Laurie
Horace - Mark Williams
Skinner - John Shrapnel

More Film

  • Avengers: Endgame

    Film Review: 'Avengers: Endgame'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains mild spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame.” The culmination of 10 years and more than twice as many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Avengers: Endgame” promises closure where its predecessor, “Avengers: Infinity War,” sowed chaos. That film — which revealed that the cookie-cutter uniformity of all those MCU movies had [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Why a $300 Million Opening Could Be Impossible

    “Avengers: Endgame” is preparing for a staggering debut between $250 million and $268 million in North America alone. Unprecedented anticipation surrounding the Marvel juggernaut has some particularly optimistic box office watchers tossing around even higher numbers, estimating the superhero tentpole could clear nearly $300 million in ticket sales in its first three days. If any film [...]

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Nightmare Alley

    Leonardo DiCaprio in Talks to Star in Guillermo del Toro's 'Nightmare Alley' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Leonardo DiCaprio is in negotiations to star in Fox Searchlight’s “Nightmare Alley,” Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning film “The Shape of Water.” Del Toro will direct the pic and co-wrote the script with Kim Morgan. “Nightmare Alley” is being produced and financed by del Toro and J. Miles Dale with TSG Entertainment, with [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck to Star in and Direct World War II Caper 'Ghost Army'

    Ben Affleck will star in and direct the Universal Pictures caper “Ghost Army,” based on the book “The Ghost Army of World War II,” written by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, as well as the documentary “Ghost Army.” It’s unclear when the movie will go into production as it’s still in development and Affleck is [...]

  • Britney Spears Musical

    Britney Spears Musical 'Once Upon a One More Time's' Film Rights Land at Sony

    Sony Pictures has won screen rights to the Broadway-bound “Once Upon a One More Time,” a fairy tale featuring classic songs from Britney Spears, sources have confirmed to Variety. John Davis’ Davis Entertainment will produce the film along with Spears and her manager, Larry Rudolph. Neither a writer nor a director has yet been attached. [...]

  • ‘Girl on the Train’ India Remake

    ‘Girl on the Train’ Indian Remake Set at Reliance Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    India’s Reliance Entertainment will produce the official Indian remake of Tate Taylor’s 2016 film “The Girl on the Train.” Ribhu Dasgupta, who is currently completing Netflix series “Bard Of Blood,” being produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, will direct. Parineeti Chopra (“Kesari”) will star. Production will commence at U.K. locations from mid-July. Based [...]

  • 'Avengers: Endgame' Cast Gets Hands and

    Watch Live: 'Avengers' Cast Gets Hands and Feet Cemented at TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood

    The Avengers have left an indelible mark on popular culture and now they are doing the same to the cement floor outside of the TCL Chinese Theater.  Watch the livestream video of “Avengers: Endgame” cast Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans,  Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige imprinting [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content