Sometimes it is a single strategic mistake that is a movie's
downfall. So it is with Disney's live action remake of their 1961
classic ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS. This time they call it simply
101 DALMATIANS, and this time they simply forget the part that made the
original work -- the dogs' story.
The live action version stars people who have dogs. The cartoon
version is clear who is in charge, and it is not the humans. In the
original the animals refer to the people as their pets. In the
animated version the dogs are the stars. Most important of all is that
the charm of the original came from the dogs' conversations, not the
people's. In an era of talking animal pictures both good (BABE) and
bad (GORDY), there is no reason why the Disney remake could not have
given these pups a voice.
Moreover, not only did they not give them a voice, they forgot
their personalities too. In the cartoon there are many unique types,
but in the new version they do little more than give the dogs names.
There are only a few token scenes where they let the dogs attempt to
establish an identity.
Even given the mistakes in its creation and its lack of effective
direction by Stephen Herek, there is still much to admire in the
picture. Hands down, the best part of the film is Glenn Close's near
perfect performance as that archfiend Cruella De Vil. Close has a
blast giving an outlandish rendition of a heinous fiend.
Three time Academy Award winning costume designer Anthony Powell
(TESS, DEATH ON THE NILE, and TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT) out does himself
with Cruella's outfits. Suffice it to say that she would make the top
of any animal rights group's hate list. As she says, "I live for fur.
I worship fur." When Cruella speaks, it is frequently accompanied by
thunder and lighting so that you do not miss the point of how wicked
Cruella's hairdo with black on one side and white on the other is
the piece de resistance of her appearance. She is one sinister acting
and looking devil.
The script is written by John Hughes and is based on the book by
Dodie Smith. Hughes does not know the word subtle. You may remember
him from his first two HOME ALONE films, and I am sorry to report that
there will be a HOME ALONE 3. In his defense, his FARRIS BUELLAR'S DAY
OFF is one of my favorite comedies.
Working in Cruella's clothing design studio is meek Anita (Joely
Richardson from LOCH NESS). When Anita confesses that she might one
day want to quit, get married and raise a family, an incensed Cruella
fumes, "We lose more women to marriage than war, famine, and disease."
Through her Dalmatian, Anita meets and falls in love with video
game designer and fellow Dalmatian owner Roger (Jeff Daniels from
GETTYSBURG). No boring old author as in the original. Both Daniels
and Richardson are wasted in their roles. They provide little more
than window dressing to Cruella and the pups. On their first meeting,
Roger accidentally pops the question with, "Do you want a cup of
marriage, uh, tea?" Soon she is delivering their first baby and their
dogs are having fifteen puppies.
One problem with the remake is that you really need to have seen
and remember the original to appreciate the nuances of the story. This
is particularly true of "the barking chain," which is carefully
explained in the cartoon but just happens in the live action version.
The biggest disappointment to me is the scene where the puppies
watch television. That is a long and precious scene in the original.
The remake has only a vastly truncated and lifeless reenactment.
I am not going to bother outlining any more of the plot. If you
want to know more of the story line, you can read my review of the
original that I wrote precisely 101 days before the opening tonight of
There are some technical aspects worth mentioning. The set
designs by Assheton Gorton are imaginative, particularly the ending
scene, which is adorable on many counts. Michael Kamen's music is full
of energy and bristling with adventure. Adrian Biddle's cinematography
is bland indoors, but outside his blue gray snow images are lovely and
evocative of what the picture should have been.
The makers of 101 DALMATIANS connected all the dots, but did they
weave a compelling story? I think not. Although there were some nice
dog shots, the show is devoid of life save Cruella's villainy. A
picture more tedious than charming. Skip this one and rent the
101 DALMATIANS runs 1:43. Some theaters are showing a short
cartoon with it, but ours did not. The picture is rated G and would be
fine for kids of any age. There is one scene where Cruella is slashing
at a hay stack with a pitchfork in a futile attempt to stab a puppy,
but our audience of little ones did not seem frighten by it. Other
than that, there is no violence, sex, nudity, or bad language. I could
have done without the scene of a puppy peeing on Cruella's picture to
demonstrate his hatred of her. My son Jeffrey (age 7 1/2) gives the
show a thumbs up, but he remained inanimate during most of the movie.
I give the movie a mild thumbs down and rate it **.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes