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101 Dalmatians

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: 101 Dalmatians

Starring: Glenn Close, Jeff Daniels
Director: Stephen Herek
Rated: G
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: November 1996
Genres: Family, Kids

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1.  MrBrown review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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Review by MrBrown
2½ stars out of 4

Part vamp, part tramp, and all camp, Glenn Close's wonderfully wicked turn as the ultimate Disney diva, Cruella DeVil, powers 101 Dalmatians, the studio's new live-action version of its beloved 1961 animated feature. Problem is, unless you are age 10 or under, there is little else to hold your attention for the entire 98 minutes.

Producer-screenwriter John Hughes and director Stephen Herek's take on the tale of the fur-loving DeVil, the spotted puppies from whose coats she wants to make herself a coat, and the married owners (Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson) of the dalmatian parents Pongo and Perdy is actually quite faithful to the original animated feature. Viewers familiar with that version will be pleased with how well some scenes survived the cartoon-to-live-action translation, such as Perdy's stressful delivery of her 15 puppies and the apparent stillbirth and ultimate revival of the pup Lucky. While the dogs and other animals do not talk this time around, the communication between the animals does come through and is easily understood. The "twilight bark," where Pongo barks into the night sky to summon other animals to search for his and Perdy's stolen puppies, still makes for a striking scene without the spoken exposition that frames it. And Close's Cruella matches her animated counterpart's nastiness and then some; her hilariously over-the-top turn is sure to influence drag queens everywhere.

Hughes and Herek's failure, however, lies in their incessant indulgence in broad slapstick, which comes off as labored and not especially funny. The scene where Daniels's Roger and Richardson's Anita first meet in the park is cheapened by too many pratfalls and dives into water. Also, the puppies' big escape from their barn prison has been needlessly punched up by Home Alone-type slapstick involving the two dognappers, Jasper (Hugh Laurie) and Horace (Mark Williams). Herek not only tries evoke that fluke Macaulay Culkin phenomenon through the cartoony violence, but also through the duo's appearance--Jasper sports a beard and curly hair a la Daniel Stern's bumbling burglar, and Horace is a shorter, heavier fellow wearing a hat not unlike Joe Pesci. Worst of all, the slapstick gives Close the short end of the stick, for in the end Cruella's campy edge takes a back seat to the physical punishment she takes from the animals--having a boar fall on her, being dumped in mud and molasses, etc.

Nonetheless, the film entertained the kids at the big critics' screening, and I'm sure children around the world will have fun with 101 Dalmatians, which is exactly what the folks at Disney had in mind. But with the preordained success of this underachieving animation-to-live-action translation, this Disney animation fan cannot help but worry about what possibly ruinous adaptation ideas the studio has in mind for its other cartoon classics...

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