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As mentioned before, Disney has done live-action remakes of their animated films before this current era of live-action Disney remakes dawned upon us. One was The Jungle Book in 1994, but the more famous and successful one was 101 Dalmatians in 1996.
Directed by Stephen Herek, the film was a financial success, even spawning a theatrical sequel. Now, why did this film not bother Disney fans as much as the current remakes do? I think it has to do that with the fact that it was released at a time when this was a rarity as well as it didn’t seem to promote the idea that the animated film was inferior in any way.
I had never seen the film before, but one of my readers, kirksroom, suggested that I review this film. So let’s find out together what I thought of 101 Dalmatians!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
As the movie opens we’re introduced to the character of Pongo, a dalmatian, owned by video game designer, Roger, played by Jeff Daniels. Pongo serves not just as Roger’s pet, but his faithful companion making sure he gets up on time and does what he needs to do.
Roger’s career is in a bit of strife at the moment as he has a hard time selling his video games. His most recent project was rejected for not having an interestingly enough villain.
Meanwhile, we’re also introduced to the character of Anita, played by Joely Richardson. She works as a fashion designer for Ms. Cruella de Vil, played maniacally by Glenn Close. Cruella is much like her character in the 1961 animated film in that she’s a fashionista obsessed with furs, extremely classy, and will do anything to get what she wants.
After Anita draws a sketch of a dress with spotted fur inspired by her own dalmatian, Perdita, Cruella gets a craving to have her own dalmatian fur coat!
Later on that day, Roger and Anita meet each other in a nearby park following a chase scene involving Pongo and Perdita. The sequence ends with Roger and Anita falling into a lake and going back to Roger’s place to get dry. It’s evident that Pongo and Perdita like each other and that Roger and Anita like each other too. Roger proposes to Anita right then and there and she readily accepts.
Both the human and dog weddings take place and are attended by their respective “family and friends”.
And it’s not long after that both Anita and Perdita are pregnant. Anita’s old nanny, played by Joan Plowright, comes to live with the family to help them take care of things especially with all these pregnancies going on! It’s not long before Perdita gives birth to 15 puppies, almost 14, but like the 1961 animated film, Roger helps one of the puppies on the verge of death to breathe again, thereby making it 15.
Everyone is excited until Cruella catches wind of the puppies being born. She comes over to the house and tries to buy the puppies from Anita for an exorbitant price, but Roger puts his foot down saying how the puppies are not for sale. Not used to being denied what she wants, Cruella plans to find another way to purloin the puppies.
She gets two of her hired hands, Jasper and Horace, played by Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams, respectively, to break in the house one day and kidnap the puppies. They take the puppies to the De Vil Mansion where they await the guy who’s supposed to kill them along with 84 other stolen dalmatian puppies.
When Roger, Anita, Pongo, and Perdita come home and discover the puppies missing, they’re of course, distraught. Roger and Anita inform the police whilst Pongo uses the twilight bark, a sort of “barking telegraph” to send the news to all the dogs in the city that the puppies have been stolen.
When “word” gets back to them that the puppies are in the De Vil Mansion, Pongo and Perdita run away from their owners to try to find the puppies themselves.
Meanwhile other dogs and animals that are nearby the De Vil Mansion break in and constantly outsmart Jasper and Horace as they try to rescue the 101 dalmatians. Cruella is apoplectic when she arrives at the Mansion to discover all the dalmatians have escaped! She goes off searching for the puppies herself whilst Jasper and Horace go off looking for the puppies on their own.
Jasper and Horace give up when the abuse from the animals gets too much and turn themselves in when a police van arrives nearby. Cruella has followed the puppies to a farm where Pongo and Perdita have joined them as well, but is outwitted by the farm animals who cause her to fall into a tub of molasses and thrown out of a window. The police arrest her there and then.
All the dalmatians are later reunited with Roger and Anita who now have to find a big enough place to hold all 101 dalmatians. Fortunately, Roger amends his video game by introducing Cruella De Vil as the villain and the game is successful. They’re able to move to a big place in the countryside (a dalmatian plantation, if you will) where they all live happily ever after together! Oh, and Roger and Anita’s baby has finally been born!
And that was 101 Dalmatians and it was…eh…let’s talk about the good stuff first. First of all, the acting is for the most part, great. Glenn Close is magnificent as Cruella De Vil, totally eating up every aspect of the character! Hugh Laurie is also wonderfully superb as the brainier of the henchmen duo, Jasper. Joan Plowright is a quintessential Nanny and Joely Richardson is good as Anita, capturing the sweetness and devotion of the character. The only performances I felt were not that great were those of Mark Williams and Jeff Daniels. Mark Williams played the character of Horace more differently than the 1961 film and for what it’s worth, I could never see the character of Roger; I could only see Jeff Daniels!
The cinematography and visuals don’t particularly stand out, but I don’t remember being frustrated by any of them either. I understand the changes in plot such as making Roger a video game designer to fit with the times and all that, but I did miss certain other plot points such as a climactic crazy car chase scene with Cruella De Vil at the end of the movie. I felt her “defeat” was a bit anticlimactic.
Now for my main gripe of the film: the animals don’t talk! A majority of the film (as was in the 1961 animated film) focused on the rescue of the dalmatians and the animals involved in that process. And since none of the animals talk, you’re honestly filled with a good 40 or so minutes of just watching animals do stuff quietly which to me is quite boring. Yes, the animals outsmart the bad guys just like in the original film, but them not being able to speak what their feelings are and what they’re planning just lends itself to…boring scenes at times! It’s the same problem I had with the 1994 The Jungle Book film, but at least the animals were never the main focus of that movie!
Maybe people who are animal people could be more entertained watching the animals do things without talking, but for me, it was the biggest nail in this proverbial coffin!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 24/35 = 68.57% (D+) !
The next review will be posted on December 12, 2017.
21 thoughts on “101 Dalmatians (1996)”
I just don’t see the point of watching this movie if there is already a superior version of it out there…which is pretty much my feeling towards all Disney live action remakes. Except Malificent. I HATE that movie with passion.
Yeah, there isn’t really any point to watching this movie either.
And I’m with you in hating Maleficent!
I am mostly attached to this one because of nostalgia, though I’m sure I haven’t seen it in over a decade at this point.
Yeah, I feel that’s why the people who like this film like this film.
I had previously seen 102 DALMATIANS, but I only saw this 1996 remake of the first film fairly recently. And honestly, while this film does add certain elements (and change others that already exist) to make itself seem like its own entity, at times it feels like it’s trying too hard to be faithful to the original. As such, it comes out a little uneven.
Perhaps the one new twist that I think makes this film stand on its own is the fact that Cruella now has someone more competent– and cunning, I hasten to add– to carry out her dirty work (I refer, of course, to Mr. Skinner). Not only that, but Cruella, herself, is resourceful enough to do just about anything to satisfy her lust for fur– her sending Skinner to murder a captive tiger leaps to mind. (Seriously, that just adds one more layer to her veneer of subhuman savagery…)
As far as acting goes, Glenn Close most definitely KILLS it as Cruella; I can’t think of any actress more qualified for the part! (I think that Glenn must have studied the character’s scenes in the 1961 original closely so as to really get a sense of how to play her.)
Yes, Glenn Close as Cruella was the best part!
I probably would have appreciated Skinner more if he were in the film more, personally!
I remember watching it as a kid and enjoying it, but I always preferred to watch the animated one anyway. Haven’t seen this since I was about 8 or 9 years old when it came out.
Yeah, maybe if I had grown up with this film, I would have given it a better grade.
I was surprised by your opening because I honestly didn’t remember recommending you review this at all. And I still don’t know where the hell I might have made such a request.
But I honestly don’t like this movie. I owned it on VHS since I was a young child, but always found it too dull to watch then (remember, this was in the stage where I hated all live-action films/TV). I didn’t watch it at all until I was probably about 13, and was not impressed. I think the only reason the film became successful and popular at all was the performance of Glenn Close, but even though, as you’ve said, she does a great job, Cruella de Vil is a cartoon character and trying to place her in the real world doesn’t really work. (This is still true for 102 Dalmatians, but that film was a bit more cartoonish and at least had a talking parrot, which made it work a bit more for me.)
Like you said the fact that the dogs can’t talk really hurts the film. It makes it harder to care about them, and once they are kidnapped, well, there’s nothing to do except watch them escape, so much of the charm and dramatic interest in the film is completely gone. And it doesn’t help most of that is replaced by inane slapstick that is only in there because the film was written by John Hughes, who seemed to forget how to write anything else after Home Alone.
Funnily enough, I actually think the sequel 102 Dalmatians is an improvement on this – mostly because it is at least creative, and it was the only live-action film, in fact, that I enjoyed watching endlessly (and transcribing) from a young age.
One last thought: In regards to your comment about how Poirot must have had slow business not to need Hastings around, I will let the great detective speak for himself as to his valued companion: “Go away. You are obstinate and extremely stupid and I wish that there were someone else whom I could trust, but I suppose I shall have to put up with you and your absurd ideas of fair play.”
You recommended it to me in the comments section when I reviewed the 1994 Jungle Book film.
Yeah, I’m glad we agree that Glenn Close was the only great thing of this movie and that the dogs not talking hurts the movie tremendously!
Lol, glad to meet a fellow Poirot fan!
Yeah, one of the few critics who liked this and thought it was a good idea for the dogs not to talk was Doug Walker, who wasn’t a fan of the original.
One thing I hate in movies and TV shows is when they figure out ways to creatively compliment themselves (think the opening of Tangled when Flynn reassures the audience that it’s “actually kind of a fun story”). As soon as when we see the kid criticizing the fat dogcatcher villain in the beginning (Lady and the Tramp II creators should have listened), we know how it will turn out, and hearing him call Cruella a “cracker villain, mate” is just eye-rolling. You guys didn’t even create Cruella! Why are you bragging about what an awesome villain she is?
The line “It’s not hatred that’s important, it’s desire to annihilate” also annoyed me when I first saw the film, because my thinking was that the more you hated a villain, the more you would have the desire to annihilate them. But looking at it now, it probably makes sense in terms of video game villains, as opposed to movie villains.
But maybe that shows the problem with this film, that we don’t hate Cruella so much as we want to see her humiliated in the end.
And I’m not really a fan of Poirot. I have seen none of the David Suchet episodes and have only read the last Poirot novel. I just hate Hastings with a passion, because he doesn’t even come close to approaching Poirot’s intellectual novel, doesn’t understand him, and is basically an insufferable, arrogant idiot who attempted to murder his own daughter’s boyfriend without hesitation when the villain gave him the slightest prodding in that direction. (I know he used “PSYCHOLOGY”; yet Hastings’ daughter resisted far stronger manipulation.)
You should read earlier Poirot stories to know more about Hastings if you’re into that. But, you’re right; he’s definitely nowhere near Poirot’s intellectual capabilities.
I’ve gotta check out Doug Walker’s review of this again.
This is Kirksroom, by the way. I am commenting through Facebook because for some reason I can’t access my WordPress account because the passwords have been changed and the system refuses to let me reset them.
I forgot that the animals didn’t talk in this! I haven’t seen this in a long time, but am astonished at the cast they were able to assemble for the film. I don’t think I appreciate what a great cast they had at the time. But I agree…I always liked the animated film best of all.
Your point about how no one seems to resent the existence of a live action 101 Dalmatians is interesting! Perhaps we are suffering from remake burnout these days?
Yeah, the cast is something to talk about!
And I think you’re exactly right; we’re suffering from remake burnout now whereas when this film came out, this was only the 2nd remake they had done. You could argue it was the 1st too.
Good point. I guess the idea of a live action version seemed kind of charming then…now it seems like a tired idea. It’s too bad Disney doesn’t use fairy tale stories that have never been used in animated films for their live action stories.
I watched the one a few times as a kid. Rewatching it, I thought it was trying too hard to be Home Alone in the second half, and I found the Jeff Daniels video game subplot incredibly… 90s.
Glenn Close is still great in it, though.
It definitely had a 90s feel with the video gaming. Thanks for reading and commenting!
The baby girl is included to show the humans empathy for Pongo’s and Perdita’s heartbreak.
She also represents the movie’s time span. Anita and Perdy are realized to be pregnant at roughly the same time. At the end of the movie, Baby Girl is 1 year old. Therefore, within the space of 1 year and 9 months, the family grew from three humans and two dogs to five humans (Anita is with child in the final scene) plus 2 dogs, their 15 pups, 84 step pups plus unknown hundreds of grand pups.
Main point…the power of genuinely good and loving hearts. As in Lucky’s case…no one (and no puppy) gets left behind or forgotten.
Someone who doesn’t understand truly unconditional love for another might have missed all that.
RE: Disney live action movies
Its fantastic that you enjoy the original animated versions of the Disney movies.
Maybe relax, take a deep breath, realize that you don’t have to watch anything you don’t enjoy.
Some of us sincerely appreciate those classic versions enough to open our minds to the new perspectives of another who obviously sincerely loves those classics too…instead of limiting ourselves to negativity and hate.
Thank you for the comment.
My goal of this blog is to watch and review every theatrically-released live-action Disney film ever made and to be honest about my feelings towards them. So if I have positive things to say about a film, I will, and if I have negative things to say about a film, I will. It’s all part of the review process. It’s not attacking anybody or anything; it’s merely sharing my opinion.
And I have given “good” ratings to some of these live-action remakes such as Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, despite me personally not liking them.