[Screen It]

(2000) (Glenn Close, Alice Evans) (G)

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Comedy: A supposedly reformed fashion designer returns to her old, villainous ways as she and her cohorts once again attempt to kidnap many Dalmatian puppies so that she can make a signature designer coat from their spotted fur.
It's been three years since fashion designer Cruella De Vil (GLENN CLOSE) was locked up for dognapping scores of Dalmatian puppies in hopes of making a signature fur coat from their spotted skins. Now reportedly reconditioned to love dogs and hate furs, Cruella's paroled under the condition that with any repeat offense she'll forfeit her entire fortune of eight million pounds.

Her personal assistant, Alonso (TIM McINNERNY), isn't convinced of her change, which also holds true for Chloe Simon (ALICE EVANS). She's a probation officer responsible for recent parolees such as Ewan (BEN CROMPTON), a released convict who helps his friend, Kevin Shepherd (IOAN GRUFFUDD), run the cash poor Second Chance animal shelter. Her reservations stem from the fact that her dog, Dipstick, was one of the formerly abducted pups and now has three Dalmatian puppies of his own, Little Dipper, Domino and Oddball, the latter of whom is void of any spots.

After buying Second Chance, Cruella's conditioning reverses, and she returns to her old ways. As such, and to avoid losing her fortune, she enlists the aid of French furrier Jean Pierre Le Pelt (GERARD DEPARDIEU) as her front man for abducting the puppies for her signature fur coat. As the two of them and Alonso set out to kidnap the pups, Chloe, Kevin, Dipstick and Waddlesworth (voice of ERIC IDLE), a free-speaking macaw, do what they can to stop them and free the pups.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
When something declines, in form or nature, from its former or original state, it's often said to have "gone to the dogs." In "102 Dalmatians," the live-action sequel to the 1996 hit remake of the original Disney animated cartoon, most of the fun has seemingly gone to the birds. For not only does a verbally dexterous macaw - who thinks he's a dog, natch - steal the show, but this past summer's claymation hit, "Chicken Run," has clearly stolen, and bettered, this film's bark and bite.

Following up where the original live-action film left off, the story begins with a reformed Cruella De Vil who no longer possesses her fashion taste for Dalmatian fur. We all know, however, that it will only be a matter of time before she returns to her old ways and is once again after the pups (102 this time, with the additional one being needed for the newly added hood to her signature coat).

While screenwriters Kristen Buckley & Brian Regan (marking their first produced screenplay) and Bob Tzudiker & Noni White ("Tarzan," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame") clearly won't get any points for originality as they don't stray or deviate too far from the original, they certainly must have hated seeing "Chicken Run."

While the films have their obvious differences, they're both about animals in danger from a mean and nasty woman who wants them for their byproduct potential. Yet, where director Kevin Lima ("Tarzan") simply retreads the basic material from the first Dalmatians film - Cruella's henchmen dognap the pooches that then escape and then foil the villains' plans - directors Nick Park and Peter Lord did so much more with basically the same material in "Chicken Run" (including an ominous bakery assembly line sequence) that this one feels like something of a mutt in comparison.

Not helping matters, the filmmakers responsible for both Dalmatian films mostly opted away from the talking animal bit (despite the animated feature and other films like "Babe" and "Stuart Little" including it). Conversely, the fowl (and rats) in "Chicken Run" did talk, and as far as kids' responses to such films, that makes a world of difference.

Sure, the dogs here know how to put a tape into a VCR and watch "Lady and the Tramp" (yes, a Disney film promoting another Disney film) and have a knack for pushing all of the right buttons, levers and "handling" other doodads when necessary. Kids will obviously enjoy seeing such "intelligence" among the dogs and will undoubtedly root for them to defeat Cruella and her minions.

Without voices to convey their personalities, however, the dogs clearly fall into the shadow of their human counterparts, as well as Waddlesworth, the sentient and verbally dexterous macaw (terrifically voiced by former Monty Python member, Eric Idle) who gets both the film's best moments and lines. Thinking he's a rottweiler, the parrot ignores his wings, barks like a dog and even tugs and yanks on humans' pants legs while "attacking" them.

On the human side, Glenn Close ("Cookie's Fortune," "Air Force One") reprises her role from the original as Cruella, and beyond some early, reconditioned moments - stemming from the work of a Dr. Pavlov, no less, for you psychology buffs - she hams it up, in some elaborate costumes, much as she did the first time around. Unfortunately, the filmmakers haven't given her much of anything new to work with (beyond the initial reprogramming), although to be fair, a character like hers probably wouldn't experience much growth or change.

Gerard Depardieu ("The Man in the Iron Mask," "Bogus") joins the villainy as Jean Pierre Le Pelt, a French furrier, but beyond a wicked hairdo, he can't do much with the character. Alice Evans ("Une pour toutes," "Monsieur Naphtali") and Ioan Gruffudd ("Solomon and Gaenor," "Wilde") replace the owner character types played by Joely Richardson and Jeff Daniels in the original and share a common love for dogs that similarly sparks a romance between them.

Notwithstanding the self-involved scene where they unknowingly mimic the spaghetti-eating scene from "Lady and the Tramp" (in a moment that some will find cute while others will be reaching for the barf bag), however, they pretty much feel like second-rated sequels to the original characters.

The stars, of course, at least in the eyes of the film's target audience, are the pooches. Although there are some new additions - a grownup Dipstick from the original and his three pups, Little Dipper, Domino and Oddball (a spotless Dalmatian thanks to some digital erasing) - and they have some cute stunts and tricks to perform, they're mostly relegated to supporting status.

That's not a great thing, especially when they're upstaged by a bird and end up in a film that pales in comparison to the charm, wit and overall fun exhibited by the somewhat similarly plotted "Chicken Run." While the kids might enjoy it, for everyone else the film will probably come off as a mildly entertaining, but otherwise unimaginative sequel. "102 Dalmatians" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 16, 2000 / Posted November 22, 2000

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