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After undergoing electro-shock therapy, dog-hating harridan Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close) is freed from jail on parole. Where once she wanted to skin 101 Dalmatian puppies to make herself a fur coat, the reformed Ella is an animal lover who upon her release rescues an ailing dog sanctuary run by Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd). All is well—until the effects of the treatment wear off. Cruella enlists fashion furrier Jean-Pierre Le Pelt (Gerard Depardieu) to make her a new spotty coat that will need the skins of 102 pups: this time she wants a hood. Oddball, an unmarked Dalmatian eager to earn his spots, and Waddlesworth, a parrot who thinks he’s a Rottweiler, lead the animal brigade out to stop her.

If your kids are still bouncing off the walls as bedtime nears, sit them down in front of this. The odds are they’ll be asleep within 10 minutes. The opening is woefully slow, and expects young viewers to understand—and be interested in—such adult themes as parole violations and eviction notices. Only when Ella reverts to Cruella does the movie get out of first gear and back to its cartoon roots, although even then it putters along, giving centre stage to a bland love story between canine saviour Kevin and parole officer Chloe while the animals wait patiently in the wings.

The stars do their best. Close, reprising one of the most villainous roles in children’s literature, and Depardieu, a true Lion King in his big cat fur costumes, are cartoon baddies in the best sense: way larger than life. But it’s the dogs we want, and we see too little of them. When they are on screen they’re outstanding, giving scenery-chewing performances where they operate computers and VCRs and display a convincing range of emotions. Sadly director Lima waits until the very end before he completely lets his canine stars off the leash. The finale is cracking, but you can’t help wishing the puppies had chased the humans off screen earlier.

This is one occasion where the DVD special features are better than the film itself. While the audio commentary by the director and animal trainers probably won’t appeal to kids, the various featurettes give them just what they want: Dalmatians, Dalmatians and more Dalmatians. A montage shows the puppies getting into all sorts of scrapes in a concentrated dose of action and the making of segments are well designed, with interactive menus that allow the kids to discover how computer artists removed Oddball’s spots, made Waddlesworth the parrot talk and created CGI stunt dogs for the movie’s more dangerous moments. Finally the Dalmatians 101 feature provides a reality check on the amount of care and attention the spotty dogs need, asking children to think twice before screaming ‘Mummy, I want one!’
Stuart Whitmore

Publication date: October 4, 2001

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CAST: Glenn Close, Gerard Depardieu, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Evans, Tim McInnerny

DIRECTOR: Kevin Lima

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: June 20, 2001

SPECIAL FEATURES: Widescreen; Audio commentary (director and animal trainers); 3 featurettes; Dalmatians 101; Visual effects 102; Deleted scene; Languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese; Subtitles: English, English for the hearing impaired, Spanish, Portuguese

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