Kevin Lima | 96 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | UK & USA / English | U / G
I imagine the live-action re-working of 101 Dalmatians was a surprise hit back in 1996 — of course the animated original is very popular, but I don’t remember the remake collating much critical acclaim and, with the talking animals and songs gone, was there much point? But clearly it went down pretty well because it earnt itself this sequel. While I quite like the first, it’s definitely an inferior rehash of the animated film; this one, striking out on its own, is for my money a better experience. It’s not a great film, but it’s resolutely dotty and barking — puns very much intended.
It’s at its best early on, with Cruella de Vil turned nice. It’s different and allows more room to be original and funny. Director Kevin Lima (who has since gone on to helm Enchanted to much wider acclaim) imbues it with a kind of craziness that transcends being a Silly Children’s Film and borders on silliness-as-art. A moment where London is completely dalmatian-coloured is particularly good, and a sequence aping Lady and the Tramp is quite neatly done.
More than Lima, though, this all shows off Glenn Close. She’s great at camping it up appropriately, laying on the Niceness with a trowel. She’s magnificent throughout… but, sadly, it’s an undemanding second half. The experience derails the further things go on, turning into merely a rehash of the first film but relocated to Paris for no particular reason. And aside from a race around the streets, ‘Paris’ is mostly a studio set anyway. Obviously they couldn’t keep Cruella in Nice Mode for the entire running time, but there’s call for a bit more originality in what happens after she goes bad.
Elsewhere, Alice Evans (for some reason I seem to remember there being a big fuss around when she was cast in this, but she doesn’t seem to have done a whole lot notable in the decade-and-a-bit since) and Ioan Gruffudd are fine (since this they’ve become a real-life couple, which is, y’know, something). Tim McInnerny provides able comic support as ever. Gerard Depardieu isn’t really trying as a French fashionista — a daft haircut and silly costumes do most of the work for him. Eric Idle is hit and miss as the voice of a bird. For one thing, why can it talk? A little incongruous when no other animals can. For another, he’s allowed to go off on one too often. When it works, it does; other times, it’s just too much. Then there’s an array of British-actors-in-small-roles for those that enjoy such face-spotting: look out for Ian Richardson, Timothy West, Ron Cook and Jim Carter here.
Plus there’s an awful lot of cute dogs. Always a bright side. And it’s a great answer for “name an Oscar-nominated film” trivia questions (it garnered one for, appropriately, costume design).
It’s a shame 102 Dalmatians degenerates into predictability, because early on it’s off-the-wall loony in a way they don’t dare to make any more. Silliness-as-art, indeed, but ruined by a nasty case of sequelitis.