Disney’s 102 Dalmatians comes from the Nigel Tufnel school of filmmaking. The Spinal Tap guitarist’s amps famously went up to 11 because “it’s one louder, isn’t it?” What sets this sequel apart from 1996’s live-action remake of 101 Dalmatians? Well, it’s got one more dog, doesn’t it?
Allegedly rehabilitated after receiving electroshock therapy (mental illness — ain’t it a goof?), Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close) revives her plan to kidnap 101 puppies to make a dalmatian-fur coat, only this time she needs an additional pooch for a hood. She targets a fresh litter owned by her parole officer (Alice Evans) and sets up an animal-shelter operator played by Ioan Gruffudd (star of A&E’s Horatio Hornblower) as the fall guy in her scheme. Stuck in the obligatory romantic lead roles, Gruffudd and Evans serviceably replace Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson, two of the many cast members inexplicably absent from this go-round.
Cruella’s new partner in crime is Jean Pierre Le Pelt (Gerard Depardieu), a weasel poacher-turned-fur designer. When he first strides onto a fashion-show runway wearing a leopard’s head as a codpiece, Depardieu gooses life into the film. Alas, he soon proves a stock henchman, unamusing aside from his frenchified pronunciation of puppies as poopies.
Speaking of which, Depardieu’s most humiliating moment finds him falling face-first into a commode. That’s merely one of myriad slapstick scenes clumsily staged by director Kevin Lima, making his non-animated debut after working with Close on Disney’s Tarzan. He makes Stephen Herek (helmer of ‘96’s 101) look like Hitchcock.
102 Dalmatians does boast an aptly cartoonish look. Cruella’s elaborate two-tone costumes have once again been cleverly designed by three-time Oscar winner Anthony Powell (Tess), yet Close’s performance remains monotonous. She always goes to 11.
Screenwriter John Hughes gave the last Dalmatians his Home Alone treatment, torturing the villains for sadistic ”comic” effect. Though Hughes had no hand in the script (it’s credited to four others), the sequel adds more insults and injuries that could traumatize little ones. Most frightening of all, the ending leaves the door open for 103 Dalmatians, which would certainly constitute Cruella and unusual punishment. D+