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'102 Dalmatians'

Disney lets the dogs out again for even better Dalmatian romp

Wednesday, November 22, 2000

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

Doggone it if "102 Dalmatians" doesn't take the good stuff from "101 Dalmatians" and go one better.

"102 Dalmatians"

Rating: G

Starring: Glenn Close, Gerard Depardieu

Director: Kevin Lima

Web site:

Critic's call:


Bouncing into theaters on the tail of "The Grinch" and "Rugrats," Disney's $83 million offering for the holiday season is the most impressive of the bunch.

For that we can credit Glenn Close. Whereas Carrey's Grinch is too buried in green goop, too over-the-top and a little too scary for kids, Close strikes the perfect balance as Cruella De Vil. Close's performance as the Dalmatian-happy designer, while still reaching for broad comedy, is much more nuanced, not to mention more fun to watch.

Kevin Lima, an animation director best known for "Tarzan," also brings his considerable skills to this puppy party, making the most of the stars, the dogs, the settings and a parrot that has a mind of its own.

When last we saw Cruella, she was drenched in molasses and headed for the big house, charged with stealing Dalmatians to fabricate her dream coat. As the sequel opens, with the help of a Dr. Pavlov, she has been brainwashed into thinking she can shed her furry ways and apply herself to animal rights causes.

Will they all live happily ever after in a puppy paradise?

Don't believe it for a minute. De Vil's transformation is just as superficial as she is, and soon she is hatching plots to get her spots. This time, her plan must be far more elaborate, as she herself will tell us, "The last time I underestimated a puppy, I ended up in the poky."

Conveniently, her probation officer, Chloe (Alice Evans), is the owner of Dipstick, son of Pongo and Perdy from the first movie, and Dipstick has his own brood of Domino, Little Dipper and spotless Oddball.

Chloe strikes up a romance with the charming Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd), who is running a ragtag animal shelter that could use an infusion of cold Cruella cash. Disney cleverly plants one of its lovable comic foils, the talking parrot Waddlesworth (voice of Eric Idle), among the Second Chance shelter gang. So, between a parrot who thinks he's a Rottweiler and a Dalmatian desperate for spots, they've got all the tools in place to get the kids howling.

Not so funny, perhaps, is that Gerard Depardieu, France's greatest thespian, is engaged as one of Cruella's buffoons. Depardieu plays Le Pelt, a furrier with all the style of a WWF wrestler in a performance that ends up, literally, in the toilet. It's a sad day when he's out-acted by a puppy.

As in "Rugrats," this twisting plot takes dogs and all to Paris, in this case from London, so it's a European whirlwind that makes the material more compelling visually than it would have been in, say, California. Apparently, "Rugrats" beat them to "Who Let the Dogs Out," but the Baha Men rave-up would have been a better fit for "Dalmatians," where the dogs actually run the show to a wild and woolly finish.

Despite having no clue what a probation officer is, the kids will love "102 Dalmatians" without having to crawl under the seats for fear. That's a delicate trick when you're dealing with a villain who wants to slaughter puppies, or "poopies," as they are commonly referred to in the film. Director Lima manages to create just the right amount of menace, and to pace it evenly with comedy (unlike in "Grinch").

The cinematography and design work is first rate -- from Cruella's stunning wardrobe to her fantasy of London covered in spots. And, again, we can't say enough about Close: Her De Vil is simply divine.

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