101 Dalmatians 1 & 2
101 Dalmatians (January 7/09)
Before it becomes consumed with its overtly slapstick elements, 101 Dalmatians actually comes off as an entertaining, surprisingly charming update of the Disney's 1961 animated classic. There's little doubt that the bulk of credit for the movie's mild success belongs to Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson, as the actors effortlessly (and affably) transform their admittedly cornball characters into figures worth caring about and rooting for. The storyline follows newlywed couple Roger (Daniels) and Anita (Richardson) as they unwittingly find themselves saddled with a whole litter of dalmatian puppies, with complications ensuing after the villainous Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close) sets her sights on the animals and subsequently dispatches a pair of bumbling crooks (Hugh Laurie's Jasper and Mark Williams' Horace) to retrieve them. The meet-cute between Roger and Anita - and their resulting relationship - proves instrumental in initially offsetting the almost eye-rollingly silly bent of John Hughes' screenplay, although it's certainly impossible to understate the effectiveness of Close's gleefully over-the-top work as Cruella. The inclusion of such elements essentially assures that the film holds appeal for both children and adults, yet there lamentably reaches a point at which Hughes - in emphasizing the dogs' escape - places the focus entirely on lowbrow, hopelessly juvenile antics that'll undoubtedly leave younger viewers rolling in the aisles. And while some of this stuff is admittedly quite funny - ie Jasper and Horace's encounter with an electric fence - the relentless barrage of forcefully kid-friendly sequences does become increasingly tough to stomach as the movie limps towards its expectedly upbeat finale. Still, 101 Dalmatians manages to just squeak by on the basis of its charismatic performance and periodically hilarious comedic interludes - though the film's lack of timelessness results in a distinctly disposable sort of vibe.
102 Dalmatians (January 27/09)
102 Dalmatians' aggressively kid-friendly sensibilities ultimately ensure that it boasts few attributes designed to appeal to viewers over a certain age, with the end result a surprisingly tedious endeavor that makes its comparatively masterful predecessor look like a filmed adaptation of a Chekov play. The storyline picks up three years after the events of the original and follows Cruella de Vil (Glenn Close) as she emerges from prison a changed woman, although it's not long before she once again sets her sights on assembling a spotted coat using the hides of dozens of dalmatian puppies. Screenwriters Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan, Bob Tzudiker, and Noni White place a consistent emphasis on plot elements that are downright cringe-worthy in their obviousness (ie an entirely needless fake break-up), which only exacerbates the almost uniformly over-the-top bent of the various performances - with Cruella's upgrade from secondary to central figure resulting in an almost non-stop barrage of mugging from star Close. Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Evans, cast as the owners of the aforementioned puppies, prove unable to infuse their admittedly bland characters with authentic attributes, while Gerard Depardieu's shamelessly broad work as vicious fashion designer Jean-Pierre Le Pelt is not quite as amusing as one imagines it's supposed to be (this is despite his penchant for referring to the myriad of dogs as "poopies.") By the time the action-packed, egregiously frenetic finale rolls around, 102 Dalmatians has firmly established itself as an utterly desperate piece of work that is sure to turn off even fans of the first film.