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102 DALMATIANS

by: Scott Renshaw

Having already self-cannibalized the 1961 animated 101 Dalmatians in the successful 1996 live-action version, Disney had to look for a more creative way to self-cannibalize in the sequel 102 Dalmatians. In a scene from the new, equally unnecessary film, dog rescue facility operator Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd) and probation officer Chloe (Alice Evans) share a romantic dinner while their respective menageries of pooches share an evening with a video: Disney's Lady and the Tramp. While Kevin and Chloe eat their spaghetti and meatballs, director Kevin Lima intercuts snippets of Lady and the Tramp's famous "Bella Notte" bistro scene. How wonderfully romantic Kevin and Chloe's relationship must be … by association.

102 Dalmatians would have had to work hard to be as actively irritating as its John Hughes-penned precursor. Instead of being actively irritating, this one registers as merely tedious. Glenn Close returns as Cruella De Vil, just paroled after three years in prison for her 101 Dalmatians shenanigans. It seems she has been cured of her thirst for fur by a new aversion therapy technique, so the aforementioned dog rescue facility operator Kevin has no problem with Cruella stepping in as benefactor when funds are short. Aforementioned probation officer Chloe is suspicious, however -- rightly so, it turns out, as Cruella pulls a Flowers for Algernon and reverts to her pre-therapy self. That means dalmatians everywhere are in peril when Cruella teams up with designer Jean Pierre Le Pelt (Gerard Depardieu) to finally create her long-desired spotted coat.

Like the first film, 102 Dalmatians is designed primarily as a great big love-fest between the audience members and the on-screen animals. There are fewer puppies this time around, as well as a talking macaw (voiced by Eric Idle) who thinks he's a dog, but there are still plenty of cuddly canines to go around. Unfortunately, they're almost never asked to do anything more interesting than sit around and look cuddly. Lima (co-director of Disney's Tarzan, making his first live-action feature) generally appears content to let the awww appeal of his canine co-stars take the place of action, adventure or humor. You've probably passed the age where 102 Dalmatians would appeal to you if you no longer respond to puppies in a movie with a shriek of, "Puppies!"

That same overwhelming sense of laziness permeates the film from start to finish. It's blessedly true that 102 Dalmatians does not feature a single shot of someone getting his genitals electrocuted, or any mayhem that would bump the rating even to a PG. The slapstick is basically harmless stuff involving dogs biting villains in the rear or Cruella's henchman/chauffeur (Tim McInnerny) injuring and reinjuring his hands. But there really isn't even all that much slapstick. There's a whole lot of exposition, and it doesn't lead up to anything. In a way, up until the final showdown on a bakery assembly line, it's all rather hypnotically pleasant -- no off-putting violence, no real peril and no personality.

There's also the romantic sub-plot involving Kevin and Chloe, two of the most blandly attractive characters committed to the screen since the last Freddie Prinze Jr. movie. While Close does her best to inject some life into the proceedings -- still playing Cruella as a drag queen icon rather than a nasty villain -- the protagonists practically vanish into the background. Like far too many sequels, this one just lies there limply, practically daring you not to grant it good will based on another movie. It's bad enough to do that when the other movie in question was successful, but lousy. It's even worse when the good will being traded upon comes from a truly classic cinematic moment. Not even a clip from Lady and the Tramp can make <1>102 Dalmatians worth anything more than a snore. And it doesn't help to prove th

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