101 Dalmatians - * *

101 Dalmatians starts out greatly, with some excellent animal training scenes, combined with superb sets, costumes and a grand sense of style. Then it devolves into a half-rate Home Alone with animals. What a waste! Those familiar with the cartoon version will find much familiar in this live action film. It starts out with Roger (Jeff Daniels), now a video game designer, and his intelligent and loyal dalmatian, Pongo. In an amusing park sequence, the two meet their loves in fashion designer Anita (Joely Richardson), and her dalmatian Perdita. The couples are soon married, and before long, Perdita has a litter of 15 dalmatian pups. Enter Anita’s boss, the evil hearted, fur-loving Cruella De Vil (played without restraint by Glenn Close). She has her heart set on a dalmatian-fur coat. When she can’t buy the puppies from Roger and Anita, she sends her bumbling henchmen to capture the canines by any means necessary. Then, it’s up to Pongo and Perdita to rescue their litter + 84 other assorted kidnapped puppies. The animal trainers in this film deserve high praise. The dogs do tricks galore, and in fact, even though they don’t talk, are more interesting characters than their owners. Glenn Close excels in her over-the-top take on Cruella, however. The film is very enjoyable until the pup’s rescue. Then, the film metamorphoses into some rather flat slapstick in traditional John Hughes style. Pups Wizzer and Lucky, along with a host of barnyard animals deliver painful comeupance unto the unlucky villains. Somehow the film loses the spark it once had. Young kids will still get a kick out of the cute pups, but they’ll get just as much enjoyment from the animated feature, which is a far better film overall.

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