- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

1 and 1/2 out of four stars

TITLE: "102 Dalmatians"

RATING: G

CREDITS: Directed by Kevin Lima

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

A superfluous sequel to a superfluous remake, "102 Dalmatians" is arguably a cut above Ron Howard's bloated "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" but definitely a cut below "Rugrats in Paris" among this season's holiday attractions for the family audience.

Coincidentally, both the Rugrats troupe and the Disney troupe pay homage to yet another animated classic, "Lady and the Tramp."

Its most famous sequence is echoed, lamely, in "Rugrats in Paris." Enjoying ownership of the source material, Disney excerpts the identical sequence during "Dalmatians."

Somehow, these evocations rub me the wrong way. Neither movie has much in common with this particular source.

"102 Dalmatians" makes you suspect that "Lady and the Tramp" is being scrutinized for live-action remake and update potential, even if it means casting innocuous humans as the title characters.

The original abundance of Dalmatians evidently have retired from show business with their owners, played by Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson. The new heroine, Alice Evans as a London probation officer named Chloe, seems to have acquired a son of the original brood, Dipstick, with which to start a modest home kennel of her own: dad; his consort, Dottie; and a trio of pups, Domino, Little Dipper and Oddball, who has yet to form spots but likes to fake them.

Chloe's quintet is augmented by a batch of strays attached to the hero, Ioan Gruffudd as Kevin, who manages an animal shelter. He is accompanied by a bull mastiff, a border terrier, a borzoi and a Chinese crested dog, all of them upstaged by a talking macaw named Waddlesworth that purports to be canine and is dubbed, inimitably, by Eric Idle.

Everything considered, Mr. Idle has a more flattering comedy showcase than the designated villain, Glenn Close in a return appearance as the fur-obsessed couturier and playgirl Cruella DeVil, or her principal accomplice, Gerard Depardieu as a preposterous Parisian furrier named Le Pelt.

Miss Close and Mr. Depardieu cavort in the wackiest wardrobes and hairdos, which begin with black-and-white half-and-half get-ups in the case of the actress.

Even her hairpiece is severely divided, raven on the right side and platinum on the left.

Ostensibly, Cruella has spent three years in psychiatric custody for the original Dalmatian caper. Entrusted to a screwball Pavlovian, she appears for the first 20 minutes or so to be cured of her despotic tendencies. When paroled, she reports to probation officer Alice and decides to become the benefactor of Kevin's shelter.

Her conditioning quickly unravels, and a new Dalmatian abduction is in the works, reluctantly abetted by a servile valet, Alonso (Tim McInnerny in an expert performance), who seizes a chance to change for the better.

Cruella attracts an enthusiastic conspirator in clownish, craven Le Pelt, who owns a sweatshop in the suburbs of Paris. For a price, depraved wretches can secure such possessions as a Dalmatian-skin coat.

The filmmakers shortchange the pooch element until the finale, which gets a lot of critters into play on the site of the factory and an adjacent bakery, which becomes a Rube Goldberg arena for punishing Cruella.

You wonder if the title is a misnomer. It looks as if it might make more sense to contrive a script around Cruella as an insufferable do-gooder and Waddlesworth as an incorrigible quipster.

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