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102 Dalmatians

Starring Glenn Close, Gerard Depardieu and Eric Idle
Screenplay by Kristen Buckley & Brian Regan and Bob Tzudiker & Noni White; story by Buckley & Regan
Based on the novel by Dodie Smith
Directed by Kevin Lima

IN SHORT: Two paws up. [Rated G.]

If you insist on doing the math, remember that four paws up is a very unpleasant image and one which we're not about to inflict on kidlet readers. Two out of three, in this case, ain't bad.

We stopped putting dollar ratings on kidflicks for a reason. As we've explained a ridiculous number of times in the past two weeks, it's because they're all going to get rented, and our experience tells us that kidlets will like most everything on the big screen. (We started doing that after the first Dalmatians live action flick, which we didn't particularly like). So we report on these things based on how easy or difficult it is for the grownups to sit through 'em. Honesty is the best policy, after all. Many kidflicks are impossible for grownups to endure, even if they do star an A-list name. And while we were dying to parody Ebert, the truth is that 102 Dalmatians starts to run out of steam about halfway through. That's for grownups. The children in the audience we sat with were cheering as the dogs had their day and put Cruella DeVil through a final, frenetic set of you're-getting-yours-now paces.

Requiring that you remember the last flick, we begin with the rehabilitation and release of "Ella" DeVil (Glenn Close), who is no longer cruel thanks to an intensive therapy consisting of electroshock treatment, aversion treatments, hypnosis and lots of green vegetables. No longer lusting for puppy fur, the once maniacal DeVil has embarks on a new life, financing a shelter for abandoned dogs called "Second Chance". What is left of her fortune guarantees her freedom and the about to be evicted owner of the shelter, Kevin Shepherd (Ioan Gruffudd), is more than pleased with the capital improvements. DeVil's probation officer, Chloe Simon (Alice Evans) isn't so sure about "Ella's" motives, but a growing attraction to Kevin keeps her hanging about. Keeping a careful eye on everybody is Dipstick, son of Pongo and Perdy and father to a whole new batch of puppies, including the spot-less Oddball.

Apparently, though, the new DeVil is on the level. She's locked all her furs away in a dank corner of her mansion. She's mothering an ugly little puppy called Fluffy and leads protests against the French furrier, Jean Le Pelt (Gerard Depardieu). Of course she's going to go bad. That's the whole point, isn't it? And while we had pretty much had our fill by the time it all wrapped, the kidlets around us were cheering and clapping and screaming and doing all that noisy kid stuff that kids'll do.

This flick puts more emphasis on the human characters, which we appreciate, but the scene stealer of 'em is Waddlesworth (Eric Idle), a talking macaw parrot who thinks he's a Rottweiler dog. Close looks great in the wig and the story moves along quickly towards a conclusion that bears a remarkable similarity to an animated kidflick that hits the video racks this week.

It's all about the video, folks. That's why there's no rating. 102 Dalmatians is okay faire, but like its predecessor and the original 'toon, it'll make its biggest impact as a babysitter.

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