I've watched quite a bit of children's films in the time that I've been reviewing DVDs. I've even reviewed the "Air Bud" movies. Sometimes, I'll find a great effort in films like "The Iron Giant", "My Dog Skip" or "Rugrats In Paris". Yet, there's the other side of the fence, where I'll find a film that almost completely fails to gain my interest.
Such a film is "102 Dalmatians", made simply because the first one made a great deal of cash - so why not a second one? Keep in mind that with a film like this one, Disney can unleash another tidal wave of profitable tie-ins. So, the answer probably wasn't "why not?" - it was "how soon?".
Anyways, Cruella De Vil(Glenn Close) is back, and she's apparently been cured of her evil ways by Dr. Pavlov. Her probation officer Chloe (Alice Evans) doesn't believe that she could be cured, but has no choice but to go along with the proceedings and monitor her as she contributes to a dog charity.
Yet, it's of course only a matter of time before Cruella is back to her evil ways. This gives Glenn Close the chance to turn the volume up to eleven on her performance, giving "over-the-top" a new and increasingly irritating meaning. She's seeking out a 102 dalmatian coat, and with the help of a new henchman (Gerard Depardeau, in an embarassing performance).
The performances aren't anything special, as Close takes it a few steps too far as Cruella and Alice Evans is bland as Chloe. The only little performance that I found amusing was Eric Idle, who voices a parrot who thinks its a dog. The dalmatians are almost more interesting than the human characters, as they have their own little personalities and are well trained by the many animal trainers who you can also hear in the commentary track of this DVD. The screenplay isn't particularly great either, and simply chooses to repeat in a slightly new way most of the bits from the first film. I have confidence in the talents of director Kevin Lima, after seeing his work in "Tarzan". That's an animated film though, and this as his first live-action project may have been an unfortunate choice.
VIDEO: "102 Dalmatians" is presented in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and it is not only anamorphic, but THX approved. Still, I simply found this to be a slightly-above-average presentation. Sharpness and detail vary throughout - most scenes are sharp and detailed, yet there are some outdoor sequences that seem filmed with an odd softness that is apparently intentional.
There's some other flaws that I noticed throughout the presentation. Although print flaws didn't become an issue - I didn't see any speckles or marks - I didn notice some minor pixelation. Just a slight trace of pixelation in a scene or two, but nothing distracting. A minimal amount of shimmering appeared, as well.
Colors were pleasingly presented. The film has a great deal of rich colors, from the outfits that some of the characters wear to their London surroundings. A respectable presentation from Disney, but overall not one of their better recent efforts. The layer change is at 1:07:21.
SOUND: "Dalmatians" offers both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 presentation on this DVD release. The audio for the film is a pleasant and involving enough listening experience, although as one might expect, the amount of activity is fairly limited. A few cartoonish scenes provide a bit more intensity and result in some slightly more active surround use, but these scenes are fairly few and far between.
The score sounds light and clean, occasionally enveloping the viewer. Dialogue remains clear as well, and easily heard. Much of the film is a dialogue-driven affair, and it generally takes advantage of slight opportunities for more creative sound use when they come along. Definitely nothing remarkable, though.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Kevin Lima as well as animal coordinator Gary Gero, animal trainer David Sousa and lead puppy trainer Julie Tottman. It's a rather slow affair at times, although Lima does provide a fairly good deal of information about the production of the movie, and starts off the track taking us through his career in animation.
The commentary occasionally does get a little boring as the group talks about what's going on in the story and working with the actors, but occasionally a production tibit or two are offered. The animal trainers do a fine job talking about their role in the picture, chatting about working with the different animals and the obstacles involved in trying to keep so many animals organized in each scene. Some pauses of silence can be found throughout the track, but with the four participants, these instances are pretty rare. Although I didn't particularly find much of this information too informative, children who enjoyed the film and are interested in the process of making the picture might want to take a listen.
Visual Effects 102: The parrot character gives us a little introduction before we enter one of the more interesting areas of the DVD. We are shown step-by-step how the visual effects arists did things in the film like made the bird talk and even add computer-generated dogs. The menus for the section are easy to use and children will likely find this a fun area to look through.
Deleted Scene: An additional scene where Cruella gets released from prison is included, with commentary from director Kevin Lima.
Action Overload: Disney's strangest extra returns yet again here, cutting scenes from the movie into a little music video.
Dalmatians 101: I was happy to see that this was included - the parrot character in the film talks about owning a dalmatian of your own. The film really lead a lot of people to want a dog of their own, and they found out that dalmatians take a lot of attention and care. So, this is a warning that if you're considering a dalmatian of your own, they take a lot more time and commitment.
Theatrical Trailer: The film's theatrical trailer (1.85:1/Dolby 2.0).
Creating Cruella: A short featurette where the cast and crew give their thoughts about Cruella the character and creating the look for this sequel.
Animal Actors: A short featurette that takes a look at the animal actors that portray the dalmatians in the film as well as their trainers. The trainers discuss how they were able to get the dogs to perform specific acts - we also see some behind-the-scenes footage showing the trainers working on the set.
Designing Dalmatians: The most informative featurette, this takes a look at the design of the film - taking the ideas from designs on paper to the massive sets and wild costumes that make up the final picture.
Also: DVD-ROM interactive features & weblink, music promo - Nobody's Angel, "Whatcha Gonna Do?".
Final Thoughts: "102 Dalmatians" is a slapstick-heavy family feature that has a couple of decent performance, but lacks charm. This DVD edition is a re-release of the original edition, which has since gone out-of-print. Fans of the original who already own the first DVD have no reason to upgrade here, but fans who were not able to get ahold of the original release before it went out-of-print will be able to find the film on DVD on store shelves once again.
The Film C-