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102 Dalmations

Cruella’s Back With a Vengeance

By Devdoot Majumdar

Staff Writer

Directed by Kevin Lima

Written by Kristin Buckley

Based on a novel by Dodie Smith

Starring Glenn Close, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Evans, Tim Mcinnerny, and GÉrard Depardieu

Rated G

There are those rare moments in life, further rarified at the Institute, that devolve us to our former selves. They’re those moments of unadulterated, authentic, childish, without-the-least-bit-of-cynicism glee. And sitting in that theatre with hundreds of seven year-olds, laughing uproariously at Disney bathroom humor and Disney romance and Disney “comedy,” made for one of those moments where you can just enjoy the sarcasm and the antics.

For a college audience, the movie can only be enjoyed in this quasi-vicarious, slightly devolved state -- 102 Dalmatians was never chalked up to be anything more than an matinee, a let’s-go-to-the-movies-mom arrangement. And so, with wild melodrama from Glenn Close, the Parent Trap-esque corny romance, and more physical humor than an episode of I Love Lucy, we have the newest Disney film.

The plot is as follows. Cruella De Vil (Close) -- yes, the name’s novelty has worn off a tad -- is introduced as an ex-convict, having recently finished her time in prison for dalmatian-napping. She is released with the stipulation that all of her fortune ($8 million) would be handed over to a local kennel if she attempts dog-napping yet again. The kennel is owned by a guileless idiot named Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd), who is on flirtatious terms with Cloe (Alice Evans). Yes, already we see the beginnings of a perfect Disney story!

It must be said that Cruella is a fashion designer. She makes fur coats from dogs -- it’s a sick hobby of hers. So now, on her newest escapade as a newly-released ex-con, she is on a quest to make the ultimate fur coat, one that requires a grand total of 102 dalmatians. It is a Disney movie, after all.

Even better: she decides not to breed the dogs or to buy them, but to steal them. Cruella employs the gawky Monsieur Le Pelt (GÉrard Depardieu) and her henchman Alonso (Tim McInnerny) to steal the dogs from all the dalmatian-owning public. And so it comes back full circle, as Cloe is the owner of about a dozen dalmatians.

Sound oddly reminiscent? That’s because Disney had the foresight and business acumen to make a trip to the copy machine with the script of 1996’s 101 Dalmatians in hand and alter the title slightly for this 2000 release (re-release?).

The differences: now, she’s going to make the “ultimate” fur coat whereas before she was just making regular fur coats. Though both female protagonists were blondes, the 1996 version (Joely Richardson) was far better looking. The names of characters were changed for legal reasons, as today’s Kevin and Cloe are 1996’s Roger and Anita.

But so what if the plots are basically identical? Unless you’re the minivan momma taking six kids to see the movie while you are overwhelmed with boredom, you don’t really care -- trust me.

It’s the comedy -- the physical humor -- that’s enjoyable about this film. It’s the fact that the director actually got a dozen dogs to push buttons and turn a TV on and pop in (what else?) Disney’s Lady and the Tramp into the VCR. It’s Cruella’s sinfully sophisticated demeanor and her five inches of makeup that make this move so great to watch.

It’s all about enjoying things in the simple, unadulterated, Disney way. Sure, it’s contrived and artificial and a wallet-clamp, but it’s fun nonetheless.

There’s a hilarious car scene in the film where Cruella, being pursued by Kevin and Cloe and a bevy of dogs, ends up screeching through a one-way street, going the wrong way. Being told “You’re going the wrong way,” she responds, “No, they’re going the wrong way!”

Moreover, Close’s portrayal of Cruella De Vil is a bit transparent -- the acting is soap opera grade. In fact, all of the acting is soap opera quality, and I suppose it’s meant to be that way. There are no grand performances by anyone, but the majestically evil aura Close gave to her character Cruella quite readily inspired the child in me to hate her much like I once hated David Bowie in Labyrinth. 102 Dalmatians is certainly not an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s a fun, childish Disney version of one.

This film is nothing more than a petty moneymaker to Disney, and quite a blatant assumption by Disney that minivan mommas are stupid enough to pay for the same film four years down the line. Regardless, the humor is the kind I remember as a kid watching Sebastian in The Little Mermaid or the genie in Alladin, and truth be told, I enjoyed the regression.