101 Dalmatians (1996)
Directed by Stephen Herek

Artistic Value: * ½
Entertainment Value: * *

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Roger (Jeff Daniels), a video game designer who lives in London with his dalmatian Pongo, and Anita (Joely Richardson), a clothing designer who works for the wealthy but wildly eccentric Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close) and lives with her dalmatian Perdy, both love this breed of dog. When the two meet, they immediately fall for one another and get married. Unfortunately, after Pongo and Perdy have fifteen puppies, Cruella wants to buy these to make the poor animals into a fur coat. Roger and Anita refuse, but Cruella decides to obtain the puppies by other means and hires two moronic crooks to steal them for her.

Stephen Herek's 101 Dalmatians has its entertaining moments, but it is dull or cloying far more often.

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The first half of the movie focuses on the lives of its two human protagonists, Roger and Anita, showing their whirlwind romance, their first days in their luxurious new house, and the efforts of Cruella to obtain their dogs' puppies, and is, frankly, terribly tedious. The second part, which concentrates on the puppies' attempts to escape from Cruella's bumbling henchmen, who are keeping them, and eighty-four other dalmatian puppies, in that woman's mansion deep in the snowbound wastes of raccoon and skunk infested Suffolk, largely consists of a series of skits like those that can be seen in Home Alone. Not surprisingly, that movie and this were both written by John Hughes, who, apparently, decided simply to recycle much of his earlier work, thereby avoiding the need to waste his creativity unnecessarily.

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The movie does, nevertheless, have some appeal. The animals included in it are consistently cute, and the tricks these creatures play on Cruella and her lackeys, which include dropping one of the latter into a freezing pond, plunging the former into a vat of molasses, and causing all of them various bodily injuries, may entertain very young viewers.

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Regrettably, the film's lethargic pacing and vacuous characters will likely bore moviegoers of all ages. Roger and Anita are complete nonentities and Cruella's henchmen are forgettable buffoons. With her long cigarette holder, clawed gloves, weird half white half black hair and costumes, and outrageously sadistic behavior, Cruella, fortunately, is so overdone that she is mildly entertaining. Even she, however, is more frequently just annoying.

There really is very little in 101 Dalmatians for which the movie can be recommended. It is a tiresome, hackneyed mess.

Review by Keith Allen

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