TBT Review – 101 Dalmatians (1996)

films, reviews, TBT

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Have we all seen the Cruella trailer? I have to admit that it’s better than I expected it to be. Although I really wasn’t expecting much. I definitely wasn’t overjoyed when Disney announced that they were giving one of their most heinous villains a solo feature. After all, you can’t exactly do a Maleficent to a woman whose sole mission was to kidnap and skin puppies. I don’t see how you can try and humanise something that like. Are they going to try and convince us that Cruella’s only sin is that she was overlooked in the fashion industry? That she was too daring? Or maybe she’ll have been bitten by a Dalmatian as a child and that’s why she’s so keen to turn them into clothing? What is more likely is that this will be a film similar to Joker which suggests it was merely an issue with mental health treatment that allowed Cruella to become the monster we know her to be. I wasn’t here for Todd Phillips’ nonsense so why would I want Craig Gillespie’s gender swapper version? Also, why is nobody talking about how irritating and bad Emma Stones’ British accent is? I love her but it does not work for this character. How did she get it so right in The Favourite but not here? Shocking.

With all this talk of Cruella, it only seemed fair to go back to the most iconic version of the character. Glenn Close will always be the perfect Cruella. She manages to get everything absolutely right. Some may think it ignores many of her other great roles to say this but it is definitely one of her greatest roles. There was nobody who could have even got close to her performance. She embodies the characters and makes her perfectly sinister. Much more than the animated film ever managed. It’s weird to think that it was almost Sigourney Weaver. How would that have worked? Close’s portrayal of the villain is terrifying and clever. It’s going to be hard for Emma Stone to compare.

Of course, my opinion might be a little biased because I bloody loved this film when I was younger. My sister and I were pretty animal obsessed so a film stuffed fall of spotty puppies was obviously going to be our thing. Then, of course, you have the general silliness and slapstick that all good Disney movies contain. I remember that we would absolutely fall about when Joan Plowright would bark in her sleep. So funny. Looking back now and I do find it rather disappointing. Aside from Close’s performance, there’s not a great deal going for this film. At least, not enough that have justified remaking it in 1996 and then doing a sequel. It wasn’t the first of Disney’s live-action remakes but it was one of the first. You can tell that they weren’t any more bothered about changing it up then than they are now.

It’s not that this is a bad film but it just feels like a bland film. So little happens that it’s disappointing. The love story between Jeff Daniels and Joley Richardson is so forced and uncomfortable. There’s zero chemistry and you can’t really ignore the fact that the pair get married because of their dogs. The story just feels so rushed and lifeless. It really doesn’t help that the animals aren’t anthropomorphised. You really need them to be able to talk for this film to really work. In the original animated film adaptation, Pongo and Perdita have way more to do and you really get to understand the dog’s social circle. Here, the story is more preoccupied with the human element because it’s all it has. One of the other reasons that Glenn Close stands out in this film is because she’s the only one who really gets to do anything.

The joy of animal films is being able to get into the animals’ heads. You need to be able to see the story from their point of view instead of trying to make it realistic. It’s got plenty of slapstick but there’s very little heart here. The emotional stakes are lower because you don’t connect with the dogs as much. Sure, they’re cute but you don’t know them. You also know that Disney isn’t going to let a bunch of innocent puppies die, so what are you worried about? Why do we care about watching this film? Forget making this film realistic, it needed to be more fantastical. Go back to the book and include Cruella’s cat who eventually turns her back on the villainess. Get Pongo and Predita back in the thick of the action. Don’t just let puppies loose in the countryside without saying anything. It’s not as much fun.

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