After a wild chase in the bustling streets of London, struggling computer game author Roger (Jeff Daniels) and his male Dalmatian, Pongo – by a welcome twist of fate – are dragged into St. James Park and meet with charming fashion designer Anita (Joely Richardson) and her female Dalmatian, Perdita. Soon, one thing will lead to another, and before they know it, Roger and Anita will get married and the adorable Perdita, pregnant. However, their short-lived joy is disrupted when Anita’s glamorous but horrible boss, Cruella DeVil (Glenn Close), dognaps the innocent puppies with the intention of making a luxurious coat with the dogs’ fabulously spotted fur. Eventually, along with Perdita’s fifteen puppies, Cruella will manage to bring the total to the staggering number of ninety-nine Dalmatians; nevertheless, are the cute little puppies as helpless as they look? —Nick RiganasI’ve noticed something about John Hughes’ movies: he started out writing about adults with child-like tendencies (“Mr. Mom”, “National Lampoon’s Vacation”), went on to actual teenagers (“Sixteen Candles”, The Breakfast Club”), devolved down to pre-teens (“Home Alone”, “Dennis the Menace”) and then babies (“Baby’s Day Out”) and now that he’s exhausted all the ages of man (except the elderly – don’t give him any ideas) he’s moved on to the animal kingdom with “101 Dalmatians”.You know the basic storyline if you’ve seen the 1961 Disney animated original – Roger and Anita (Daniels and Richardson) meet and marry then their respective dalmatians Pongo and Perdita have 15 puppies which are coveted by the despicable Cruella DeVil (played con brio by Close) who will have them at any cost to make a puppy fur coat.What’s new this time around? The fact that it’s all live action, for one, and the formidable assistance of computers helps create the illusion of dogs and other creatures acting with almost human precision, plus the fact that instead of precocious voices for all the animals they act out voiceless against the human baddies, especially Horace and Jasper (Williams and Laurie), as if the animal kingdom were all channeling Macaulay Culkin.And, of course, since Hughes wrote the script, you know this won’t be Shakespeare – slapstick malice is at the forefront with cute but noble good guys, ugly and dumb bad guys and lots of adorable animals.
But not just dalmatians, mind you: there are all manner of dogs – sheepdogs, bulldogs, terriers, etc. Not to mention horses, sheep, raccoons, rabbits, chickens, pigs, cows, birds and even a mouse in one instance. All of them banding together to bring the dalmatians, all 101 of them, together safely.Director Herek brings everything together with assurance and all the actors make sure you know that this is a story that is first and foremost for the kiddies. Especially Close – complete with claws on her gloves and a different wardrobe for every scene, she not only chews the scenery but nibbles on it with every tooth in her head and savors the taste like a connoisseur. Bless her.This isn’t the kind of movie that can be successfully analyzed. You either like it or not, depending on what kind of tolerance you have for kiddie slapstick. I like that, so I liked “101 Dalmatians”.Seven stars, plus half a star for Close’s diabolical work…and a half star more for the donations from the animal world.