Better the Devil You Know: 102 Dalmatians (2000)
Since I specifically mentioned the opening credits sequences for the first two Dalmatians movies, I should note this one has a surreal visual one much like the original animated film. It’s not nearly as fun or creative as that opening credits scene but an improvement on the one from this sequel’s immediate predecessor. And I have to credit (no pun intended) the accompanying song’s lyrics (“Don’t be believing/Looks are deceiving”) for relating to the movie’s theme of outward behavior and appearances vs. inner worth.
Writers Kristen Buckley and Brian Regan had a hoop through which to jump. The 1996 101 Dalmatians, unlike the 1961 movie or the original book by Dodie Smith, ended with Cruella De Vil being arrested and a sequel without her would be unthinkable.Dodie Smith actually wrote a literary sequel to The Hundred and One Dalmatians called The Starlight Barking which barely featured Cruella. It was about Sirius, the astral guardian of dogs, putting … Continue reading There are a number of ways this could have been handled. Cruella could break out of prison. She could make bail. She could get time off for good behavior. She could have simply served her time and been released in due course. (It’s not like her crime would have earned her a life sentence.) But, no, instead the writers go with her being apparently cured of her lust for fur through electroshock therapy.
I don’t know who would have thought of combining 101 Dalmatians with A Clockwork Orange but that’s what this sequel does. Through “a humane cocktail of electric shock treatment, aversion therapy, hypnosis, drugs and plenty of green vegetables,” Cruella’s mindset has been replaced with that of a sweet natured dog lover with a strong antifur stance.In the aforementioned Starlight Barking, it’s implied Cruella has been able to replace her fur fetish with one for metallic raincoats. I couldn’t make this stuff up, people. In one of the movie’s cleverer touches, we get a version of the classic song, Cruella De Vil, with new lyrics reflecting her new personality.
To demonstrate that she’s changed, Cruella becomes the patroness of Second Chance, a financially strapped dog shelter run by an idealistic man named Kevin Sheperd (Ioan Gruffudd.) Her dog loving probation officer, Chloe Simon (Alice Evans), refuses to believe in Cruella’s change of heart and is sure that her being involved with a dog shelter will lead to disaster, but Kevin persists in taking her at her word. Of course, Chloe proves right since there wouldn’t be a story otherwise and I don’t think any real fans of the character want Cruella De Vil to reform. It turns out that the sound of Big Ben’s chimes restores the brain waves of recipients of this new therapy to normal and, wouldn’t you know it, Chloe’s office is right across from the famous clock.
Of course, once she’s back to her old self, the smart thing for Cruella to do would be to secretly enjoy the old furs she has stashed away and not risk anything by trying to get any more. But she’s evil, not prudent, and she sets out to finally get that dalmatian fur coat, this time adding a hood to justify the title 102 Dalmatians.I’m actually impressed that the sequel has her say this means she’ll need three more puppies, not just one, remember that the final two dalmatians of the last movie were the parents, not … Continue reading
So, the implied moral of this story would seem to be don’t give people the benefit of the doubt; they don’t really change and will just take advantage of you. That’s a… bizarrely harsh and cynical message for a movie aimed solely at little kids who want to see pratfalls and cute puppies.Maybe it’s trying to say that true redemption has to come from within, not just changing outward behavior but nobody explicitly says anything like that and in a movie like this, if the … Continue reading I mean, it’s not wrong per se. In real life, trusting people can lead to them taking advantage of you. And while Cruella herself remains evil, there is another antagonist, albeit a minor one, who changes for the better by the end. A careful analysis of the story shows that the message is really that sometimes bad guys reform and sometimes they don’t, sometimes trusting them pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s arguably a refreshingly nuanced take for a kids’ movie. But it feels totally out of place in a cheerfully lowbrow children’s comedy.One of the end credits songs asks listeners “whatchya gonna do with your second chance? Will ya throw it away or get it right?” This could imply that the real moral is neither … Continue reading
Though it remains repetitive, I think I appreciate Glenn Close’s portrayal of Cruella more in this movie. Maybe that’s because in the previous one, while there were plenty of farcical and fantastical characters and plot points, the character of Cruella De Vil was the only thing really played for camp. Here the rest of the film seems to want to be a cartoon. (Compare the tastefully muted wintery colors of the 1996 101 Dalmatians with 102‘s art direction.) She just fits better. During her nicey-nice phases, Cruella has her old collection of fur coats thrown in a basement and boarded up. (Don’t ask me why she doesn’t burn them or sell them.) And when the fur fancying fashionista reverts to her old ways and tears through those boards with her hands, I’ll admit I chuckled.
Gruffudd is likeable as the sweet, naive Kevin and I’m sure Evans could have been likeable as Chloe if the character had been written better. To me, Chloe’s personal vendetta against her client makes her seem like a jerk. You see, she happens to own Dipstick, one of the dalmatians Cruella stole in the last movie. (Dipstick and Cruella’s manservant, Alonso (Tim McInerny), are the only characters from there besides her to also appear in this sequel by the way.) Doesn’t that represent something of a conflict of interest? I’m not saying she should let her guard entirely down with Cruella, but the woman really does seem to be trying to be friendly, albeit because her mind has been altered by outside forces, only to get shot down. (In one of the movie’s better jokes, when Cruella says she wants a job with dogs, Chloe says she sees her as more of a coal miner or a sewage worker.) Chloe also rails against Kevin for letting Cruella near dogs even though Cruella only wants to make clothing out of fancy, stylish animals. It’s doubtful she’d be inspired by the scruffy mutts at Second Chance. Maybe it’s just because I’m a cat person but I got rather tired of everyone in this movie acting like Cruella is a serial killer of human children. I’m not saying I approve of her intending to kill ninety-nine puppies for a coat, but does it really make her as irredeemable as Chloe insists?In the book and the 1961 movie, Cruella actually only stole fifteen of her intended victims. The 1996 one though mentioned that she stole all of them, yet it still had the Dearlys adopt them all in … Continue reading Of course, Chloe starts to trust Cruella (and distrust Kevin) as soon as the story requires her to do so. Sigh.
This movie has more jokes about dog slobber than all the other Dalmatians movies put together, thanks to the character of Drooler, one of the dogs at the shelter. I don’t want to write about Drooler though. He makes me depressed. There’s also a parrot called Waddlesworth (voiced by Eric Idle) who insists that he’s a rottweiler. He’s not funny and gets fairly annoying after a while. Strangely, he doesn’t just mimic human words he’s heard repeatedly but actually is able to hold intelligent conversations with Kevin and even translates what the dogs are saying for him at a critical point in the plot. While Dodie Smith did include a human toddler being able to communicate with animals, none of the movies had done anything like this previously and neither Kevin nor Chloe nor anyone else finds it odd.
Every once in a while, there’s a good joke in this movie, most of them involving the character of Ewan (Ben Crompton), another client of Chloe’s who works at Second Chance. (In his first scene, Chloe asks him if the best excuse he can give her for not having a paycheck is that a dog chewed it up. He tries saying that he was abducted by aliens.)
The rest of 102‘s humor comes from bad dog puns and more of the last film’s overdone, unfunny slapstick.
And yet…while I was unimpressed by the movie’s first hour and ten minutes or so, I didn’t really wish to stop watching it either. Maybe it’s that oddly depressing anti-redemptive message. Maybe it’s the weirdness of seeing Cruella De Vil behave so sweetly for a while. Maybe it’s the deliberate outrageousness of her costumes and the tongue-in-cheek creepiness of her house.
Maybe it’s seeing distinguished actors like Timothy West, Ian Richardson and Gerard Depardieu slumming. Maybe it’s the feeling that some people involved in the production were having fun. One way or another, there’s something I find hypnotically fascinating about the movie.
Well, about the first hour and ten minutes or so. Like the previous one, it goes on about twenty minutes too long and saves what is probably its dumbest material for the climax. The reason I’ve been describing so many genuinely funny moments isn’t to give you the impression the movie is hilarious. It’s in the hope that my readers will be able to enjoy them vicariously without the need to sit through the whole thing. You’re welcome.
Sympathy for the Devil: Cruella (2021)
In the early 2020s, the Disney company was in a bit of spot. They were remaking all of their most popular old properties, mostly doing hand drawn animated stuff in a photorealistic style. But they’d already done that back in 1996 with One Hundred and One Dalmatians and apparently felt they couldn’t do so again. That’s too bad in a way because I’d consider most of their recent remakes to be better written and better directed than the 1996 101 Dalmatians and the record will show I didn’t hate that one, so those words aren’t damning with faint praise.Heh. Damning. De Vil. There’s got to be a pun in there somewhere. In any case, this is what they came up with instead.
On a dark and stormy night, a troubled and rebellious young girl called Estella (played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland at this point) witnesses her beloved single mother (Emily Beecham) pleading with a mysterious rich woman for money. Suddenly, a trio of snarling dalmatians attack the mother, knocking her off a cliff.
Seriously, that’s the premise.
You’d assume from that that Estella is going to grow up hating dalmatians and possibly animals in general, change her name to Cruella De Vil at some point, and try to get a dalmatian fur coat as payback for her trauma. But, except for the name thing, no. Far from hating pets, Cruella actually acquires a couple of canine sidekicks, who feel out the place in this, the only 101 Dalmatians movie aimed mainly at adults. She does end up kidnapping dalmatians at one point and jokes about making them into coats but that’s as far as it goes. This movie isn’t really so much a prequel to the original story or a reimagining of it as it is something new that’s packed with homages to 101 Dalmatians, though there is an end credits scene which could be interpreted as a complete renunciation of the original Cruella De Vil or as setting up the original story.If you don’t mind me giving it away, read on. There are characters in the movie named Roger (Kayvan Novak) and Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), the former being a struggling songwriter and the … Continue reading Could the movie have begun life as a totally unrelated project and Disney decided it wouldn’t be marketable unless it were connected to one of their successful franchises? Or did Disney assign writers Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis with the task of writing a story with Cruella De Vil as a sympathetic antiheroine and that was such a bad idea that the best thing they could cook up was barely related to it?
Anyway, back to the summary. Estella flees to London where she falls in with a couple of juvenile pickpockets, Jasper (Ziggy Gardner at this point) and Horace (Joseph Macdonald) who remain her partners in crime and makeshift family into adulthood. Quickly realizing that her unique hair coloring makes her recognizable, Estella dyes it red. Eventually, (when she’s old enough to be played by Emma Stone), she gets a job working for the high-profile fashion house, Liberty of London, and claws her way up from bathroom cleaner to personal assistant to the head of the company, the cruel and arrogant Baroness Von Hellman (Emma Thompson.) (Past incarnations of the character have always implied that Cruella came from “old money,” and this is one of the things that makes it hard to view this as a prequel.) One day Estella notices that the baroness is wearing a necklace that belonged to her (Estella’s) mother. When she questions her about this, she speaks of the woman and her death with shocking callousness. Estella enlists Jasper (now played by Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) to help her steal back the necklace. Her plan involves herself distracting the baroness by sporting her real hair coloring and posing as an unruly party guest called Cruella.
Things don’t quite go as planned and Estella realizes that the baroness controls her dalmatians with a whistle, meaning that she deliberately killed Estella’s mother. This seemingly causes her mind to snap, and she goes from acting like a typical Emma Stone character to acting like, well, Cruella De Vil, ordering Horace and Jasper around and calling them imbeciles. Only as her Cruella persona, she believes, can she exact revenge on the baroness.In a nice touch, an early scene shows Estella watching a movie with Tallulah Bankhead, an actress who influenced the animated Cruella, mainly her trademark evil laugh. She plans to do that not by killing her, though she teases that possibility twice, not by stealing from her, at least not solely, not even by gaining her trust and then giving her bad business advice, but by upstaging her at every fashion event. I’m not sure why this movie is set in the 1970s instead of the 50s or 60s but maybe it was so it could portray Cruella as sort of a pioneer of punk. Her radical stylings make her the talk of the town and spur the baroness to find some way or another to destroy her mysterious new rival.
I hope no one who hasn’t seen this movie yet is miffed that I’ve just given a broad summary of half the plot. I didn’t know how else to convey that it’s story, despite a lack of talking animals, is completely ridiculous. There’s no reason the baroness should have dalmatians for attack dogs once you factor out that this is an homage and there’s no reason they should kill Estella’s mother by knocking her off a cliff instead of tearing her throat out once you factor out that while this may be a PG-13 Disney movie, it’s still a Disney movie at heart.That’s not to say I consider it appropriate for kids. And I haven’t even revealed the unbelievable way Cruella ultimately brings down the baroness in the end. Let’s just say this movie has as many holes in its logic as a dalmatian has spots on its coat. I wasn’t particularly interested in the movie when I first heard about it but when I heard the story summarized, I was shocked by how laughably stupid it sounded. Then an intriguing thought occurred to me. What if it was supposed to be stupid? Surely, this must really be a witty parody. A parody of villain origin stories. A parody of perspective flips. A parody of crime movies. A parody of revenge stories. A parody of Martin Scorsese.Cruella (2021) has been described as Disney’s answer to Joker (2019), which was influenced by the works of Martin Scorsese and director Craig Gillespie has been compared, not necessarily … Continue reading A parody of Disney nostalgia bait. A parody of something! But no. While the movie has a sense of humor, it plays out all of its absurd plot points with an unblinking earnestness. The baroness and Cruella sport hairdos and outfits as ridiculous as anything from the old live action 101 Dalmatians movies but there’s much less of a sense, if any, of winking at viewers. Give the devil his due. 102 Dalmatians was a dumb kids’ comedy, but it was a dumb kids’ comedy that knew what it was. Cruella is a dumb adult drama that genuinely believes it’s smart and sophisticated.
That being said…playing the nonsensical story with such a straight face sort of works. At least, it works in that I was able to watch it without laughing at it though maybe that was just because I was already prepared for its looniest plot points. I would rather rewatch this than 102 Dalmatians and I don’t think that’s just because I’m an adult.After all, one of my favorite movies is Nanny McPhee, a children’s movie with bright colors, goofy sound effects, a fart joke and a climactic food fight. The difference between that movie and … Continue reading It also functions better as a piece of storytelling than Maleficent (2014) which it superficially resembles, with none of that movie’s rushed pacing or uneven acting. The writing is engaging. The cinematography and visuals in general are easy on the eyes. And some of the heist elements are genuinely fun, particularly the elaborate con Cruella pulls to ruin one of the baroness’s fashion shows roughly halfway through the movie.
The cast is solid as a whole and Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are great playing essentially two different versions of the same character. Stone gives a fine traditional Cruella De Vil without sounding exactly like the versions portrayed by either Betty Lou Gerson or Glenn CloseWho serves as an executive producer for this move., all while giving her cartoonish villainy a creepier vibe since her hammy behavior is apparently the result of a psychotic breakdown. As the regal baroness, Thompson is actually closer to how I imagine the original book’s Cruella De Vil than any other version or she would be if she were cheerier and more convincingly friendly. A big part of me wishes this were a regular remake or, better yet, a new adaptation of the book and Thompson’s baroness were really supposed to be Cruella De Vil. But, anyway, this movie is at its crackling best when she and Stone’s Cruella are trading barbs.Similarly, the most fun part of Maleficent‘s 2019 sequel, Mistress of Evil, was the animosity between the rival villainesses played by Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfieffer but they sadly only … Continue reading
Still, the only way I could call the movie good were if it were aware of how silly its story was and expected us to laugh at it. It’s not and it doesn’t. If that story had to be executed so earnestly, I guess it did so as well as possible. But that still leaves us with something too good to qualify as so-bad-it’s-good and far too bad to just be good. I guess I’ll call it a guilty pleasure, not one I wish to experience again but a step up from something unpleasurable.
So…yeah, the best of these four movies is easily One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961.) But the original book by Dodie Smith is much better and I’d love to see a fresh yet faithful adaptation of it that jettisoned all the old movies. If you haven’t already given the novel a read, check it out sometime.
|↑1||Dodie Smith actually wrote a literary sequel to The Hundred and One Dalmatians called The Starlight Barking which barely featured Cruella. It was about Sirius, the astral guardian of dogs, putting every other species into a trance to save canines from the possibility of nuclear war. I am not making that up.|
|↑2||In the aforementioned Starlight Barking, it’s implied Cruella has been able to replace her fur fetish with one for metallic raincoats. I couldn’t make this stuff up, people.|
|↑3||I’m actually impressed that the sequel has her say this means she’ll need three more puppies, not just one, remember that the final two dalmatians of the last movie were the parents, not the stolen puppies. Of course, since there are also two parents dalmatians in this story, the title should really be 104 Dalmatians.|
|↑4||Maybe it’s trying to say that true redemption has to come from within, not just changing outward behavior but nobody explicitly says anything like that and in a movie like this, if the characters don’t explicitly say something, it’s probably not the intent.|
|↑5||One of the end credits songs asks listeners “whatchya gonna do with your second chance? Will ya throw it away or get it right?” This could imply that the real moral is neither “don’t be like Kevin” nor “don’t be like Chloe” but “don’t be like Cruella.” Or it could just indicate how hard it was for whoever writes these end credits songs to put an uplifting spin on this movie’s anti-redemptive message.|
|↑6||In the book and the 1961 movie, Cruella actually only stole fifteen of her intended victims. The 1996 one though mentioned that she stole all of them, yet it still had the Dearlys adopt them all in the end, so I’m not sure what the point was of that change.|
|↑7||Heh. Damning. De Vil. There’s got to be a pun in there somewhere.|
|↑8||If you don’t mind me giving it away, read on. There are characters in the movie named Roger (Kayvan Novak) and Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), the former being a struggling songwriter and the latter an old school friend of Cruella’s. The two of them never meet in the movie but by the end, Cruella has come into some dalmatian puppies, and she gives one called Pongo to Roger and one called Perdita to Anita. Like I said, this could be seen as a complete renunciation of the traditional character (instead of stealing puppies from Roger and Anita, Cruella gives them to them) or it could be setting up the traditional story (she’s giving them puppies in the hope that both humans and dogs will mate and then she can buy or steal more puppies from them to make into coats. I think you may have added some extra steps to that plan, Cruella.) The first option makes infinitely more sense but there’s enough tonal ambiguity in the scene to leave Option no. 2 on the table.|
|↑9||In a nice touch, an early scene shows Estella watching a movie with Tallulah Bankhead, an actress who influenced the animated Cruella, mainly her trademark evil laugh.|
|↑10||That’s not to say I consider it appropriate for kids.|
|↑11||Cruella (2021) has been described as Disney’s answer to Joker (2019), which was influenced by the works of Martin Scorsese and director Craig Gillespie has been compared, not necessarily favorably, to the famous director.|
|↑12||After all, one of my favorite movies is Nanny McPhee, a children’s movie with bright colors, goofy sound effects, a fart joke and a climactic food fight. The difference between that movie and 102 Dalmatians is…well, there are actually a lot of differences. But the main thing is that Nanny McPhee may not be highbrow, but it’s far from being dumb or unfunny.|
|↑13||Who serves as an executive producer for this move.|
|↑14||Similarly, the most fun part of Maleficent‘s 2019 sequel, Mistress of Evil, was the animosity between the rival villainesses played by Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfieffer but they sadly only shared the screen for a couple of scenes. Cruella doesn’t make that mistake at least.|