There aren’t many times that Disney misses the mark, and the 101 Dalmatians film is just another example of Disney preaching perfectionism. Based on the book of the same name by Dodie Smith, the 101 Dalmatians is a 1996 live-action remake of the 1961 animation film by Walt Disney Productions. It is known to be one of the worst live-action remakes that Disney has ever created. To figure out why that is the general consensus I took it upon myself to watch it! As it turns out, the general consensus about this film is quite accurate, as not only is this a bland adaptation but it also doesn’t bring anything new to the original story.
How to Stream or Download 101 Dalmatians (1996)
To stream or to download the movie, click on the Download button at the end of the review. Check out also our review of Cruella, which is a movie inspired by 101 Dalmatians.
The Movie Review
The story follows Roger, an American video game developer, and bachelor who lives with his dog Pongo the Dalmatian in London. While living together, one day Pongo spots the beautiful Anita and her Dalmation dog Perdy. Roger gets dragged by Pongo to the park, and there he meets Anita and they both fall into a lake while chasing their dogs. However, afterwards they both quickly fall in love and as a result, Roger and Anita get married. But the dogs Pongo and Perdy also marry each other! Perdy becomes pregnant with a huge litter of young puppies, and she gives birth to a hundred and one Dalmatians.
This is where Anita’s fur-obsessed old employer Cruella De Vil enters the film, as she tries to buy the puppies so she can use them for fur. However, she is refused by Roger and Anita and vows revenge on them.
The film primarily follows the story of Roger and Anita, as well as Pongo and Perdy, as Cruella De Vil’s evil antics grow more and more despicable over time. Her actions lead to great stress for every single character in the film; especially for the puppies, Pongo, Perdy, and the family of Roger and Anita.
This is a movie that flows pretty badly in comparison to the original. The original was an animation film, yet it was animated so well that the animations were smooth and fun to watch. Yet this film has a direction where the pacing is always rushing by, with little to no somber moments in the middle. Anita and Roger are also overly exaggerated as simple people, who can’t even tell how evil Cruella really is despite her evil behavior right in front of them.
The cast in this film consists of Glenn Close, Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson, and Joan Plowright. The cast does an exceptional job of portraying these characters in the most perfect way that they could.
The performance by each cast member is pretty subpar to be honest, especially those by Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson who play Roger and Anita respectively. Their performances feel dry and unprepared, as they show little to no emotion whatsoever until the very end of the film. Glenn Close as Cruella is a showstopper, her performance carries the film throughout its entire runtime.
The characters are well designed though and they feel unique in their own regard. Each character has its own aesthetic and its own vibe. Anita and Roger served as the main characters that you can relate with, their clothing and performances; showcase their behaviors and personalities as common folk. The Dalmatians themselves are gorgeous, and super well trained to fit the film despite there being so many of them.
However, the best design in the film is definitely Cruella’s. Her outfit and the amazing performance by the brilliant Glenn Close showcase her cruelty and evil directly on her face and her fur-based attire. You can tell that she is an evil character just by looking at her and her clothes.
The story is very multi-layered; being a children’s movie it showcases a huge amount of messages towards the love that we should give to animals. It is also a film that forwards its anti-animal cruelty message; there is a huge problem with animal experimentation and exploitation in the clothing industry and other industries. It also showcases how the rich have so much power that they can essentially try and do any kind of evil bidding that they want.
The film’s director Stephen Harek did a great job of relaying the thematic and moral messages while still keeping the film a family-friendly and entertaining romp! However, where he failed was the overall pacing and the structure of the film, where it felt like the film was shot and mashed up without any sort predetermined of editing structure.
The Bottom Line
So, in conclusion, the 101 Dalmatians is probably by far one of the most mediocre live-action remakes that Disney has ever released. From its subpar acting, the bland direction and overly exaggerated writing of Anita and Roger, and its terrible editing, the film is mediocre in every way.
It had everything going for it, from a great story, a decent cast of characters, an amazing villain, and the best ways that you can forward messages while keeping a film family-friendly. Yet it falls flat on its face, as just another time where Disney cashes on its existing films by remaking them.