Someone at Disney had the brilliant (in a money-making sense) idea of remaking classic Disney cartoon movies such as The Jungle Book and One Hundred and One Dalmatians with live actors. Given the box-office success of these famous films, there was a built-in audience for them. However, in term of creativity, this idea hasn't really panned out and most of the remakes have been pretty shoddy. 101 Dalmatians is actually one of the better ones, and that's not saying much.
Roger (Jeff Daniels) is a video-game producer stuck in a rut trying to come up with a convincing villain; he lives in London with Pongo, his Dalmatian companion. Anita (Joely Richardson) is a fashion designer for the fur-loving and sadistic Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close); her best friend is Perdy. Pongo and Perdy meet in a dramatic fashion when they are on their walks and fall in love with each other. Very quickly, Roger and Anita also wed and both parents are soon expecting. All's well, right?
Not quite. Cruella, who has decided that spots are in fashion, wants a coat made purely of Dalmatian fur. She commands her two henchmen, Jasper (Hugh Laurie) and Horace (Mark Williams) to steal Pongo and Perdy's fifteen puppies to add to 83 others that they've already dognapped so Cruella's desires can be met. Aided by a bunch of small furry creatures, Roger, Anita, Pongo, and Perdy must find the puppies before the evil Skinner (John Shrapnel) gets to work on them.
Glenn Close is an excellent actress and it is she who makes this film work (clearly, she's having a good time). Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams provide some laughs as Cruella's henchmen, and the threat that John Shrapnel poses as Skinner is menacing enough. Watching the film, I couldn't help but thinking how much of a dog's (or another animal's) spirit must been bludgeoned to make it perform the way Disney wanted them to.
I saw the film with a couple of kids which made it all worthwhile as they explained all the plot details to me patiently. Worth renting in that context.