Just so you know, I have opinions about 102 Dalmatians, but they’re not the opinions of somebody who knows anything. This movie was made for children, and — like most self-centered 20-somethings — I don’t know anything about children. I don’t know what they like. I don’t know what they want. I don’t know what they think is cool. As such, I probably shouldn’t be telling them what movies to see. I’m not the boss of them. Personally, I tend to avoid children in my everyday life with an avidity most people reserve for parking tickets and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nope, I don’t know kids, but I do know retreads. And a retread is what kids have been given in 102 Dalmatians, an unimaginatively plotted but dementedly art-directed sequel to the 1996 live-action version of the animated Disney original. In concept, it’s simply nothing more than a shamelessly lazy repackaging of the first film’s story line: Once again, Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close, hammier than a bag of pork rinds) wants to dognap a bunch of adorable puppies and make them into a coat. The film begins with Cruella apparently cured of her dogicidal tendencies and released on parole. She buys a bankrupt animal shelter from good-natured dufus Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd) and charms her parole officer (Alice Evans), who coincidentally owns five gorgeous Dalmatians — including the pup that proved to be Cruella’s undoing in the first film. Cruella’s newfound compassion disappears for silly reasons best not stated here, and she becomes even more intent to have her dream outfit made of Dalmatian fur — this time with a hood, hence the necessity of the 102nd puppy. (The idea of fashion design as an essentially evil profession is an intriguing one that could be explored in greater detail someplace less ridiculous than this film, by the way.) Close basically looks like the world’s richest drag queen here, with a mannish laugh and outfits that are vintage Liberace crossed with Queen Victoria and sewn by Donna Karan — all feathers and ruffles and spots and stuff you can’t even name. After a while, they start to look computer-animated in their complexity. Aside from the spectacle of watching Close humiliate herself for a huge paycheck, there’s the spectacle of watching Gerard Depardieu humiliate himself for a slightly less huge paycheck. The respected, Oscar-nominated French actor plays Le Pelt, a fur designer who favors a blond hockey-player-meets-punk-rocker haircut, an obscenely brief pair of shorts and a leopard’s head as a codpiece. Besides the Halloween-on-Castro-Street costuming and the sadly weak plot, there’s also way too much Disney merchandising synergy here, with the puppies spending a night watching Lady and the Tramp on video. Michael Eisner ought to be ashamed of himself. Everything in this film simply feels too manufactured for adult tastes, with none of the wit of Toy Story or the spontaneous glee of The Grinch. Of course, kids may eat all this up with a 102 Dalmatians collectible spoon from McDonald’s. Disney is quite obviously of the opinion that kids will watch whatever you put in front of them, and the Disney people know a bit more about kids than me.
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