The story begins when Patch starts feeling a little depressed about being 'just a number' in a large litter of pups. Every little Dalmatian has their own features that can identify them, but at a quick glance you'd be hard pressed to tell one from the other. Patch is tired of feeling like just another pup, and wants to be more like his television hero, Thunderbolt, who is one of a kind and loved by millions.
An interesting opportunity arises when Patch learns his hero is coming to town to find a new star for the show. Unfortunately, the whole gang is moving out of London to live on a farm right around the same time. Three humans and one hundred and one Dalmatians tend to get a little cramped when confined to a house, so it's time to move where the pups can go outside and run around freely. Pongo has had a hard time keeping count of his puppies lately though, and a quick count while hopping on the moving van leaves poor Patch unaccounted for. Patch wakes up to discover he's been forgotten, and decides to head to the auditions.
Thunderbolt has just learned his career as a television star is about to come to an end. In an effort to hold on to superstardom, he runs away from the audition to perform true acts of heroism to gain recognition. He brings Patch along, since Patch has photographic memory of each episode from Thunderbolt's show, and can help feed him ideas on how to be heroic in the real world.
In the meantime, Cruella De Vil is feeling pretty low herself. She's still driving the same old car that's still wrecked from her last encounter with Pongo's family, and she has no idea what to do with herself. She meets an artist that specializes in drawing black dots on large white canvases, and pushes him to make a piece that would make her feel wonderful again. He tries many times to appease De Vil but always comes up short. All seems lost until Cruella spots Patch on the front page of a newspaper with Thunderbolt, and what's that she sees? Patch is wearing a tag on his collar with his family's new address. Cruella springs into action, springs her bumbling sidekicks out of prison, and tries to make off with all the puppies once again.
Make no mistake about it; your children are absolutely going to love this movie. As far as being a well rounded film the entire family can enjoy, I'm afraid I can't say that's the case. As I was saying before, Disney is marketing these sequels as films for children only. It can be torturous considering how many times a child will want to watch the same thing, over and over again. Why not make a film that everyone can enjoy? That way you'll have the sales from the parents buying for their children, they won't have to roll their eyes as much watching it at home, and perhaps you'll open the door to more sales to adults in general!
The story moves along at a pretty uneven pace. We go back and forth between Cruella and Patch's identity crises. The movie is a mere seventy one minutes in length, and we don't see Ms. De Vil begin to plot her evil deeds until we're forty minutes in. There's not much of a sense of real excitement or peril like there was in the first film.
The background animation looks pretty awful, and it's something that kept sticking out like a sore thumb to me. Obviously there's only so much depth a drawing can provide, but Disney fills the backgrounds with colors that don't fit the lines. There are a lot of rectangular color blocks to fill in the trees or grass, and when you have colors lazily overlapping boundary lines to save a buck, it makes the film look incredibly lifeless.
So I guess what I'm trying to say, is parents, be warned. If you're looking to give your child something that's fun and cute, then by all means, pick this up. Your kids will get a sense of fun and adventure, I guarantee it. There's familiarity with characters they most likely already knew from 101 Dalmations, and that's something else for them to appreciate. If you're a parent who's weary of what they buy because they don't want to be tortured with it, you could do worse, but this film makes no attempt at connecting with the adult audience.
For the most part, the video looks pretty good. The picture is anamorphic with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The colors are saturated fairly well, although there was always something tickling me in the back of my brain saying it looked slightly washed. That may be more from the coloring during animation though. I think that they tried to make everything look fairly natural, except for certain greens or reds that were meant to 'pop'. There's some very minor edge enhancement as well. All in all though, this is going to look decent at home on a big screen, let alone the small screen your children will most likely view this on hundreds of times. I do have two complaints though. There is some digital artifacts that rear an ugly head a few times throughout the movie, and interlacing seems to show itself once in a while. Both of these issues aren't rampant, but can be noticed. For a special edition of an animated film, I expected better. This doesn't seem to be the same high caliber of video I'm used to seeing from Disney.
The front channels all sound very robust when they're supposed to. There's some good mixing going on that creates a full sound in the front channels, without ever being powerful enough to scare your kids. The track provided is Dolby Digital 5.1; however the rears never get a lot of use. One thing to note is the absence here of the DTS track that was on the prior release. Personally, I don't think it's a huge deal considering the surround track doesn't require it, but this may be a deal breaker for some completists. Also in 5.1 are French and Spanish tracks. Subtitles are given to us in English, French, and Spanish.
To start things off, we have two music videos. The first is "Try Again" by Will Young. It's a throwback to the style of big band boogie. "You're the One" by LMNT is a boy band sort of song. Both the kind of thing I'm not really interested in, but again, I'm not the target audience. The kids will love to jump all over your furniture to these! Take that comment whatever way you want, because it certainly can be a positive and a negative.
Thunderbolt: An Inside Look is sort of a play on words here. You can go in Thunderbolt's trailer and click around as if you were making yourself at home. There's nothing significant to see here, but who's the target audience again?
Patch's Twilight Adventure puts you right in the middle of an adventure. You're given ransom notes that are like a four piece puzzle. Your goal is to decipher them, and go to the spot on the map the ransom note shows you. Each location has a key that's hidden. Collect them all to free all the puppies that have been locked up in cages by the evil, Cruella De Vil!
Lost in London follows Patch and Thunderbolt as they drive a double decker bus through London. You'll see pictures of three different places in London on street signs, and you'll be asked a question. You'll choose which place to go to, and if your answer is correct, your mission will be a success.
Behind the Scenes Dog-umentary - Some live action dogs with human voice over, are invited into Disney studios to show the audience how the film was made. The kids will learn about the 'story pitch', a presentation of an idea that's laid out in many hand drawn still pictures to represent how the scene will look. They'll also learn about the basics of how an animator interprets sound into a moving picture, background design, and they'll also learn about the voice acting process. It's pretty informational for the kids, and I think it's pretty cool that Disney is taking a little initiative to educate kids on how movie magic works behind the scenes.
For you and me the bonus content may be perceived as just filler. However, there's some good information and fun activities for the kids and you know they'll play the games and watch the additional content again and again. I think you get a pretty decent bang for your buck here. I know we're used to seeing a whole dictionary of special features for Disney platinum editions, but that's to cater to both kids and adults alike. This film is strictly for the kiddies, so this is what we have to work with.
This movie fails to create any real sense of warmth or soul, the background work is pretty awful, and the story kicks into gear pretty late in the film. As far as an entertaining feature for the kids, it's got 'winner' written all over it, and Disney is going to make a bundle off of this new special edition.
Compared to other straight to DVD sequels though, this one is probably in the top five. There was actually some attempt to stick with some of the source material. We get to hear a snippet of the original Cruella De Vil song, for example. We even get to see Cruella driving around in that old smashed up jalopy of hers, and all the major players return for the fun, albeit needlessly.
Unfortunately I had to make a tough decision despite the effort. I'm going to recommend you skip this one. The kids will love it, sure. I can't give this movie any sort of positive recommendation without hating myself for it. It has a thirty dollar MSRP, for starters. Just like any other 'cash in' attempt Disney has made, it's really not worth your time. Knowing how these unnecessary additions to the Disney library usually fare, do you really feel the need to see the further adventures of Patch? I didn't think so. Stick with the original. You may have seen it enough times already, and your kid may drive you nuts with it, but you'll thank me in the long run.
To wrap it up, I have a little message for Disney. I respect your business motto. You guys are rolling in the dough and I can appreciate that. However, you're missing out on so much more, and let's not kid ourselves, you're audience has to miss out because of the oversight. Continue to make family films if you want to keep a franchise going. It's rather insulting to keep throwing this kind of stuff out there just because parents will buy it. Make your sequels somewhat enjoyable for adults and you'll reap the rewards! Traditional animation is practically dead for the kind of films adult Disney fans want to see, why not keep it alive with work everyone can enjoy?