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We meet Roger, who is a video game designer. In the animated film he was a song writer, but now in an attempt to modernize the profession into something children can relate to, we have to accept Roger as someone who designs video games. The game he's currently working on is a shamelessly tied self promotion for Disney, as the main character in his digital wonderland looks like the animated Pongo we all know and love. The problem is, Roger can't design a villain that's right for the game. I'm sure you can guess what result that's going to yield.
Next we meet Anita, who works for Cruella De Vil, a fur loving tyrant that could care less what poor innocent creature she stamps out of existence for the sake of her wardrobe.
One day while biking through the park, they're literally dragged together by their Dalmatians. The dogs experience love at first sight and bring their masters together to experience the same. Soon, Roger and Anita marry, and their dogs Pongo and Perdy bring fifteen puppies into their home.
Cruella De Vil has been obsessing over her desire for a Dalmatian wardrobe, and tries to throw her money around in order to obtain the puppies to make her dream come fruition. When her offer is refused, she's forced to hire a couple of goons to try and kidnap the puppies. The rest of the film takes us on a journey that's loaded with cutesy little animals trying to stop Cruella and her henchmen, and rescue the puppies from their evil clutches.
For the most part, the story plays out like an extended version of the original. A shorter runtime can't be done due to the 'artistic' choice of not letting the animals talk. We have to rely on human actors to push the story along.
There are some other weird changes to the timeline that also make the pacing of this film a little odd. In the animated version, a scene cuts to the wedding where the humans and dogs get hitched. It's done pretty quickly, but we can assume that the wedding happened sometime in the future. The live action film, takes this jump a little too seriously. Roger proposes the very same night he meets the woman of his dreams. It felt a bit forced.
What made the original film work so well was letting the puppies have unique identities. They were able to talk while working their cute puppy eyes on the audience, so they were able to snare the viewers with their looks and make them stay for their adorable personalities. This live action film tries to make the events a little more realistic and removes those personalities. Instead the movie focuses on the actions of cute animals of all shapes and sizes. It's adorable, yes, but fails to make the audience connect with the animals the same way they were able to before.
The bumbling kidnappers have not been changed however. They're just as dumb and bumbling as they've always been. Unfortunately, it doesn't translate to film very well. We have a couple of guys who don't quite seem to be mean enough, getting a lesson taught to them much in the same way the burglars in Home Alone did. Unlike Home Alone though, only the little kids are going to appreciate and laugh out loud to some of the antics the animals unleash on the unsuspecting villains.
I've already mentioned there's some shameless self promotion going on in this film, and I was willing to forget it. All of a sudden I see all the puppies sitting in front of the television, and what are they watching? Why, other Disney films of course! The Aristocats and Homeward Bound both make an appearance, but they didn't grab me as a cute tie-in. All it made me think about, was why they're willing to show us a movie with animals that have dubbed voices, but wouldn't entertain the same idea for this movie.
This movie is more enjoyable for an entire family than most of Disney's straight to DVD sequels, but still very close to being something that can only be enjoyed by the little ones. I think if they used talking animals, be it through dubbed voices or computer animation for mouth movements, it would have been a little more appealing overall.
The only really good thing about this movie was Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil. She stole the show! At first I thought she was acting a little too over the top, but she made me a believer once again as she definitely brought the worst out in Cruella. She went from silly and eccentric, to having a dreadfully dangerous temper. Glenn Close pulled it off to a T, and it was a real pleasure watching her take on such an iconic role. Cruella embodies all the filth and scum of the world balled into one old nasty package. Kudos to Glenn for bringing that to life!
This film is presented in an anamorphic picture in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is an average presentation in quality. The transfer itself has some nice looking blacks and the whites look terrific. The contrast seems to be spot on, the whites never seem to bloom wildly, and the blacks only look murky on a few occasions. There's some slight touching of edge enhancement, although it's hardly ever noticeable enough to complain about. The colors look natural and never appear to be over saturated.
The film itself displays a lot of marks though. A better restoration could have been done in an attempt to correct this. There's also a fine layer of grain that covers the image through a majority of the film as well. I've never seen this film before, so I can't accurately judge how this transfer compares to that of the one from 2000. Either way, it just seems they didn't give the film enough attention to make it truly sparkle and shine.
I never found the Dolby Digital 5.1 track to ever encompass me during the movie. The bass never really comes alive, and the dynamic range is adequate, although not impressive by any means. Once again, an opportunity for Disney to present something with a polish, and they failed. There aren't any issues with crackling or hissing, and I didn't notice any sort of clipping. The overall sound was just unimpressive.
In addition, there are tracks in 5.1 for French and Spanish, and the only subtitle available is in English. So you can hear the movie in foreign languages if you so please, but apparently Disney thought it wasn't important to implement something as simple as subtitles for those who may need them in those languages.
Besides the bajillions of trailers that Disney provides on every disc, we've got a bare bones release. The menu itself is even as primitive as can be. It's full screen, there's no animations, and the chapter selection menu looks like I could have made it on my home PC. This in combination with the video and audio seriously has me wondering if they even added anything to this release, or just packaged it up in a new slipcover in order to make a quick buck.
It's a movie I'd sit down and watch again once I have a little kid who would enjoy it. It would be a million times better than watching The Wiggles, that's for sure. Unfortunately, other than the brilliant acting of Glenn Close, the formula that mainly consists of 'old story + cute animals all over the place' doesn't seem to work in any capacity an adult at home would find appealing. Deciding to take away the personalities of the pups we all grew to love from the animated classic was a bad move. The audience can't connect with the animals on the screen as well, and there's only so much you can do with a bunch of animals on the screen at once. It's a cute idea, but wasn't meant for the live action world.
On top of the film being mediocre itself and often feeling like an animal filled version of Home Alone, the picture and audio are less than impressive, and there are no extras to dabble in. I'd have to recommend that you skip this one. If you want a live action film that you can watch with the kids where the animals talk, I'd recommend you pop Homeward Bound in your DVD player instead. After all, Disney practically recommended you do the same thing right in this film!
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!