In the Dark: 102 Dalmatians
Eric D. Snider
Run for your lives! It's the ghost of Walt Disney, and he's pissed!
When Walt Disney was alive, his company produced quite a few truly great movies, as well as some remarkably stupid ones ("The Three Lives of Thomasina" springs to mind, though I wish it wouldn't). The thing they all had in common was that none of them smelled of having been produced just to make money. Most of them were profitable, of course — but they usually had some artistic merit, too. And the ones that were worthless at least were innocuous and low-budget.
The moment Walt Disney died, the Disney company set fire to his grave and danced around it in a pagan ritual of commercialism. This was silly, of course, as the moment Walt Disney died, he was not yet in his grave. But as a symbolic act, you get the point. Ever since then, many Disney films have been very good, but many others have had the artistic worth of a chest x-ray.
Which brings us to "102 Dalmatians," which would surely have Walt turning over in his grave if it weren't for the ill-conceived fire mentioned earlier. It is a sequel to the 1996 hit film "101 Dalmatians," which was completely unnecessary, as a perfectly good cartoon version of this story already existed. A sequel to an unnecessary movie has an uphill battle as it is, and it doesn't help when the filmmakers take the brake off and just coast backwards.
Both films have the exact same plot: Cruella De Vil (played by Glenn Close so that the character is even more of a cartoon than the animated version was) wants to kill Dalmatian puppies and make clothes out of them; she kidnaps many puppies; the puppies, who are supernaturally smart, escape with little help from any humans, who are supernaturally not-smart; Cruella falls into a big vat of something; parents, foolishly thinking that Dalmatians being cute = Dalmatians being good pets, go out and get some for their toddlers, who lose interest in a matter of seconds, and the dogs go to the pound. The 1996 film had the overriding theme of: Puppies are cute. It is hard to argue with this statement, and the film does do a good job of establishing it, showcasing several dozen actual puppies who do adorable things and who, after shooting was finished, were put in sacks and beaten to death with sticks. (The American Humane Society was on-set to make sure the beatings were administered with appropriate dignity.)
The sequel, however, lacks even that basic depth. The theme of "102 Dalmatians" is that people cannot change, so you shouldn't trust them. See, in the movie, Cruella De Vil has been released on parole, and she is a reformed woman. However, her parole officer doesn't believe her, and she scolds a kindhearted animal shelter owner who does. (The trusting guy is played by an actor named Ioan Gruffud, by the way, a name which surely must be the result of several typographical errors.) And it turns out the cynical woman was right, as Cruella's reform is short-lived and she's back cheerfully murdering puppies before you know it, ripping their spotted esophaguses out with her fang-like teeth.
The message? Don't trust people. They can't change. Parents, be sure to take your kids to see this movie several times to reinforce the message! And then buy lots of Dalmatian-oriented merchandise! And then buy the special-edition DVD when it comes out! And then take a family vacation to Disneyland and spend $12,000,000 in three days! And then flee in terror, because Walt is out for blood.