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Close Makes the Fur Fly Again in '102 Dalmatians'

The actress' high camp gives a much-needed boost to this lavish but uneven sequel.


"102 Dalmatians" is 101 too many, but that's not likely to deter anyone who enjoyed the 1996 "101 Dalmatians," which in turn was a lavish live-action remake of Disney's much-loved 1961 animated classic. Still, you can't help but feel that Disney has delivered a turkey for Thanksgiving.

If sets and costumes were everything, this even more lavish sequel and the 1996 film would have it made. But Kevin Lima directs with as heavy a hand as Stephen Herek did the last time around--and with a script even more contrived. Alice Evans and Ioan Gruffudd, who supply the love interest this time, are less pallid than 1996's Joely Richardson and Jeff Daniels, but the main attractions are of course a screen full of adorable dogs--and Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil, the only real excuse for going live-action with the familiar story.

When you watch Close in Cruella's bizarre wardrobe and her half-black, half-white wig and her crazed hauteur, you cannot help but think that Close's justly acclaimed Norma Desmond, in the "Sunset Boulevard" stage musical, beat the rap for shooting Joe Gillis, pleading temporary insanity, and has made her silver-screen comeback as Cruella. In short, Close is high camp, and you can be thankful for that in a family movie that lays everything on thick.

You have to wonder how Cruella, as an awesomely successful London fashion designer, designs for other women. Anthony Powell's delirious costumes--he also did Close's gowns as Norma-- black-and-white ensembles with the occasional red outfit, seem like dominatrix street-wear crossed with the post-World War II New Look carried to an eye-boggling extreme--wasp-waisted, long skirts, spike heels.

The only other woman you can imagine wearing Cruella's clothes is the late Gladys Towles Root, a colorful longtime local criminal attorney who wowed juries with gets-ups not that different from Cruella's.

Production designer Assheton Gorton and his crew have come up with an estate for Cruella with interiors as grandiose as those in Miss Desmond's mansion, and they've created numerous other settings of much charm and imagination. If not much else, "102 Dalmatians" certainly looks great--how it sounds is another matter, thanks to David Newman's bombastic score.

As is so often the case, "102 Dalmatians" seems more a reworking than a sequel. Having served three years for dognapping, not to mention converting a stolen Siberian tiger into a coat, Cruella leaves prison a changed person, thanks to aversion therapy.

However, the gongs of Big Ben and the sight of the Dalmatians belonging to her parole officer (Evans) unhinges her; by golly, she's going to have that cloak made of Dalmatian puppy skins that so far has eluded her--only this time she wants 102 instead of 101 because she now wants it to have a hood.

Because she's not supposed to have anything to do with any kind of fur or animal skins as a condition of her parole, she turns to her former design rival, another fur lover, Paris' Jean-Pierre Le Pelt (Gerard Depardieu), to help her execute the design as well as the 102 dogs. (Depardieu, heavier than ever and utterly unintelligible in English, in leopard-skin hot pants and a punk haircut, is not a pretty sight.)

In line with her supposedly reformed image, super-rich Cruella comes to the rescue of Gruffudd's Kevin, hard-put to keep running his London animal shelter-cum-children's puppet theater. Since Evans' Chloe and Kevin both love Dalmatians, romance blossoms as adventure beckons, with Cruella up to her old tricks.

They're aided by Kevin's clever, opinionated green winged macaw--voiced by Monty Python's Eric Idle--who thinks he's a dog. That Le Pelt maintains a sweatshop in an ancient building next to an equally ancient bakery in the Paris suburbs makes for a quaint though elaborate finale.

What goes on there, however, and all the physical abuse Cruella's long-suffering valet (Tim McInnerny) endures in the course of the film really does strain the film's G rating. In a sense it's cartoon violence, but this is a live-action film with its inescapably stronger aura of realism. You can only hope the awesome ingenuity of the animals, in overcoming human evil, will register more strongly with the youngsters for whom "102 Dalmatians" is intended.

* MPAA rating: G. Times guidelines: There is considerable violence--e.g., a woman being thrust into a working oven--for a family film.

'102 Dalmatians'

Glenn Close: Cruella De Vil

Gerard Depardieu: Le Pelt

Ioan Gruffudd: Kevin

Alice Evans: Chloe

Tim McInnerny: Alonso

A Buena Vista Pictures release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation. Director Kevin Lima. Producer Edward S. Feldman. Screenplay by Kristen Buckley & Brian Regan and Bob Tzudiker & Noni White; from a story by Buckley & Regan. Based upon the novel "The One Hundred and One Dalmatians" by Dodie Smith. Cinematographer Adrian Biddle. Special effects supervisor Chris Corbould. Animal coordinator Gary Gero. Editor Gregory Perler. Music David Newman. Costumes Anthony Powell. Production designer Assheton Gorton. Art directors Clifford Robinson, Anthony Woollard, Rosie Hardwick. Set decorator Joanne Woollard. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

In general release.

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