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Wayback Wednesday: 101 Dalmatians (1996)

I’m thinking it might be worth it to be evil to be this chic.

Okay, so I’m not the only one who grew up with a varied collection of Disney cassette tapes, right? God, when I think of my childhood some of my strongest memories are of watching everything from Beauty and the Beast (1991) to Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) on VHS. However, one movie that was not in my family’s collection was One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) OR the live-action remake, 101 Dalmatians (1996). In fact, I don’t think I had ever seen the remake all the way through until last night. What I do remember watching on repeat though was the kind of cute but very repetitive sequel, 102 Dalmatians (2000). I honestly have no idea why I watched that movie so much. I suppose that even as a child I understood the absolutely astounding talent of Ms. Glenn Close. Watching Close in the original movie for the first time, I can confirm that Cruella De Vil was the role she was born to play.

Credit: / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

A live-action adaptation of the classic cartoon of the same name, 101 Dalmatians tells the story of a litter of dalmatian puppies that are stolen by the wicked fashion designer Cruella De Vil so that she can use their fur to make a coat for herself. Their parents, Pongo and Perdita, race to save their children and 84 other puppies along with the help of various other animals.

In today’s day and age where a live-action remake, or a prequel or spin-off, of a Disney animated classic comes out at least once, sometimes twice a year, it’s baffling to think that this was only the second ever live-action adaptation in Disney’s catalogue. Wow. You know what else is wild to me? That writer / director John Hughes – of Sixteen Candles (1984) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) fame – wrote the screenplay. Every time I’m reminded of that fact I’m stunned. Watching 101 Dalmatians this time around though it was very obvious to me that Hughes had a heavy hand in crafting this version of One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I mean, Home Alone (1990) is already basically a cartoon, so it comes as no surprise that Hughes was tapped to help bring the classic animated movie to life by filling it with a healthy amount of slapstick and camp. I mean, come on. Horace and Jasper are basically just the dognapping versions of Harry and Marv. By the way, check out my review for Home Alone, here.

101 Dalmatians is one of the rare Disney live-action adaptations that thoroughly works. I think it’s because the cute animals and the fabulously campy villainess are what people loved about the original anyway, so jamming the live-action version with heaps of that is a a no-brainer. Also, we’re not talking about one of Disney’s super revered, fantastical, musical animated movies here. Adapting One Hundred and One Dalmatians is an easier task than say, Beauty and the Beast, because it’s so firmly rooted in reality. Well, except for Close’s performance which BELIEVE ME, we will talk about.

101 Dalmatians is a decently entertaining entry in the pantheon of Disney movies starring animals. And you better be a fan of animal movies if you’re setting out to watch this movie. The entire third act is just barnyard animal antics. Which is adorable! It is simply amazing how remarkably well-trained the animal actors in this movie are. Also, this may be a controversial opinion, but this may be one of the best live-action adaptations of a Disney animated movie. Yes, it’s an almost shot for shot remake of the original, but it feels like a less egregious rip-off than recent remakes like, The Lion King (2019) or Aladdin (2019). By the way, check out my reviews for those movies, here and here. I was less annoyed watching 101 Dalmatians than I was watching those other movies. I think the absence of CGI is a big help. It helps make this a live-action remake that’s actually bearable. Everything from the actual animals to the practical set design is appreciated. The austere, monochromatic production design for Cruella’s office and home is so on-point, like a cartoon come to life. Sure, there’s a touch of (dated) CGI here and there, but it’s handled with restraint. Like, I can stomach watching iconic scenes without cringing from CGI that feels like a creepy, lifeless, pale imitation of the original animation. 101 Dalmatians feels like a spot-on (Ha!) adaptation of the original, large in part thanks to the phenomenal talents of Glenn Close.

There is not a single actor who has played a villain in a live-action Disney remake who comes close to nailing it as flawlessly as Close does as Cruella. Of course, it helps that she’s the most talented of all the actors who have played such roles, but still, this is a memorable and brilliant performance that will perhaps never be outdone. Ahem…good luck, Emma Stone. Cruella’s introductory scene is perfection. This cannot be stressed enough. The outfit, the makeup, the strut into the frightened fashion house, the biting dialogue dripping with wickedness…it’s fantastic! It’s very much giving “Miranda Priestly snapped and isn’t playing it cool anymore.” From the moment she steps on the scene you’re immediately struck with, “OH. Okay, Glenn Close knows exactly what kind of movie she’s in and she is NAILING IT.”

I love that director Stephen Herek decided to make the live-action Cruella just as animated and over the top as her cartoon counterpart and Close went for it, giving this performance her all. I also appreciate that Hughes didn’t try to ground Cruella in reality or make her appear more sympathetic or human. 101 Dalmatians portrays her as the shrieking, fabulous, iconic cartoon character that she is and it’s undoubtedly the highlight of the movie as a whole. Sure, the dogs are precious and Roger and Anita are quaint, but like, just give me more Cruella fabulousness. I can never get enough. Her makeup, her wig, her costumes, Close’s larger than life performance…Cruella is just a drag queen. We know it, Close knows it, and Herek knows it. Watch any scene of Cruella and tell me I’m wrong. This drag-tastic performance is such a great choice, one that makes a ton of sense. Watch the original again. Cruella has been serving looks, throwing shade, and being THAT bitch for decades. Glenn, we salute you and your brilliance.

If you’re a fan of the original animated movie, adorable puppies, or ridiculously talented actresses perfectly embodying iconic characters, than 101 Dalmatians is the movie for you. In case I didn’t make it obvious, I chose this movie to review this week because I plan on watching the upcoming origin story, Cruella (2021). Will there be equally adorable puppies? Will Emma Stone be able to live up to Glenn Close’s legacy? Good Lord I hope she comes at least a little bit Close. Wink, wink.

Are you a fan of 101 Dalmatians? What are your favourite Disney movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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