102 Dalmatians

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One thing is certain about “102 Dalmatians,” the live-action sequel to the 1996 live-action version of the Disney classic: They didn’t do it because they had a great idea for a story.

How do I know that? Because the story in the sequel is exactly the same as the story in the original: Cruella De Vil wants to make a coat out of Dalmatian fur, she steals puppies from our hero family as well as from several other London families, the dogs save themselves and each other with little help from any humans, and Cruella falls into a vat of something.

Since a sheer desire for quality storytelling was not the motivating factor, one has to assume it was made for the reason most sequels are made: money. It will probably make a fair amount, but it won’t deserve it. It’s a limp, tiresome movie, the equivalent of eating a lot of vanilla ice cream: It tastes good enough, I guess, if that’s all there is. But isn’t there something else?

As the film opens, Cruella De Vil (played again with delicious campy villainy by Glenn Close) has been cured of her insatiable desire to kill animals and make fur through the use of shock therapy. A reformed woman, she is let out of prison and promptly adopts an animal shelter.

Her parole officer, Chloe (Alice Evans), is skeptical. “People like Cruella don’t change,” she says, not even giving her a chance. Her cynicism is fueled by her ownership of Dipstick (who was a puppy in the last film) and Dotty, who have just had three puppies. Dipstick seems to mistrust Cruella, too, mainly because this is a movie where the animals all have supernatural intelligence. (In one particular stupid scene, Cruella says she recognizes Dipstick from a few years ago, even though Dipstick was a puppy then and is now fully grown, plus all Dalmatians look about the same, plus her involvement with the puppy lasted only a few seconds.)

Chloe gets involved with the owner of the animal shelter, Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd), a kind-hearted fellow so trusting he never even counts his change after buying something, because who would ever intentionally rip him off? He believes Cruella has changed.

But, sure enough, she hasn’t changed. The shock therapy wears off after a while, and she’s back to her old designs of murdering a lot of puppies and wearing their fur.

The message? People CAN’T change. The guy who innocently believed her turns out to have been wrong; the cynical parole officer was right. Also, all fur-makers are inherently cruel and evil and run sweatshops. These are the take-home messages from this movie; be sure to help reinforce them in your kids’ brains by taking them to see the movie again and again. (“See, honey? Chloe was right. People don’t ever change. You shouldn’t trust them.”)

Where the last movie at least had a lot of cute puppies, this one is short on pictures of animals doing adorable things. The preview audience I saw it with seemed moderately entertained, but as I’ve said before, you could give a kid a pair of socks and he’d find a way to amuse himself with them. It’s such a bland, mediocre piece of work, this movie, that it makes me truly fearful of having to sit through “103 Dalmatians,” which will be an inevitability after this one makes another $100 million. Do us all a favor and just say no to “102.”

D+ (; G, with some slapstick violence, imperiled dogs.)

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