It's been four years (that's 28 in doggy time) since Disney remade its 1960 animated classic, providing enough of a paws to give this energetic sequel a veneer of freshness. But while Tarzan helmer Kevin Lima handles the mainly four-legged cast with aplomb, there's a whiff of déjà vu you don't need a bloodhound to detect.
Take away the new British leads, the parrot who talks (courtesy of Eric Idle) and Gérard Depardieu's outrageous turn as a Gallic furrier and this is 101 Dalmatians all over again, with a streak of Home Alone-style sadism to keep the kiddies amused. The humiliations are doled out evenly to Glenn Close, lackey Tim McInnerny and Gerard Depardieu, who at one point falls face down into a toilet. What's lacking, though, is the charm that made us fall in love with Dodie Smith's story in the first place.
Apart from Close's Cruella, hamming it up something rotten in an assortment of black-and-white fright wigs and dazzling Anthony Powell costumes, the picture has gone to the dogs. One Dalmatian is still traumatised by a childhood encounter with Close, while another is obsessed by his lack of spots. Then there's Waddlesworth, a macaw who thinks he's a Rottweiler. No wonder, then, that the humans are sidelined.
Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Evans, meanwhile, make a blandly inoffensive twosome, with their only chance to shine coming when they re-enact the Bella Notte scene from Lady And The Tramp. But although there's a host of homegrown hams waiting in the wings (Ron Cook, Jim Carter, Ian Richardson), they're not given enough to do to make the movie as entertaining for adults as it undoubtedly is for kids.
The result is a film that, while sporadically enjoyable, capitalises on affection for the 1960 and 1996 versions without offering up anything original. For that, the producers should skulk off with their tails between their legs.
Who let the dogs out? Disney did with a virtual reprise of its live-action smash. Glenn Close is grrr-eat, and the Hollywood vision of London is hilarious. However, a lot more should have been done to distinguish this follow-up from the original.
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