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101 Dalmatians / 102 Dalmatians (live-action)

Walt Disney Pictures/Great Oaks (1996), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (September 16 2008), single disc, 103 mins, 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Rated G, Retail: $29.99

Walt Disney Pictures (2000), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (September 16 2008), single disc, 100 mins plus supplements, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround, Rated G, Retail: $29.99

101 Dalmatians and 102 Dalmatians each sold separately.

Storyboard:

Dodie Smith’s original One Hundred And One Dalmatians book is filtered through the 1961 animated Disney film and emerges as its own animal in a major live-action retelling that’s much more charming than its hyperactive sequel, both re-released together on disc.

The Sweatbox Review:

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If Star Wars changed the way movies were sold in 1977 and 1989’s Batman gave the somewhat staid toy industry, which had mainly limped along on the back of animated properties, a shot in the arm, then it was Jurassic Park in 1993 that provided a perfect marriage of movie and merchandise. For the first time, the film’s spin offs were featured within the movie itself and the convention of referring to potential film series as “franchises” was born. Studios scrambled to find the Next Big Thing: tentpole or event pictures that could stretch to two, three, four or more films that would introduce – and keep selling – more and more merchandise based on an established movie brand.

Batman remained a popular draw for Warners until the franchise became so “toyetic” that it was derailed until Christopher Nolan came along, while Disney had obviously been one of the major players in the animation merchandise boom. Now the Studio would push all its marketing muscle and brute promotion power behind a major live-action venture. Disney had experienced blockbuster success before, of course, but the Honey, I… series with Rick Moranis and The Mighty Ducks trio had proven the closest to bona fide franchise series and even those had been something of a surprise, without the toy backup a major series would generate. With the popularity of a 1991 reissue for Walt Disney’s One Hundred And One Dalmatians still fresh, the Mouse House’s top brass decreed that a live-action remake would be the first release in the new Disney’s franchise plans: a solid, top of the line family blockbuster that would be able to tap all of the company’s resources and synergy to storm the theatres and those all important store shelves.

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Hotter-than-hot talent in the form of writer-producer John Hughes and, in a stroke of perfect casting, Glenn Close as Cruella, meant the project would have both widespread appeal and a multiple Oscar-nominated actress on board, hopefully inviting positive criticism (a “serious” actress was always the goal: the role was also offered to Sigourney Weaver when Close first declined). In the 1990s era of remaking classic stories closer to the original book intentions, this was also a chance to be more faithful to Dodie Smith’s novel and create something of technical value by way of considerable achievement with the real-life canine stars and incorporating some clever CGI effects. The intention was clear: Disney wanted their new Dalmatians to be taken seriously by the critics, and for audiences to embrace this version and lap up the spin-offs.

Somehow, and despite all of this marketing might, I didn’t find myself running to the theater, and I’ve never gotten around to seeing the film other than in many disjointed snippets as it’s played in the background on television. I seem to have been an isolated case: 101 Dalmatians made a packet in its original theatrical run during the Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1996, a spot usually accommodating a Disney animated classic and now traditionally the home of every other Harry Potter continuation. 101 Dalmatians was a major step in making that release schedule such an important one for family audiences, who flocked to the film and made it, for a time, one of Disney’s most profitable live-action titles.

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Dogs seem to have been more successful for the Disney Company than even mice, and it can only be because the Studio have high hopes for two such upcoming cinematic outings – the animated Bolt and effects hybrid Beverly Hills Chihuahua – that the home video division has seen fit to bring back a trio of Dalmatian movies to DVD following the Platinum Edition of Walt’s original 1961 classic earlier this year. As well as animated sequel 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, this current litter also brings the 1996 movie and its 2000 sequel back to disc, both having been out of print for several years, but were they worth the wait and, for those who haven’t seen the films, are they even worth a look?

It was with a great sense of good expectation that I sat down to finally watch the 1996 live-action 101 Dalmatians, after hearing some mostly favorable things about it over the years. The film was co-produced by the Great Oaks company, who don’t seem to have gone on to release anything else, so one must wonder whatever happened to them? The film has been given the customary update by writer Hughes: Pongo’s owner Roger is now a video games designer, naturally, and one who’s obviously seen Walt’s original movie if his Dalmatian-inspired game is anything to go by (and don’t forget that, in this new franchise world, audiences can of course run out and pick up this very game from Disney Interactive, who actually produced the sequences seen here). But that’s a small change, as is a name switch to the surname of Dearly (actually back to Smith’s original), and one that works better than having Roger as a struggling songwriter in this day and age.

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Likewise main star Glenn Close’s Cruella De Vil has gone through some updates: she’s now the more obviously monikered DeVil, and Close plays her as a fetishistic fashionista, whose House Of DeVil’s designer label’s new outlook is spots. Close makes the role her own, and the rest of the casting is “spot on”, too, with token American Jeff Daniels just right as Roger, and a pre-Nip/Tuck Joely Richardson’s Anita making them a sweet couple as the young Dearlys. Hugh Laurie, straddling his English comedian background and future US stardom in the Stuart Little movies and, especially, House, is subtly hysterical as Jasper, and the great Mark Williams – a comic actor who really should be better known – is Horace, with Joan Plowright playing her stock in trade grandmother as Nanny, but suiting things just right.

The plot seems to follow Smith’s book more closely than the 1961 film, but in fact it’s more of a straight remake: various characters cut from the novel for Walt’s animated take are again missing here (Ms DeVil’s meek husband is a no-show, as is Missus, Pongo’s original female companion, while others are combined or have names changed). This isn’t a complaint, however; in the interests of making a workable film version some of these subplots were always in need of trimming, and these are what make Smith’s novel a valid classic which can’t be replaced by either screen version. Scenes and lines of dialog are recreated from the earlier script, but oddly it never feels like a remake per se, such is the almost perfection of this alternate take on Smith’s book.

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Perhaps surprisingly, I found 101 Dalmatians to be a sweet and charming little film, and while it is essentially the 1961 film retold in live-action, director Stephen (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) Herek manages to make it it’s own animal, so to speak, without desecrating the memory of the original. It also maintains the tradition of great Disney animal adventures: the achievement with the dogs is remarkable, and Hughes’ script cleverly conveys all the dogs’ emotions without dialog or the now too often used CGI gimmicks that make such things too easy for filmmakers these days. Fundamentally, you know that what you are seeing here is “real”, to all intents and purposes, even if they have been trained.

Hughes does fall into some of his old clichés at various points, however, introducing some unfortunate traits: raccoons and skunks – those ever so popular and characteristic creatures of the English countryside, I don’t think – not only show up but don’t do themselves any favors by being obviously Animatronic animals, albeit provided by the Jim Henson Creature Shop, and the ending perhaps inevitably falls into predictable Home Alone tricks, here with the barnyard animals replacing Macaulay Culkin, but then again how could it not do, given the material. The film runs some 25 minutes or so longer than the 1961 edition, which one would expect, but there’s much in these closing Cruella-bashing moments that might have trimmed at least ten minutes off; this third act does feel longer than needed – we get the point – and the satisfyingly exciting car chase from Walt’s film is missed (an earlier chase, through London’s parks, is very well done, and offers a way of dating the shoot, with GoldenEye and Crimson Tide noticeably playing at the Leicester Square cinemas).

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But these are relatively small misfires in an otherwise fantastically endearing family feature, the likes of which seem to be disappearing more and more these days. There are also some other nice throwbacks: Michael Kamen manages to slip Mel Leven’s legendary Cruella DeVil theme into his score, coming up with some very nice touches throughout, while the song itself is saved for an big and brassy end credit blues rendition by Dr John that feels classic and contemporary at the same time. And, instead of Thunderbolt and the Kanine Krunchies Kommercial, the puppies’ favorite TV viewing are old Disney movies; they’re caught flipping between The AristoCats and The Incredible Journey, but no One Hundred And One Dalmatians, which begs the sly question that, if Disney movies exist in this world, wouldn’t you question working for someone with the name of DeVil, especially if she had a Dalmatian complex!?

Of course, I’m being slightly flippant there, 101 Dalmatians manages to nod back to Disney’s past while laying the groundwork for the future franchise films that were to follow, and I have to say that both screen versions are so different in their own ways, that both make for valid entertainment. Indeed, I was often reminded of the later Potter films, with their practically perfect casting. Though this live-action take adapts the original animated film more so than reverting back to Smith’s novel, seeing Close ham it up and get her very icky, sticky comeuppance is great fun, and she literally throws herself into it without the embarrassment that has greeted other, lesser stars who haven’t wholly believed in their undertaking. That Herek and his actors, it seems, play everything with sincerity is a major reason as to why this 101 Dalmatians succeeds with such humor and heart, something that its inevitable sequel sadly couldn’t preserve.

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Released four years later, it’s unfortunate to have to report that 102 Dalmatians finds Disney right in the middle of its franchise ambitions, a sometimes rather vulgar period where anything and everything ripe for a remake or live-action adaptation was being churned out. Mr Magoo, Mighty Joe Young, My Favorite Martian, Inspector Gadget, George Of The Jungle – it was bad enough that the Mouse House were supporting these poorly conceived movies based on other rights holders’ properties, but 101 Dalmatians had also opened the floodgates to inflicting any number of sequels and prequels to the Studio’s own creations on audiences as well, most infamously in the direct to video market. Flubber, The Parent Trap, The Country Bears…these were all failed attempts to build new franchises, among many others, until success finally came with The Princess Diaries movies and, most evidently, the Pirates Of The Caribbean and any number of such tweenage concepts as Lizzie McGuire and the High School Musicals.

Unfortunately imposed with the old adage “bigger is better”, 102 Dalmatians (see what they did there?) simply feels over the top. It plays like a routine, run of the mill sequel from the off, with a flashy title sequence that disguises the fact that, even going in, there are no new ideas to be had. Basing itself solely on how great Close was as Cruella in the first film, she’s made the complete center of attention here, which is the film’s first big mistake. The multiple screenwriters know they have a problem trying to stretch their villainess too thin and resort to bringing in a new accomplice, Jean-Pierre LePelt, played with the kind of wild abandon by Gérard Depardieu that’s seen this respected French actor sink to some questionable lows in recent choices.

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With the Great Oaks company out of the picture, it’s produced by Edward S. Feldman, exec on the first, and directed by live-action feature debutant Kevin Lima, who after A Goofy Movie and the amazing Tarzan seems wholly out of his depth here and not displaying the confidence he would later bring to Enchanted. He’s not best served by the schizophrenic script, which kicks right off with viewers being expected to have seen 101. It’s this lack of set up that makes things feel routine, not helped by a simple retread of the same boy meets girl scenario since we’re introduced to a new couple. Ioan Gruffudd (making an early appearance with his native Welsh accent on his way to Mr Fantastic) and Alice Evans make a cute new pair, but they may as well be Roger and Anita apart from the fact that the film jettisons all but the slightest continuity to the first for a new setting and characters (the link is that Pongo and Perdy’s pup Dipstick has all grown up, met Dottie and had pups of their own, begging the question of if the Dearly’s Dalmatian Plantation has hit rough times if they’ve had to start selling off their family).

The Badduns, Jasper and Horace, are dreadfully missed, and apart from Close, the only returning member of the cast is Tim McInnerny’s Cruella aid Alonso, who here more resembles DeVil’s husband from Smith’s first book, the film discarding her own sequel, The Starlight Barking, for its own follow-up. Added to the cast is Eric Idle, providing the voice for the de rigueur over-talky, annoying animal sidekick, who has a couple of choice lines, granted, but breaks away from the “real” animals of the first film. Once again the training is impressive but it’s slightly less so given the acres of digital dogs sneaked into the pictures (there’s also a subtle change to Cruella’s car license plate, from DE VIL in the first, to DEV IL here, presumably to placate some UK traffic law).

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It’s not long before we’re into a simple retread of the first story: after being treated for her Dalmatian fixation by Dr Pavlov (geddit?), newly released nice lady “Ella” is soon after the fur coat she was denied in the first film, but this time with an added hood: “We need 102”, she says, for no other reason really than to get a 2 into the title. Her transformation back into Cruella is awfully fumbled; a great scene concept that just doesn’t work – even the film’s trailer editing handles the scene with more gusto and sense of significance. While there is some enjoyment to be had from Ella’s do-gooding, it’s rather limited in scope and never feels taken to the maximum comic extremes the character requires, and the reason for the failure of Pavlov’s treatment is the kind of sheer lazy storytelling that wouldn’t have been gotten away with even in the whimsy of the first film.

Depardieu embarrasses himself without the self-irony that continues to carry even Close through this noisy mess. As a French fashion designer the targets are clear but again the script fails to really take a pot-shot or go all out to spoof the industry. On the other hand, David Newman’s music dispenses with any tact and goes for over the top operatics, his inclusion of Mel Leven’s Cruella theme sledgehammered in at every available opportunity, as are a couple of Disney doggie references packed in by director Lima. The Dalmatians cosily watch Lady And The Tramp while Ioan and Alice’s Kevin and Chloe are dining at Tony’s Restaurant, but it all feels a bit shoehorned in and strangely out of place in a Dalmatians picture, with much to much emphasis placed on the Bella Notte clip, which is asked to carry far too much of the emotion of the scene.

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The rest of the film retains this feeling of being overly convoluted and small scale, despite all the business going on. The intention was obviously to match or beat the popularity and box office take of the first, but audiences obviously thought that they’d seen it all before and opted out of making 102 a hit. And who can blame them? As opposed to the family entertainment of 1996, this is kid’s stuff, even resorting to another Twilight Bark sequence but without the clear sense of geography that the first managed even without dialogue. By the end of the film, all logic has been tossed out the window, where we’re asked to believe in more and more cartoon logistics (what’s the point of that in a live-action version of an animated picture?) as Cruella falls into more vats of gunk. By Close’s puffy, floury end, which tries to throw so much at her that she eventually emerges baked and caked looking less mucky than before, one might think that even she’s just going through the motions.

In its favor is the exceptional job by Disney’s in-house visual effects team (at the time) of The Secret Lab, whose work on Oddball and the other digital doggies is as impressive as it is invisible. Naturally, once they get their spots early on, Dalmatian puppies don’t come looking as white and spotless as Oddball’s character was called for in the script and, after trying several different techniques including special paint and a body stocking, TSL stepped in – with a credited army of 55 artists – to perform spot removal on the dog for each and every frame he appeared in. The result looks totally natural, amazingly so in fact, as do a number of added CG dogs that pepper the film here and there without any attention drawn to them whatsoever, aside from one or two obvious safety instances.

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102 Dalmatians is not totally without its moments – a nice touch as Cruella locked up in cell 6660, and the end perks up to provide a bit of chase excitement (on the Orient Express and through Paris) that the first film missed out on, but it’s again filled with sidekick mishaps. Cruella even seems to be wearing the same red and black combo as before and, when one character has a change of heart, its all too obviously and formulaic. Much too much emphasis is placed on the human cast, who don’t have enough to pull out from the flimsy material, and by the end it’s desperately shoving all it can into trying to make something stick, but Cruella kidnapping Chloe just about makes sense, and why would Kevin be locked up in jail with his animal chums? It’s this penchant for flat out nonsense rather than the fanciful that unfortunately sinks the movie, which ends with obvious possibility of a third, but I really don’t think we could sit through the same thing again.

Soon after this sequel, Dalmatian fever ran cold at the Disney Studios. A short-lived animated television series, based more on these films than Walt’s 1961 feature but sharing much of the same design, came and went fairly quickly save for one special, Dalmatian Plantation, which might have made for a decent extra here. A further animated film, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, followed Walt’s original much more closely in 2003, but by then other franchise pictures were in the readying and Dalmatian puppies were pushed aside for plundering pirates. Forget the bloated follow-up, but the 1996 live-action film, even if it’s not been too terribly well served on disc, is worth remembering as a slice of good, clean old-fashioned entertainment and the start of Disney’s big theatrical feature plans that’s led to their resurgence as the purveyors of such quality family fare.

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Is This Thing Loaded?

As both discs kick off, previews for Sleeping Beauty’s Platinum Edition, Beverly Hill Chihuahua, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, Tinker Bell, a High School Musical DVD Game and the Disney Movie Rewards points play before reaching the main menus. These are skippable and also available to watch via the Sneak Peek option, which adds WALL-E, Little Mermaid II: Return To The Sea, Narnia: Prince Caspian and a Phineas And Ferb spot to the mix, all presented in 16:9.

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On the 101 Dalmatians disc, the menu itself is…embarrassing in this day and age: a straight port over from the film’s original release way back when static, silent 4:3 menus were all the rage – ouch! Apart from the hike in anamorphic picture quality and new previews, there’s nothing that’s been re-done for this release. Surprisingly for such a massive blockbuster, even the 101 Dalmatians LaserDisc didn’t treat the film to any kind of deluxe treatment, and the original DVD featured just a solitary theatrical trailer, which is the only thing we’re shockingly presented here too, in good old 4:3.

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One would have thought, after seven years out of print, and as Disney has done with a few of their other 1990s releases, there would be cause to bring about a few retrospective features – this disc is even referred to as a Special Edition on the Disney website and press materials, but the only special things here are a glossy slipcase and new 16×9 transfer. There’s not even an insert, save for a Blu-ray promo that also doubles as the Disney Movie Reward code. About the only other thing to be found on the disc is a list of Additional Titles, but even these haven’t been updated! George Of The Jungle? Mary Poppins (the 35th Anniversary!)? Air Bud? Homeward Bound!? Just how old and out of date are these titles? Surely something on the sequel or better yet a token featurette on the main feature would have been at least something.

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Oddly enough, it’s the underperforming sequel, 102 Dalmatians, that gets all the goodies, though again nothing new that wasn’t on the previous edition, starting off with a…take a breath…animated menu, albeit a fairly simple one and a good bet that this too is taken from the film’s original disc presentation. It’s still passable today, so why complain, especially as it’s in 16×9 and sports some fun score music. Even if the chapter selections are still rudimentary, at least there are screen transitions; more than can be said for the outmoded presentation of the first film, and a good helping of features that actually make 102 Dalmatians interesting!

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Most appealing is an Audio Commentary with director Lima and animal handlers Gary Gero, David Sousa and Julie Tottman. Lima has since hinted that the film isn’t perfect for several reasons, but here he’s all “in the moment”, speaking enthusiastically about the film and the job his crew carried out. As such, and with the doggie team in attendance (though Tottman seems to have been inserted separately), the discussion is heavily geared towards animal talk, though there’s a little on the technical aspects and Lima is obviously tied up with the visual design of things, often so much so that we much pity poor old Ioan Gruffudd, who keeps getting referred to by his character Kevin’s name. Oh, for such a track on the much more interesting first film!

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A grouping of three featurettes next look on various facets of production. Creating Cruella (4:40) joins the cast and crew on set to compare and contrast the animated and live-action versions of Glenn Close’s Cruella, as seen in the sequel and as dressed by costume designer Anthony Powell. Animal Actors (7:01) takes a further look at the canine stars, their personalities, how their trainers coaxed the performances from them, trick by trick, and where digital doggies were employed for dangerous stunts. Designing Dalmatians (5:56) works both as a look at the film’s design and as a generic production featurette, primarily revealing the work that went into creating the sets, props and costumes. There’s a bit more on Close’s Cruella and how the spotless Oddball made it to the screen with the help of The Secret Lab, while a handy Play All option runs all three segments as one documentary-styled addition.

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Visual Effects 102, also confusingly looking like a DVD-ROM option from the back cover, turns out to be a pretty nifty use of early DVD technology, a selection of four topics (Making Birds Talk, Spot Removal, Computer Puppies and Putting It All Together) that offer up a further exploration into how they were achieved by way of before and after comparison shots. So, we find out how Waddlesworth got to speak, the fairly awesome feat of removing each and every spot from the real spotty pup Oddball, the way CG was integrated into the film, and the pre-composite versions of two shots. All this, if nothing else, really proves what a first rate visual effects house The Secret Lab was, and the CG puppies here really do fool the eye, perhaps even more so than the unit’s accomplishments for their Disney feature, Dinosaur.

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A Deleted Scene, Cruella’s Release is playable with or without comments from director Lima, who reasons that it expanded in a story point that had already been established. Personally, I feel it should have been kept in: at less than a couple of minutes, and coming early in the film, the story point would only have benefited from the extra confirmation from the added scene, which isn’t as clear as Lima thinks, especially to the younger set. Clearly the editors of the film’s trailer thought it was important: they sample a fair share of it for that clip.

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A Puppy Overload selection isn’t anything to get excited about, being just a bunch of doggoned clips from the movie accompanied by one of the soundtrack’s songs, while Dalmatians 101 is a responsible primer on the pros and cons of owning one of the spotty canines, probably a result of the thousands of kids who wanted such a pup after the success of the first film! A Soundtrack Promo for Whatcha Gonna Do, by the Nobody’s Angel girl trio is a curious oddity (what happened to them? Who were they anyway?) that only runs a scant 40 seconds or so and is primarily a TV commercial for the “New Album” from Walt Disney Records.

Wrapping things up is the much welcome Theatrical Trailer, meaning at least both discs get their promotional clips left intact, a rarity on Disney DVDs these days. This one plays part full trailer and, in light of the above deleted moment being removed from the film itself, part teaser, since the crux of the preview is Cruella’s change of heart toward her one-time Dalmatian adversaries and it uses instances from that scene to comic effect. Naturally, all the big visual moments feature heavily as Cruella reverts to her puppy-obsessed default personality and the trailer promises more than the movie can ultimately deliver.

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Finally, A DVD-ROM section, which launches when the disc is inserted into a Windows PC drive, promises the Cruella’s Costume Creator interactive feature, your standard hat, coat and skirt selector, which one can print out if they desire, and match up the costume elements to see designer Anthony Powell’s creations in use in the film. It’s another sign of the times when the also enclosed weblink takes us to Disney’s original release website, complete with old links, outdated covers and specs. The site does at least offer up a few more things to do for those so inclined, and who would have expected such an old micro-site to still be running, even with the “Dalmation” spelling errors intact!

Case Study:

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It seems even the Disney cover art folk have lost track of all the switches and changes between the One Hundred And One and 101 different Dalmatians logos, as the one chosen here actually represented the original animated film in a previous incarnation! Nevertheless, the sleeve has been given a decent overhaul since the original DVD edition, using the same publicity art but now given a shine and sheen thanks to a glossy slipcover that makes the package feel much more substantial than what it is. The back doesn’t make mention of the disc’s lone theatrical trailer bonus, but makes sure to include the contractual Walt Disney Records and Disney Interactive merchandise logos. Joel Siegel’s “101 on a scale of 10, Close gets a zillion!” is as hyperbolic as it is embarrassingly obvious, but it’s much better than the boxy original cover. Again, despite the SE tag, the only special things here apart from the slipcase is the Movie Reward code, found on the back of a Blu-ray booklet (there’s no chapter insert for the film itself), and a gunky-glue sticker on the front.

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102 Dalmatians follows suit, going for the same kind of more effective rearrangement of its predecessor’s publicity imagery on the sleeve, again repeated via an embossed slipcover (and this time using the correct title logo). The back promotes the THX certification and bonus features, even going so far as to wear its shameless franchise ambitions literally on its sleeve by promoting the soundtrack album, “merchandise available at The Disney Store”, books and video games, but again there isn’t a dedicated chapter index or anything other new for this reissue other than the Blu-ray and Movie Rewards code booklet, and the same gunky-glue sticker on the front that promises a discount when picking up both titles together. All in all, the packaging brings the discs up to the look and feel of major new releases, even if their contents skimp on anything to entice those with these titles on their shelves already.

Ink And Paint:

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Presented, as in all previous LD and DVD releases, in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1, the major difference for this new edition is the upgrading to anamorphic enhancement, which may or may not be enough for some to spring for the disc, no new extras or not. Even so, the $30 list price is extortionate for what’s being offered and although we’re now in the land of 16:9, it doesn’t mean a new print element was struck, and the transfer is decided not as updated as it might be, even retaining the old blue Disney castle logo. Speckling comes and goes, presumably around reel switches, and there’s a slight softness that, in all fairness, is probably down to the magical tones the filmmakers are trying to evoke. It looks decent enough, but not spotless and not quite as good as one would expect for such a recent film.

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I hate it when franchise pictures switch ratios during a run, but when has Disney ever worried about keeping their sequels’ frame sizes the same as the originals? Here, director Lima chooses the narrower 1.85:1 ratio, which ironically of course fills more of the screen on a 16:9 display, but which undoubtedly provides one of the most direct reasons why 102 Dalmatians doesn’t feel as significant or accomplished as its predecessor. The transfer doesn’t really help, probably being the same one from the old edition and looking a little softer than even the first film, again down to some more obvious soft focus lensing. The most horrific layer change I’ve yet come across lands slap bang in the middle of a shot in the 67th minute.

These transfers are both satisfactory, but would benefit from a slight clean-up before they make their inevitable hi-def debuts, perhaps the main reason we aren’t seeing these films on the Blu-ray format at this time.

Scratch Tracks:

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The original 1996 film continues its bizarre losing streak by featuring a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack only, while the sequel manages to squeeze in all those extras and a juicy DTS track to boot! The first film’s disc level sounded pretty low to me; I certainly had to boost the volume a notch or two higher than my usual setting, but once there the track is pretty enveloping. French and Spanish 5.1 dubs are included, as are English captions.

The 2000 film’s disc features both Dolby Digital and the DTS mix, which really does sound fuller and more dynamic. For what the film has lost in soul, the sheer production value thrown at it means such things as the technicalities are superbly top-notch, as one would expect from the boys at Skywalker Sound. As before, French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are optional, as are English captions and French and Spanish subtitles.

Final Cut:

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The Mouse House has chosen an odd time to suddenly jump on the Dalmatians bandwagon again. One can only assume it’s to capitalize on the success earlier this year of the Platinum Edition of Walt’s original animated feature, and to keep Disney dogs in the public eye until Bolt and Beverly Hills Chihuahua come rolling into theaters. Certainly both these disc feel like rush jobs: the first film is deserved of so much more, not least a companion Blu-ray release, while it’s frankly baffling that the much weaker sequel gets more than its fair share. Even bundling them together more purposely in a combined two-disc set (for the same $30!) would have felt more substantial, or even with a third disc complimenting both films.

What would have been great new additions? Well at the bare minimum, new commentaries on each film with Glenn Close, for starters. One could see why she – or anyone – might not want to revisit the second one, and the clear advice here is if you have that disc already there’s no need to double dip. For those who haven’t seen these films yet, the first is recommended as a jolly old time and may be worth a purchase – when the price drops, both are well overpriced for catalog titles – for those wanting the anamorphic enhancement over the old version, while the sequel is simply best avoided.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

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