Before Disney went all in remaking its own animated features into live-action blockbusters, we got the occasional attempt at doing just that. One of them was 1996's 101 Dalmatians starring Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson and Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil.
Written and produced by John Hughes, this 101 Dalmatians was a significant success at the box-office and prompted a sequel several years later. This first instalment follows game developer Roger (Daniels) and fashion designer Anita (Richardson) as they meet and soon get married before their dogs are stolen by the fur-obsessed Cruella De Vil, who is desperate to make a dress out of their 15 puppies. The film plays out like a romantic comedy for its first half and, while not terribly ground-breaking, this is done pretty well. Though, Greg and Anita getting engaged the very first day they meet doesn't help make an already rather ludicrous story seem any less so. The dalmatians are as cute as you'd expect and dog lovers should approve of their portrayal, though later CGI shots have not aged well and, in fact, could have easily been excised altogether.
The film's second half is essentially just a rescue mission as the dalmatians alert... every animal on the planet, it seems, to help locate and free the stolen puppies. What started as a light yet competent rom-com devolves into Home Alone-style shenanigans as Cruella's silly henchmen (played by Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams) get tricked time and time again by all sorts of critters, leading to various slapstick mishaps.
Cruella herself finally joins in and suffers the same fate. Greg and Anita are nowhere to be seen until the last minute and it's almost like the film got bored of them as characters entirely, making 90% of the film's first half feel irrelevant. Glenn Close is fantastic throughout as the show-stealing Cruella De Vil, sporting the most extravagant outfits and haircuts, cackling maniacally and being generally deliciously evil. It's just a shame that such a great character was not given a better and more consistent movie to shine in, and let's not even talk about the even goofier sequel.
There are some sweet and funny moments here and there in this retelling of the classic story but this is an uneven and altogether unimpressive effort that starts off well but ends in a complete farce. Kids should enjoy its simplicity and cartoonish zaniness but everyone else might regret not watching the far more charming and memorable animated original instead.