101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure (2003)

Rated G.

Starring the voices of Barry Bostwick, Jason Alexander, Martin Short, Bobby Lockwood, Susan Blakesee.
Written and directed by Jim Kammerud and Brian Smith.
Based on the characters by Dodie Smith.
Produced by Carolyn Bates and Leslie Hough.
Direct-to-video release by Walt Disney Home Video.
70 minutes.

LVJeff's Rating: 1/10

  
Photo ©Walt Disney Home Video. All rights reserved.

Spotting a Desecration

I'm not even going to go into my usual rant about Disney sequels. Anyone who has read my reviews of the other sequels (e.g., The Jungle Book 2, Tarzan & Jane, Cinderella II) already knows what I think of them. Yet, with each new entry, the trend never fails to disappoint me. These movies are just babysitters, but they're based off of a series of classic films that should be the pride and joy of the Disney studio. One expects a rival company to come up with cheap knockoffs of the real quality products in order to make a fast buck, not the quality company to knock itself off for the same purpose.

Disney's latest ransack victim is 101 Dalmatians. It's justifiably considered one of the more special of the company's animated classics, breaking many of their traditional molds -- it was contemporary, emphasized a caricaturing style over a realistic style, based more in adventure than fantasy, was satirical of modern culture, and proved to be a relatively difficult feat of animation (hand-painted spots!).* It contained an unusually strong cast of charming heroes and funny, yet frightening, villains, including Cruella De Vil, one of the most memorably portrayed of all Disney characters. If the Disney animated films were trapped in a burning building, 101 Dalmatians should be among the first ones rescued.

Meanwhile, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure would be among the first to be left behind. This is a sorry excuse for a straight-to-video movie, even by the standards of the rest of the sequels. The art and animation isn't as appaling to look at as, say, the work in Hunchback of Notre Dame II, but that can't save it from being a shameful tainting of the name "101 Dalmatians" (by contrast, even the live-action version of 1996 carried much of its own charms).

Patch's London Adventure desecrates everything that was wondrous about its predecessor. We originally left Roger as he was humming the smooth number, "Cruella De Vil"; here, we see him singing some terrible song about spots. The show about "Thunderbolt" and its sponsor, "Kanine Krunchies," was a dead-on parody of television, and that's all they were meant to be; here, they're used as the basis of the movie's Saturday-morning-cartoon story, where Thunderbolt is seen as some deluded, naive star. Cruella De Vil was scary in the original movie, a tornado of upper-class decadence, whose inhumanity was identifiable as a real-world evil; here, she's a joke, a pitiable loon who couldn't scare a baby. The writers didn't know what to do with her -- they had her hook up with a stereotypical beatnik artist so the two of them could engage in corny art banter before fixating on her obsession with spots.

In spirit, the movie has nothing in common with the original, which had a certain droll British flavor about it. I know we're not supposed to expect much in terms of artistry in these movies, but some of the sequels, like the theatrical Return to Never Land, had a bit of homage in them. Patch's London Adventure has no such aspirations; it wastes time with its characters before running out of imagination two-thirds through the movie, when they just give up and decide to just rip off the original's story wholesale -- kidnap the puppies and bring back the heretofore unused Horace and Jasper, just to have them get outwitted and beaten up again.

I only ask this: Disney is no doubt able to hire talented writers and artists, so why are these sequels so hack? Why are they treated as nothing more than children's distractions, when it is clear that many adults treasure the originals and would no doubt appreciate an unique, artistic, nolstalgic sequel, if a sequel is to be made at all? Such a work could still please the kids and probably not cost that much more to produce. Why taint the name of an old classic rather than honor it? Why why why?!?

©Jeffrey Chen, Mar. 1, 2003

* as noted by John Grant in Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters, 2nd edition, The Walt Disney Company/Hyperion, 1993.

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