Fresh off of the success of the two live-action remakes of 101 Dalmatians, Disney decided to continue this franchise by releasing a sequel to the 1961 classic. The original film was notable for several things upon its release. First of all, it was the first Disney animated feature to utilize the then-new Xerox technology, which saved considerable time in the process of animating the dalmatian’s spots. It is also one of the few Disney animated movies to feature diegetic music rather than the usual non-diegetic structure of a musical, animated or otherwise. In other words, the music is part of the plot and the characters are aware of it, rather than when someone bursts into song and doesn’t know they are singing in a naturalistic sense.
This film, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, does well to follow that example, therefore eliminating one of the major problems that these sequels suffer from: the poorly written musical numbers. In this film, Roger still does write music, but we don’t hear much of it, because the plot revolves around one of the young dalmatians, Patch. He feels that his identity is lost among his 100 other siblings and more than anything, he wants to stand out like his television hero, Thunderbolt. Those familiar with the original film will remember this as the black and white show that all of the dalmatians watch on TV. This sequel, which is a direct follow-up, adds the actor dog who plays Thunderbolt to our roster of characters. He befriends Patch after he winds up on the streets of London.
Going behind the scenes in the life of a dog actor is a clever decision by the writers and one that reminded me of Bolt, Disney’s animated movie that came out about 5 years later. As someone who is not a huge fan of Bolt, I found this concept to work better here, partly because it is more fun and partly because of Thunderbolt’s sidekick Lil’ Lightning, voiced by Jason Alexander. These two characters are enjoyable to watch together and even offer a few surprises along the way, which is rare in these often predictable sequels.
Cruella de Vil is back as well, alongside the new character of Lars, a French painter voiced by the always funny Martin Short. This pair got some legitimate laughs out of me. I have always liked Cruella as a villain and was glad to see her return, even if it was a bit redundant. But, after all, how many things can you do with a character whose sole obsession is the fur of dogs? (I guess we will see next year with the live-action reboot starring Emma Stone)
Another thing this film did well was the animation, which is something I haven’t said much while watching these sequels. In fact, I usually have said the opposite. However, 101 Dalmatians benefits from having a specific style, specifically in terms of the backgrounds. Distinct in their appearance, they capture London beautifully and I am glad to say that they didn’t skip this important element with this sequel, making the film as a whole pleasant to look at.
By Disney’s direct-to-video standards, this sequel exceeded my expectations on almost every level (granted, they were low) and was one that I genuinely enjoyed. Is it up to the standards of feature level animated films? Of course not, but none of these are. If you go in with low expectations or are a fan of the original film, this is not a bad way to pass the time.
Next week, we are watching the theatrically released film, The Jungle Book 2.