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Transforming a classic animated feature length film into a live-action movie takes guts, for it could so easily go wrong, very wrong. Thankfully, this one turned out all right. I don't think it was quite as good as the original that we are all fond of, but it worked well for what it was, and definitely had the feel of a live-action cartoon without doing of that silly stuff like using CGI dogs or making the dogs talk while animating their mouths. Here, the communication between animals all comes from body language and barking, there is no talking done by the dogs, which was a good move to be sure. The dogs do act as if they have human level intelligence, much like in the cartoon, which is pretty much necessary else the film would suffer greatly, for if these Dalmatians just acted like normal dogs then there would be very little story. Besides, it's not the movie makers are reaching for true realism here, and moviegoers surely wouldn't be expecting them to.

So as I said, this film feels like a live-action cartoon, which stems from the great casting, costumes, prop designs, and highly trained Dalmatians. Glen Close was near perfect as Cruella De Vil. She actually seemed more scary and evil than her animated counterpart. Her semi-inept lackys, Jasper and Horace, were played nicely by Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams, respectively. Once they were in full makeup and costume, they were both able to provide the right balance between legitimate lowlife and bumbling badguy. To round out the human cast, we have Jeff Daniels as Roger Dearly, Joely Richardson as Anita Campbell-Green, and Joan Plowright who was absolutely perfect as Nanny.

The story follows closely to the original animated feature, though there are some tweaks here and there. For one, it has been updated to make Roger, is a videogame designer rather than a songwriter. And so instead of him having a hard time writing a new song, he's having an impossible time getting his new game to pass muster with some genius little kid that has a knack for picking out hit games. Being in the videogame biz myself, I'd find making him a songwriter much more plausible, ad the game that they showed in the movie surely would have taken an entire team of people quite a while to develop. But this is a fantasy, so I let that go.

As you probably know already, the story really kicks off when Pongo, Roger's male Dalmatian, spies Perdita, Anita's female Dalmatian, and takes off after her, causing Roger and Anita to meet under some pretty awkward circumstances. Thankfully, the two hit it off, and all four end up living as one nice happy family (wouldn't be much of a story if they didn't hit it off and just went their separate ways). Included in this little family of theirs is Nanny, a dear old friend that comes to stay with them to help out. Wish I had someone to stay with us and clean up... but anyway, it's soon learned that both Anita and Perdita are pregnant! Happy days! And everyone lived happily ever after! Yeah, right. Not if Cruella De Vil has anything to say about it!

Cruella is a vile, selfish woman who absolutely love fur. And I mean loves it more than anything. Recently, she has become obsessed with a design that Anita did of a white coat with Dalmatian spots, so she is ecstatic to learn that Anita's Dalmatian is having puppies, because the fur on puppies is way softer than that of adult Dalmations. When they're born, she does whatever she can to buy the puppies, but our loving couple gets a bad vibe from her, and refuses to sell. Ah, but when has that ever stopped bad guys (or gals) from taking what they want, so she leaves and simply has her two goons steal the puppies.

The dirty deed goes down while Roger and Anita are out with Pongo and Perdita. Only Nanny remains at home with the 15 pups, and though she puts up a decent struggle, she is no match for the two thieves. Thankfully, this abduction is spotted by another dog, and it isn't long before a whole bunch of animals are in on the action. As the barks make their way through the city, they finally reach Pongo and Perdita, telling them what happened and where to go. Meanwhile, others are working on breaking the pups, of which there are a total of 99, out of the mansion and sneaking them over to a nearby farm.

The farm is loaded with animals, but there were a few shots which looked totally fake. I think one was like a racoon or something, which just looked like a puppet. Everything else looked so good in this movie, it makes me wonder why they didn't re-shoot those few fake-looking section. Run out of time, perhaps? Too much over budget? When your first thought is "puppet", that kind of brings you out of the fantasy. Anyway, when Jasper and Horace notice the escape attempt, they do their best to recapture the spotted creatures, but fail miserably in slapstick fashion reminiscent of the burglars in Home Alone. Eventually, Cruella arrives at the mansion, and attempts to capture the pups herself. Obviously she ultimately fails as well, but it's fun to watch her make the attempt, especially when this woman who adores fur so much takes on a farmhouse full of animals that know what she's up to. And yeah, she gets what's coming to her!

As for extra features... well, there are none. Not unless you count the theatrical trailer as a bonus. That was kind of disappointing. Really disappointing, actually. I would have loved to see all that they had to go through dealing with those dogs and puppies and getting them to do exactly what they wanted. Perhaps they used some CGI? I really didn't look like it, though. Guess we'll just have to wait for the super hyper mega edition to be released.

101 Dalmatians, released by Walt Disney Video, is available starting September 16, 2008.

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