It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Pavlov, you will recall, conditioned dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell. It is only fitting that his namesake, a modern scientist in "102 Dalmatians," is able to condition Cruella De Vil to feel affectionate when she sees a dog. As "102 Dalmatians" opens, the famous dognapper and fur enthusiast has been transformed into a dog lover by Dr. Pavlov's secret methods.
Released on probation, Cruella (Glenn Close) is assigned to a parole officer named Chloe (Alice Evans), who is a Dalmatian lover and doesn't believe Cruella has really been reformed. But Cruella seems to have turned over a new leaf and even gets involved in the activities of a shelter for homeless animals run by Kevin (Ioan Gruffudd), who has eyes for Chloe. Then, alas, a Pavlovian bell rings (it is no less than Big Ben), and Cruella reverts to type.
Such is the setup for "102 Dalmatians," a movie in which it follows as the night does the day that Cruella sooner or later goes back to her old dog-hating ways. While the 1996 live-action version of "101 Dalmatians" had the original animated film to supply much of its story, this sequel is an original, with new characters, most memorably Monsieur Le Pelt (Gerard Depardieu), a fur designer who wears a quasi-medieval costume influenced by Depardieu's recent film, "Asterix" (a huge hit in Europe, but never released in the States). There are also new dogs, including a puppy named Oddball, which is depressed, because it was born without spots.
I have here an urgent message from a dog lover urging me to emphasize in my review that Dalmatians are sensitive and demanding animals who require dedicated owners. The earlier Dalmatian films apparently inspired countless dog lovers to adopt Dalmatians they were not quite ready for, causing overbreeding and consequent homelessness; my correspondent will be happy to learn (1) the movie itself ends with a request that puppies be adopted only by owners prepared to be responsible and committed, and (2) if a movie hasn't yet driven you to acquire a Dalmatian, "102 Dalmatians" is unlikely to do the trick.