Few companies throughout the history of the world have been so shameless in their pursuit of the almighty dollar as the Walt Disney Company. After breaking the mold in 1934, Disney has never shied away from creative marketing and release strategies to wring every last dollar out of its most beloved pieces of intellectual property. Each week, we’ll look at the House of Mouse’s various sequels, prequels, spin-offs and various misadventures relegated from the silver screen to the small screen. Is there any artistic merit to be found? Or was each film mostly conceived as an excuse to print more money? Join me as we search for the answers from the wonderful world of Di$ney.
Why does this exist?
What would Disney’s brand be without stories of outsiders and outcasts wishing they could be someone truly special? With this in mind, it makes perfect sense why the Mouse House would apply this lens to its One Hundred and One Dalmatians sequel by focusing on one of its titular puppies. After all, it couldn’t be more difficult to stand out as an individual when you have 100 siblings to compete with — siblings that look just like you. This makes 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure one of the few entries in this series so far that feels like a natural extension of the original film as opposed to some predetermined formula that Disney has perfected.
As a franchise, 101 Dalmatians exists in a unique place among the rest of Disney’s IP that we’ve covered. The cinematic universe was revived in 1996 with Glenn Close’s memorable portrayal of Cruella de Vil for the live-action version, so much so that a sequel was made in 2000 with Close returning. I can’t imagine Disney would have the budget set aside for another live-action version of this story — with or without Close — for a home release, so another animated film makes sense.
What’s going on here?
Even with this year’s re-emergence of the 101 Dalmatians universe with Cruella, I’m hard-pressed to remember too many specifics related to the original film or any of its characters. No matter, as you just need to know there are a lot of puppies and Patch is one of them. Patch may or may not officially be the runt of the litter, but he definitely feels like one as he’s constantly the last to be fed and gets the worst spot to view his favorite program, The Thunderbolt Adventure Hour, a sort of take on The Lone Ranger featuring dogs as the hero and sidekick. This column has conditioned me to expect Patch to run away, fed up with the lack of attention and prospects at home, but that’s thankfully not the case here. I’ve also been conditioned to expect a cold reception when Patch runs into his hero, Thunderbolt, but that’s also not the case. The two embark on a series of heroic deeds after Thunderbolt learns he’s being written out of the show.
And of course Patch’s London Adventure wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from Cruella de Vil, who’s fresh out on parole and sets out to find a new accomplice. Her reintroduction plays out as a hilarious bit of slapstick, as she’s barred from entering a fur store and her car literally breaks into pieces. It’s here where she stumbles into an art gallery and meets the minimalist artist Lars, hypnotized by a single black dot in the middle of a white canvas. Her reaction to the painting is akin to the monkeys with the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Lars is eventually replaced by the original film’s sidekicks, Horace and Jasper, so it’s hard to understand what his ultimate purpose is. He never really factors into the plot at all, but he’s playfully voiced by Martin Short, so he gets a pass here.
How much of the original is preserved?
Nothing in this film exactly breaks the mold in terms of Disney’s storytelling techniques, but the film at least manages to enjoy poking fun at behind-the-scenes Hollywood drama and has something special to say in the process. Barry Bostwick voices Thunderbolt and makes a meal out of the character’s vacuous insecurity, clearly insulated for years by the Hollywood machine. Thunderbolt isn’t naïve regarding his role on the show; he just doesn’t want to let go of his comfortable lifestyle of fame and fortune. Jason Alexander also appears as Lil’ Lightning, Thunderbolt’s sidekick, who wants the spotlight to himself after being kicked around and ignored. If you had the “frustrated sidekick who turns out to be the bad guy” square remaining on your Disney Trope bingo card, you can check it off now, although it does help Lil’ Lightning’s case that he’s a corgi, the dog breed that’s been scientifically proven to be the most adorable animal of all time.
No original songs are sung, although there is a fun musical montage set to “Try Again,” intercutting between Cruella and Lars’ partnership and Thunderbolt and Patch’s attempts to be heroic around London.
Thankfully the animators had the good sense to make Patch’s London Adventure look as close to the original film as possible. The 1961 film had a very distinct, neo-impressionist watercolor look to its backgrounds that made it stand out from Disney’s more fantastical films of the time. This film keeps that aesthetic, even when adding in some superfluous CGI elements. The Lion King II may stand as the best-looking film that we’ve covered so far but Patch’s London Adventure isn’t to be discounted in its own way.
Does this ruin the original film?
As I said, the original film doesn’t leave much to memorize beyond a bunch of puppies and a fur-crazy villain with a dumb name. That gives the Disney brass free reign to craft any number of stories around any of the Dalmatians. Sure, the crux of the story feels like a re-hash of the Lady and the Tramp sequel, but at least this film doesn’t feel obligated to shoehorn in a romantic subplot. It’s rare for Disney to show restraint when it has a successful property, so it’s surprising that more sequels weren’t made. We’ll be returning again to a few of Disney’s tentpole franchises like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, which have already had middling home-release sequels. Count me among the minority that would rather return to the world of 101 Dalmatians instead.
- Next Time: Is there a secret Illuminati code to decipher the meaning behind the title of The Lion King 1 ½? Join guest reviewer Dan Brown next week to find out!