As it is, the only thing this Disney sequel (to the 1996 live-action distortion of the original 1961 cartoon based on Dodie Smith's novel) has going for it are the puppies. Or, as Gerard Depardieu, playing the vulgar furrier Monsieur Le Pelt, insists on calling them, the "poopies." That's the level of the humor. Depardieu also falls face-first into a toilet. He deserves it, shamelessly mugging alongside Glenn Close's shameless histrionics.
Close's De Vil is one of the nastier screen creations of recent memory, but not to the benefit of the story. It's the concept which is nasty, not the character. She's merely ridiculous. Close is not frightening, not funny, not convincing. She doesn't even have cartoon dimension. Trapped inside Anthony Powell's overblown black and white and scarlet costumes, she's a travesty of a wicked witch. But perhaps she can take comfort from the fact that bulky Depardieu, crammed into an assortment of camp furs, has even worse costumes and gives an even worse performance.
As for the nice people? Well the devoted dog lovers, Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Evans look nice, but that doesn't make them interesting. The shameless use of a video sequence from Disney's sweet 1955 dog cartoon "Lady and the Tramp" actually undercuts rather than enhances their romantic spaghetti-eating date. The two animated pooches were much more charmingly love-struck.
The current dogs--a plethora of Dalmatians (including the all-white 102nd) and some assorted pedigrees and mutts--make the best of their on-screen moments. They're most appealing when they do just normal doggie things, like tilting their heads to the side looking hopeful of a treat, or simply wagging their tails. They look stiff and awkward when they have to push buttons and run in the right direction, and most of the time they are upstaged by a crass, unfunny parrot with delusions that he's a canine. He's voiced by an over-animated Eric Idle at his nudge-nudge, wink-wink worst. Like Close and Depardieu, he should get the bird for squandering his talents. Starring Glenn Close, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Evans and Gerard Depardieu. Directed by Kevin Lima. Written by Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan, Bob Tzudiker and Noni White. Produced by Edward S. Feldman. A Buena Vista release. Family/Comedy. Rated G. Running time: 100 min