In 1994, Disney officially made their first-ever live-action remake, 'Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book'. It may have been a wordy title, but the film wasn't anything to write home about, performing moderately at the box office. The tables turned in 1996 when they modernised their 1961 animated classic, '101 Dalmatians'.
The film follows a similar plot to its animated counterpart, but with some added 90s flair. Roger (Jeff Daniels, 'Steve Jobs', 'Dumb and Dumber') is a video game designer making a Dalmatian-based game (which actually became a real game, '101 Dalmatians: Escape from DeVil Manor', even though the puppies are designed after the animated film). Anita (Joely Richardson, 'Red Sparrow', 'Snowden') is a fashion designer at the House of De Vil, run by the fur-hungry Cruella de Vil (Glenn Close, 'Crooked House', 'The Wife'). Roger and Anita meet and fall in love, as do their dalmatians, Pongo and Perdy. They have babies, lots and lots of babies - which Cruella hears about and wants for their spotty fur, so they must keep her away no matter how hard she tries.
The film had a budget of US$67 million and grossed a whopping US$320 million worldwide; an impressive feat for 1996. A lot of the film's success has to do with the simply perfect casting of Glenn Close as the villainous Cruella. She appears in far less of the film than most of us remember, but her performance is captivating and perfectly brings the animated character to life, coming off as both haunting and campy at the same time - plus her costumes are to die for. Without her performance, the film is your pretty run-of-the-mill dog family film, but Close's scenes are what made this a success and still memorable 25 years later.
'101 Dalmatians' is a stranger franchise than most realise. On top of the 1961 animated version, the two Glenn Close films, the direct-to-DVD film and 'Cruella', Disney has also produced two animated series - one in 1997 and another in 2019 - as well as seven video games. It's strange just how much these puppies have been pushed for their merchandise; for the 1996 film alone, over 17,000 different pieces of merchandise were produced.
The film had a budget of US$67 million and grossed a whopping US$320 million worldwide; an impressive feat for 1996. A lot of the film's success has to do with the simply perfect casting of Glenn Close as the villainous Cruella.
Another fun fact: in order to get the Dalmatians to lick Jeff Daniels' face, they rubbed him with hot dogs, which is just a bit gross, and seems like there could have been some better methods.
Considering how much of a financial success the film was for the studio, it's strange that it wasn't until 2010 with Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' that Disney would jump back into the remake game. '101 Dalmatians' was a simple remake - it remained grounded and didn't need the big names and budget to draw crowds in, unlike Disney's current splurging with its bloated live-action films.
'101 Dalmatians' is nowhere near as good as you remember, but Close is the real reason to revisit. It's interesting to look back at how Disney remakes began a little more humbly, but 1996's '101 Dalmatians' isn't anything to bark about.