In Lady and the Tramp, we have the famous meatball scene. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we whistled while we worked. And in 101 Dalmatians-- especially in the 1996 live action remake of the animated 1961 classic-- we have the dog version of the Amber Alert. As proud Dalmatian parents Pongo and Perdy go on the rescue for their fifteen kidnapped pups, they enlist the aid of not just every dog in London but sheep, rodents, and every other animal within hearing range as they track down the paw prints of both the pups and their ruthless captors.
In grand Disney tradition, Cruella De Vil played by Glenn Close — who went from boiling rabbits in Fatal Attraction to designing a dog fur coat in this film — masterminded the plan as the most evil female villain since the Wicked Witch of the West. Of course, De Vil’s two henchmen played by Hugh Laurie (pre-House) and Mark Williams receive their comeuppance in the end, thanks to an endless retread of gross-out gags, pratfalls, wasted slapstick, electric shock, and groin hits courtesy of screenwriter John Hughes. Obviously, borrowing heavily from his own screenplay for the Home Alone films as countless critics and viewers have noted and complete with making one of the stooges the brainier of the two simpletons (Laurie is cast essentially in Joe Pesci's role), the film's overly long and juvenile second half bogs it down considerably from its delightful opening.
At its best when it delivers us a story and at its worst when it replaces logic with a vat of molasses (don't ask), the film begins ever so charmingly. Moments in, we're introduced to Roger (Jeff Daniels), a struggling video game designer who keeps getting sent back to the drawing board by his company's precocious, child taste-maker. Living a simple, pleasant life with his best friend, Roger spends his days with his literal caretaker Pongo, a Dalmatian so devoted to Roger that he not only fetches the paper but makes his master's coffee, readies his shower, and gets him up in the morning. However, soon Pongo and Roger find their limited existence livened up when they make the acquaintance of two females, namely the beautiful Anita (Joely Richarson) and her own Dalmatian, Perdy. Obviously as a Disney product, the foursome meets cute in the park as the humans are tugged along by their dogs via bicycle. Although, because it's Disney by way of Hughes, sure enough, they land smack into the filthy pond and Daniels gets struck with a purse full of bricks in the process. Still, Roger and Anita and likewise Pongo and Perdy are irresistible together, reminding me of the fine, wholesome, smart, and contemporary Disney updates of The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday (made before Lindsay Lohan discovered clubbing).