"101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure" Not a Trip Worth Writing Home About
101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure kept reminding me of My Favorite Year, another movie about a youngster who discovers that his hero is really a jackass. In Richard Benjamin’s 1982 film, a TV writer is charged with looking after a washed-up movie star who’s slated to guest star on a variety-comedy show in the earliest days of television. That matinee idol, Alan Swann, is renowned for playing dashing heroes on screen, but in real life he turns out to be a lecherous, insecure drunk, and he and his handler wind up having a stream of misadventures in and around 1950’s New York City.
It’s not a good sign when a direct-to-video sequel keeps poking you with memories not only of its superior theatrical predecessor but of an unrelated live-action feature. 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, produced in 2002 and just re-released on a new special edition DVD, lacks nearly all of the charm that made 101 Dalmatians a classic, and its few successes ride in on the coattails of the original movie. My Favorite Year managed to be sweet and touching as well as hilarious. In contrast, Patch’s London Adventure is made up of mostly meaningless antics and febrile activity that doesn’t really add up to a lot.
The one unadulterated positive thing about Patch’s London Adventure is that it looks quite good. The animation is top-notch, especially for one of Disney’s direct-to-video sequels, with smooth, on-model animation throughout. The crew also did an excellent job duplicating the look and feel of the original movie, with its distinctive color palette and impressionistic backgrounds over clean animation delimited by hard black lines. In fact, Patch’s London Adventure may be a bit too clean. One of the most appealing things about the original was how the Xerox animation process of the time would reveal a flash of the underlying pencil work or render a line with appealingly scratchy roughness. With the benefit of modern technology, Patch’s London Adventure is far more polished, but it also seems to lack a bit of the spontaneity of its forerunner. Like the original, the sequel also has a thoroughly enjoyable soundtrack, with the lively opening credits sequence promising a jaunt and verve that the movie can’t quite deliver on.
Unfortunately, beyond the visual and aural aspects, this sequel shares little with its predecessor. The focus in Patch’s London Adventure shifts from Dalmatian couple Pongo and Perdita onto one of their 99 puppies: the perpetually left-out Patch. Poor little Patch is constantly being shoved aside by his more boisterous siblings, and quickly concludes that he is only “one of a hundred and one” rather than an individual appreciated for who he is. After getting accidentally separated from the rest of his extended family, he gets the chance of a lifetime to meet Thunderbolt, the heroic dog TV star who appeared briefly in the original. Unfortunately, he eventually discovers that Thunderbolt is vain, shallow, arrogant, and nothing at all like the hero he portrays on television. To be fair, Barry Bostwick balances nicely between being lovable and being completely thick as Thunderbolt, and Bobby Lockwood turns in quite a credible performance as Patch. Their performances are probably what give the movie the little emotional heft that it has.
The flamboyant Cruella De Vil also makes her return, although she is a pale shadow of her former self. Susan Blakeslee (credited here as “Susanne”) replaces the late Betty Lou Gerson as the voice of Cruella. Blakeslee is better known (and is just better) as Cinderella’s buttoned-up evil stepmother, but despite her best efforts, she never quite achieves the same effervescent menace of Gerson’s original performance. At first, she is bolted crudely to the story with a bizarre and completely unnecessary subplot that introduces the too-hip beatnik artist Lars (Martin Short, vit der affected Cherman ock-cent), where she attempts to replace her Dalmatian obsession with art. There are a few mildly amusing gags involving modern art that come out of this setup, but it never really manages to be very convincing and it effectively neuters the menace Cruella had in the first movie. Eventually, Patch’s and Cruella’s plot lines collide, culminating in a giant, noisy, and somewhat tedious chase through London streets right before everything is tied off with a nice, neat little bow. 101 Dalmatians II isn’t egregiously bad, but it never manages to rise much above the mediocre.
The Special Edition DVD of 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure is one of Disney’s usual well-packaged releases. The movie itself gets a nice, anamorphically enhanced widescreen presentation with a fine 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. Extras include the usual games and music videos which can be skipped without loss, although the behind-the-scenes look at Thunderbolt’s dressing room has a few mildly entertaining extra animated sequences. There is also a “Dogumentary” on the making of the film, where a pack of dogs visit the Walt Disney Feature Studios to see some of the cast and crew at work making the movie. While the dog jokes wear thin fairly quickly, this short film proves to be surprisingly informative about how an animated film is made.
You can do a lot worse than 101 Dalmatians II, but you can also do a whole lot better. It is quite serviceable as a digital babysitter, since small children will probably enjoy the noise and fuss and cute doggies, but those seeking a more enduring or enjoyable cinema experience would be better off re-watching the original movie or seeking out My Favorite Year instead. Finding a way to explain alcoholism or a tryst in the park to a little one is a pretty fair trade for a much better movie that shares the same themes.