Not recommended. It's Disney's sequel to its 1996 live-action remake of its 1961 animated film, which is a chain of links you'd all expect to be worse than their predecessors. (I like the original, by the way, but I find something slightly thin about it.) I haven't seen the 1996 remake, but I know it took 320 million dollars worldwide and so artistic considerations made a sequel inevitable.
Trying to be positive, there are three good things about this film. Firstly, it's set in Britain. I hadn't expected this, which was silly of me. This means lots of actors I like will pop up in cameo roles, such as Ian Richardson as a lawyer, Timothy West as a judge and Ron Cook (from The Idiot's Lantern) as an evil foreclosing person. Oh, and Eric Idle is the voice of a parrot that thinks it's a Doberman. I also like the way they're getting the maximum possible value out of their London shooting, so you can tell where half the exterior scenes are filmed.
The second good thing (related to the first) is the cast. I like this line-up of actors, although I'd have enjoyed watching them more in a less Disnified film. Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Evans are very likeable as the romantic leads, albeit with bland material. Glenn Close and Gerard Depardieu camp it up as required. Tim McInnerny makes his roles in Blackadder look dignified, but I don't hold that against him.
After that, the third good thing is the costumes, designed by Anthony Powell. Seriously. They got an Oscar nomination and apparently lost out to Gladiator, which strikes me as a travesty even if these are apparently assessed on all the costumes in a movie rather than just the most striking ones. I could have understood it if they'd lost to How the Grinch Stole Christmas
, but... ah well. Anyway, Glenn Close's costumes are performance art. Look at her! Sweet heavens. She's unbelievable. She was probably visible from space. One of her outfits made me laugh out loud, but that's nothing compared with the catwalk show put on when we first meet Gerard Depardieu. I don't normally take the slightest interest in clothes, but this is extraordinary.
I have now listed all the good things about this film. Furthermore even those positives have downsides, which I'll get to now.
Firstly, it's a tourist's view of London. You've got famous landmarks, e.g. Big Ben. People go to Punch and Judy shows. It would be generous even to call it Avengersland, since I don't remember The Avengers being under the impression that raccoons and skunks are native to Britain.
As for the cast, they're likeable, but I wouldn't recommend the film for them. I actually thought Ioan Gruffudd came out of it the best. I'd never particularly noticed him in anything before (including Fantastic Four
), but as with Brendan Fraser in films like George of the Jungle, he's really rather good at being natural and charming. He's handsome and nice. That's enough. The star turn is of course Glenn Close and you've got to admire her energy, obviously, but how in the name of all that's holy did Gerard Depardieu contrive to do a bad French accent?
I have no reservations about the designs and surrealism, though. That's kind of stunning. Note also the Spotted Hallucination Scene after Glenn Close has done her Jekyll and Hyde, complete with slight physical transformation.
As a film, though, it's dull and annoying. It's live-action Disney. It does stupid stuff for kids. The humans are cartoons and the animals have been anthopomorphised to death. Eric Idle's parrot is a human in a bird's body, with the vocabulary and conversational ability of a man, but the dogs will do things like putting a tape in the video player, turning on the television and gathering together to watch it. (It's a Disney animation, needless to say. At first it's Bambi, but then a few minutes later it's Lady and the Tramp.) I simply didn't believe in what was being said and done, whether by beings with two legs or four. I was playing bridge during the second half of this movie, although in fairness I hadn't actually minimised the window and so I could follow what was going on. It didn't grab my attention.
Objectively speaking, it's not that bad. I suppose it does the job it's intended for, although the fact that it took not much more than half its predecessor's box office gross suggests that it wasn't doing it particularly well. It has occasional striking bits (e.g. the "has Cruella changed?" song), but I kept getting pushed out of the film. For example I disliked all the material involving Ron Cook, although that wasn't his fault, not to mention everything involving unconvincingly anthropomorphised animals. That parrot can flap off, as indeed can the dalmatian puppy who's embarrassed about not having spots. (They achieved that digitally.) I'd like to be able to criticise the theme, by which they make a big deal about "people can change" and then have Cruella turning back as evil as ever, but I won't because there might be something clever I didn't notice in the second half which justifies that. There probably isn't, though.
I wouldn't even recommend this for children, frankly. I'm not just talking about the fact that there are far better films out there, but simply about the likelihood of them getting bored. This movie needed either far more or far less anthopomorphism, if that makes sense.