Being the runt of the litter is rough. Ask any smallest sibling. But being the runt of a litter of 101 is bound to cause feelings of inferiority. That's what happens to the feisty but feeling-neglected Patch (voiced by Bobby Lockwood). Complicating matters is that it's hard to feel unique when every one of your brothers and sisters has the same spots as you.
So when their masters Roger (Tim Bentinck) and Anita (Jodi Benson) decide to leave London for a more spacious "Dalmatian Plantation" in the country, Patch is only half-traumatized when he's inadvertently left behind. That's because he sees this as an opportunity to finally become something on his own.
That's the main premise behind this animated sequel to "101 Dalmatians," though after more than 40 years with NO sequel fans were probably thinking that their beloved favorite cartoon might actually be allowed to stand alone. No such luck. And, predictably, "101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure" doesn't measure up to the original.
For one thing, it feels closer to a Disney Channel animated series in terms of its animation, backgrounds, and overall tone. Drawn and animated by Disney's Japan team, it features a Cruella (Susan Blakeslee) who isn't nearly as evil. Instead, she's more of a "fall guy" for slapstick pratfalls and a sputtering reactionary. Then there's the introduction of a wholly unnecessary character--an artist named Lars (Martin Short), who feels like a cartoon cliché with his post-Beat affectation. Lars is into painting spots. Cruella wants him to paint a SINGLE spot for her, and he agrees if she will pose for him. Of course, all this obsession with spots gets her going again to where she violates her probation and conspires to dognap Dalmatians on a grand scale again. Predictably, this time it's Patch to the rescue, not the older dogs.
But there's one twist that does add new life to an old story. If you recall, the little puppies loved to watch their favorite dog-hero on TV in the classic animated film, and this one spins off of that. With Patch suddenly alone in London, he decides to seek out Thunderbolt (Barry Bostwick), who's shooting a movie not far away. But the trouble is, Thunderbolt's conniving sidekick is tired of playing second doggie bone to the swelled-headed "hero," and Lil' Lightning (Jason Alexander) tricks the arrogant Thunderbolt into thinking he's going to be canned. That, of course, leaves Lightning free to step into the starring role.
Needless to say, Patch and Thunderbolt do meet up and Patch learns a few truths about the movies and about life. But when they get wind of Cruella's latest plan, they team up and learn a little bit about themselves, too.
All in all it's the kind of animated feature that kids will think is well done, and adults will think of as an entertaining-enough but warmed-over adventure. There's nothing here you can't anticipate or that you haven't seen before. Yet, those two henchmen Horace (Maurice LaMarche) and Jasper (Jeff Bennett) are back and always fun to watch, and for TV-style animation there are a number of sequences that are striking or accomplished. People who have been to London will revel in seeing some of the most famous city sights beautifully rendered, and an out-of-control red double-decker bus filled with Dalmatians is nothing short of inspired.
Kids will especially respond to a plot line that has a character seeking out and interacting with a "movie star," as it's a fantasy of most young folks to picture themselves in the movies, as a hero, or hanging out with cinematic royalty.
In terms of the level of accomplishment, I would rate this objectively as a strong 6 out of 10. As a sequel, it's probably on the level of "Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea." And coincidentally, the directors who gave us that sequel (Jim Kammerud and Brian Smith) worked on this one as well. Both shows come SO close to a 7, and of course the target audience--kids--will rate it even higher. But adults who sit alongside them won't find it as captivating as the original 1961 classic.
Though this was direct-to-video, it's still presented in 1.66:1 widescreen and features bright, bold colors and a decent amount of detail. There's a slight graininess throughout, which you'd expect, but it's very slight. Those London backdrops look gorgeous and evoke the watercolor backgrounds of the original film.
The audio is a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with French and Spanish language tracks as well, and subtitles in French and Spanish. The tonal quality is rich, and the soundtrack makes good use of the effects speakers.
There's an additional game here, but the trade-off is that the DTS option from the previous release is now gone. There's obviously only so much room on a disc.
Kids will enjoy a "Dog-umentary" that has a pack of dogs visiting the studio for a start-to-finish primer on animation. It's well done, and pitched at young viewers who will better appreciate what they've seen after watching this. A "Thunderbolt: A Look Inside" is fun in-character extra that allows kids to go inside Thunderbolt's trailer and click on different materials, including bloopers, commercials, and fan mail. Both features are under seven minutes. Two music videos ("Try Again," "You're the One") are also included from the first DVD, along with a "Lost in London" game that's really a primer on London's most famous sights that you have to click on the right answer in order to get a live-action clip and "tour" of the site.
New to this title is "Patch's Twilight Adventure Game," one of the most complicated games Disney has included on one of its direct-to-video sequels. Players first have to select the right four puzzle pieces in order to obtain a "clue," and then go to a map of London and search for that section. Once you click there, players get rather difficult games that involve counting. Like, count the purple butterflies moving left to right (when a lot of them seem to be moving back and forth or up and down) or count how many chickens are left in a hen house (when they keep entering and leaving). Even your astute, math-driven child will find this challenging. But on one level, where you have to match the arrows that fly from Cruella's car, the game doesn't work with all DVD remotes. Better to try this one on the computer.
There are far worse sequels out there than "Patch's London Adventure." At times, this one has a Saturday morning feel to it. But it's certainly worth adding to the family video library, because it's the kind of film that has enough going on to where it will probably prompt repeat play.