Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 1, 2022)
In past reviews, I’ve noted my lack of enchantment with Disney’s animated sequels. For the most part, these vary from bland to crummy.
Even when the movies included the original voice talent – like with The Hunchback of Notre Dame II - the pictures tend to seem plodding and contrived. Most just remake the original flicks with some minor twist, and none of them feel inspired or even marginally fun.
We get an exception via 2003’s 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, though. When I first saw previews for it, I thought it looked like another message-heavy piece of tripe.
The ads pushed the quest for individuality of Patch, one of the puppies from the original flick. Disney’s DTV releases tend to favor blandly explored themes over all else, and I observed no reason to believe London would be any different.
To my exceedingly pleasant surprise, however, London actually works pretty well. No one will confuse it with the delightful original or think that it lives up to the level of most Disney theatrical releases, but London proves light and lively.
Humans Roger (voiced by Tim Bentinck) and Anita (Jodi Benson) plan to take their canine brood from their London flat to their giant “Dalmatian Plantation” outside of London. Patch (Bobby Lockwood) starts to feel like nothing more than one in 101 and he doesn’t think anything makes him stand out as an individual.
We see that Patch maintains an obsessive interest in his favorite TV show, The Thunderbolt Adventure Hour. When he learns that the program’s star will visit London the next day, he desires to go, but since this conflicts with moving day, this looks unlikely. A glum Patch sleeps in a bag of empty dog food, which means the family loses track of him when they move the following morning.
Feeling ignored, Patch ventures into town and attends the auditions for a guest spot on Thunderbolt. There he meets the big “T” himself (Barry Bostwick), and we also get to know Thunderbolt’s TV sidekick Lil’ Lightning (Jason Alexander).
The long-neglected partner tells Thunderbolt that they’ll write the star out of the show and suggests that the egotistical hero do something special to attract positive attention. Thunderbolt goes out to perform heroic deeds, but he lacks ideas.
To assist in that matter, he recruits Patch, whose encyclopedic knowledge of the TV series gives Thunderbolt possibilities for actions. When the show’s producers can’t find the star, the sneaky sidekick Lightning then promotes himself as the new lead.
In the meantime, we see that the authorities let Cruella de Vil (Susanne Blakeslee) stay out of jail on probation, but she can’t buy any more furs. Left adrift, she finds new meaning for her life when she encounters abstract artist Lars (Martin Short).
He works exclusively in spots, and she becomes his muse. However, when he doesn’t achieve what she wants, Cruella decides to kidnap the Dalmatians to inspire him.
Of course, Cruella being Cruella, she harbors nasty motives. She wants Lars to use their carcasses as canvases. To that end, she bails her old stooges Horace (Maurice LaMarche) and Jasper (Jeff Bennett) to do the deed.
From there, London essentially becomes a big chase flick to stop Cruella and save the pups. Yes, that seems awfully similar to the plot maintained by the original film, and I can’t say that London does much to differ from its blueprint. However, even without a tremendous amount of originality, the flick still manages to prove entertaining.
London doesn’t do anything exceedingly well, but it makes very few missteps either. Though not excellent, most of the film seems reasonably positive.
Animation often holds back these DTV releases. For example, efforts like Cinderella II: Dreams Come True showed exceedingly clumsy and awkward movement.
No one will mistake the art in London with better efforts like Fantasia, but compared to its DTV brethren, it holds up well. Perhaps I noticed fewer flaws because I felt more involved in the story than usual, but I thought the animation seemed acceptably smooth and vivid.
The artwork nicely recaptured the look of the original film. While the sequel’s animation didn’t compare with that effort, it still came across as more than acceptable.
The story doesn’t seem like anything special, and one could easily argue that it mostly just rehashes the plot to the first flick. However, the directors execute it with fun and panache, and the voice talent helps make it more entertaining.
The three stars in the cast do well, and Short seems especially amusing as tortured artist Lars. Coming off his delightful work in the underrated Treasure Planet, Short appears destined to steal every animated flick in which he voices a character, and he makes Lars quite entertaining.
Would I rather watch 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure instead of most Disney theatrical releases? No, but it’s arguably the studio’s best direct-to-video flick, and it seems stronger than quite a few of Disney’s “animated classics”.
For instance, I’d definitely take London over stuff like Oliver and Company or The Aristocats. This may be blasphemy, but I might even select London over the vastly overrated Jungle Book.
London doesn’t dazzle me, but the briskly-paced and amusing adventure works well nonetheless, and Disney fans should definitely get a kick out of it.
Footnote: make sure you stick around through the end of the final credits. The movie includes a fun bit for those who make it that far.