Dalmatians Premiere Goes to the Dogs

The El Capitan theater in Hollywood set the stage for Disney’s star-studded premiere of the all-new home video release 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure on Saturday. Animation Magazine Online was there to catch up with the filmmakers and stars as they strolled down the red carpet.

This animated sequel to the 1961 classic picks up where the original left off, but focuses primarily on one of the puppies. Rather than being just one in 101, Patch longs to be one of a kind like his hero, TV’s canine avenger Thunderbolt.

Co-director Brian Smith likens the movie to the Peter O’Toole film My Favorite Year. He notes that Patch gets to finally meet his hero but learns that Thunderbolt isn’t all he’s cracked up to be on TV.

“I think in his own mind he’s cracked up to be it,” retorts actor Barry Bostwick, the voice of Thunderbolt. “It’s an interesting part actually, because he starts out being really full of himself and then he comes down to earth and he actually learns something about his life and where he’s going. It’s not just about the thing that we always worry about, which is the younger dog just around the corner who wants your job. But he goes barking into the night. I don’t think he’s going quietly.”

How does an actor go about preparing to play a dog? “With kibbles and bits,” quips Bostwick. “You do it with small bites of things. That’s what’s interesting about animation. You do each line 30 times. Then eventually they’ll pull it all together and choose the best of the 30. And you do some adlibbing and some improvisation. This is my first big one, and it’s just as much work as I thought it would be, and as disjointed as I thought it would be. Jason Alexander plays my sidekick, and I never met him until now.”

Alexander, who lends his voice to Thunderbolt’s corgie sidekick Lil’ Lightning, comments “The thing I’m always bemused at, and I guess there’s no way around it, but the actors never work together. You’re always doing it with the directors and the writers. But it’s always a miracle to me when it you hear it, it sounds like people are talking to each other when we never met.” He laughs. “But it’s still great fun.”

Jim Kammerud, the other half of the directing team, says one of his favorite aspects of making the film was getting to do a black-and-white sequence depicting a Thunderbolt episode like they did in the original.

“I think it’s a really perfect movie and we’re really thrilled at the way it turned out,” says David Stainton, the newly appointed president of Walt Disney Feature Animation. “It was three years in the making. As soon as I came to Feature Animation this is the first movie I started working on, so it has a really near and dear place in my heart.”

Sharon Morrill, exec. VP of Disney Video Premieres and Disneytoons concurs, boasting, “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done. It has great characters, great music, the tones really capture the feeling of the original and the animation is terrific.”

So how do you follow up one of the most beloved animated movies of all time? “Very carefully,” jokes Producer Carolyn Bates. “We really worked hard at trying to make it a seamless transition, as if this movie takes place the next day. We tried to remain as true to the visual style as we could and make it a little more for contemporary audiences.”

Producer Leslie Hough notes “[The artists] analized the art direction, they looked at the line style and tried to re-create that, and I think they really did honor to that. Everybody says ‘God, it looks just like the original movie.’” “And Cruella is just as scary,” adds Bates.

“We don’t like Cruella,” remarks Jodi Benson, the voice of Anita, as she shields two trembling children from an actress portraying the black and white haired villain on the red carpet. Regarding the opportunity to be part of such a beloved franchise, she notes, “I’m very flattered.”

Disney’s 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure debuts on DVD and VHS on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Look for our review here on Animation Magazine Online.