The making of ”102 Dalmatians”
”I have a full wetsuit on under here!” Glenn Close sounds as chipper as a scuba diver at the Great Barrier Reef. But she’s about to work her rubber-covered tush off in a physically daring scene that might give even the most masochistic stuntperson pause. Over her insulation, the 53-year-old actress is decked out in the full regalia of Cruella DeVil, the villainess of 102 Dalmatians. It’s the 23rd of March, day 76 of what will be a 98-day shoot based at England’s Shepperton Studios. As usual, costumers and makeup artists have futzed for two and a half hours to transform Close’s 5-foot-5-inch frame into a larger-than-life grotesque. The effort shows, from the tips of Cruella’s porcupine-quill hat to the tresses of her black-and-red fur coat to the six-inch heels of her knee-high boots. All that, just so she can demolish her outfit in a single take. ”They’d better get this right, hadn’t they?” says a crew member.
Thanks to Close’s extreme-sport instincts, they do. On this vast Parisian-bakery set, she’s perched atop an enormous cake-making contraption, full of conveyor belts, giant rolling pins, and six-foot mixing blades — into which Cruella has chased some puppies. Unfortunately for her, the dogs have flipped the “on” switch. As cameras roll, Close gathers her coat folds and pushes off like an Olympic bobsledder. Clickety-clack, down she careens on a massive cooking pan affixed to a roller-coaster-style track, and ploop! She plunges off the metal sheet into a giant mixing bowl containing a revolting solution of sludgy water and egg yolks. Hundreds of the gelatinous yellow blobs slosh over the sides of the vat as Close thrashes about.
Just when the star looks close to drowning, the ”Cut!” call comes, and assistants hoist her sopping frame out of the muck. Across the set, a cameraman shooting promotional video seems unusually excited at the sight of Close dripping batter. ”He’s got a bit of a fetish for Glenn, especially her boots,” confides an on-set coordinator. Meantime, Close trudges conscientiously over to the rest of the crew. ”Is it okay?” she asks tentatively, clearly willing to do it all over again.
There’s no indignity too goopy, it seems, in Close and Disney’s mutual quest to top themselves with this $80 million sequel. Four years ago, 101 Dalmatians grossed $45 million over its Thanksgiving-weekend debut. Eventually it took in $316 million worldwide, and minted at least that much in sales of tie-in toys, clothing, and umpteen other products.
Now Disney wants new dogs to do the same old trick. They’ve thrown in a host of fresh canine characters, including adult dalmatian Dipstick, son of 101‘s Pongo and Perdy, and his life partner, Dottie. They’ve got three star pups in their brood: Domino, Little Dipper, and Oddball, who boasts an all-white pelt, thanks to computer enhancement. But why just one extra pooch in the title? ”I didn’t know what else to call it,” says producer Ed Feldman. ”When I told the Disney people that title, they loved it. But then we had to come up with a reason to call it that.” The solution: A story that finds a reformed Cruella relapsing in her lust for a puppy coat. She needs one extra pelt, Feldman explains, because ”this time she wants a hood.”
If that plot point was dispatched neatly, lots of others weren’t. Early scripts explored such concepts as Cruella resurfacing in New York and the search for a black dalmatian with white spots. Close lobbied to have Mr. Bean‘s Rowan Atkinson play Cruella’s mousy husband, but that didn’t work out either. Eventually, Disney execs warmed to the idea of teaming DeVil with an evil French furrier, Jean Pierre Le Pelt, played by Gerard Depardieu.
Much development time went into deciding who should spin the concept into a script. ”I wanted Tom Stoppard from the very beginning,” says Close. ”I wanted smart, arch, bitchy words to come out of my mouth. Tom’s not a bitchy person, but he comes from a very sophisticated place of humor. I thought, the more we could appeal to adults as well as children, the better off we’d be.” Stoppard, who shared a 1999 Best Screenplay Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, didn’t get the gig solo, though he did pepper Close’s dialogue with ripostes (sample: ”Faint heart never won fur lady”). Instead, director Kevin Lima worked mainly with Bob Tzudiker and Noni White, writers he brought with him from Disney’s animated Tarzan. ”I had a very condensed amount of time before shooting — about a month,” says Lima. ”I needed to go into the process knowing my collaborators.” After all, Lima had an enormous amount of discovering to do on other fronts. Though he was a veteran animation hand, he’d never made a movie starring real people before. Close says Lima was ”sort of a last-minute idea” when Stephen Herek, who did 101 Dalmatians, wasn’t available. Explains producer Feldman, ”It’s very hard to get a major director to do a sequel. What’s their upside?”
For Lima, it looked like nothing but upside. Tired of the four- to five-year arc required for Disney animated features, he wanted to cross over to live action, where movies take a year and a half tops. So Lima leaped. His wife, Brenda Chapman, a codirector on DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt, agreed to put her career on hold, move with him to London, and care for their infant daughter while Kevin tackled the four-month-plus shoot. Close had worked with Lima voicing mama ape Kala for Tarzan, and was happy to see him branch out. ”I think he found being on a physical set, having to block out a scene, very difficult,” she says. ”But I was impressed by his humility. If he didn’t know something, he didn’t pretend he did. That’s probably what got him through.”
Lima says his on-set mantra quickly became, ”That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” The biggest aggravation: those puppies. Despite his animation prowess, Lima wanted to accomplish as much as possible with real dogs, not CGI. ”You can’t make a dalmatian smile,” the director concedes. ”But you can suggest a smile in their attitudes, their poses.” Unfortunately, poseability is not a quality of the nearly 80 8-week-old dalmatians used in the film. Left unstimulated by trainers for even a moment, they nip and nuzzle, sniffing doggy parts one can’t be seen sniffing in a G-rated movie.
”It was so hard for the actors to be on top of their performance in every take, not knowing what the dogs would do,” Lima recalls. ”They knew that as soon as the puppy did it right, that’s the take I’d have to use.” And in the editing room, Lima had to confront an awful truth: You can’t do a sequence over like you can in animation. He says it was ”incredibly frustrating” trying to balance three story lines: the pooches’ plight, Cruella and Le Pelt’s scheme, and the romance of the young human leads (Alice Evans and Ioan Gruffudd). ”I realized very late that I was telling many stories,” Lima says. ”Too many stories. And there was no way to go back and focus on one of the stories as the through line.” He pauses. ”The studio is gonna kill me for telling you this.” Hello, Disney Store? We’re going to need one official 102 Dalmatians muzzle.