Roger Dearly is a video game designer who lives with his dog, Pongo in a flat in London. He shows his latest game that stars Pongo to a small boy named Herbert, who judges games at the local company where he works and sees if they're good in future sales. However, Herbert doesn't seem to like a dog catcher being the villain, so Roger goes back to square one.
The story then goes to Cruella De Vil who goes to her fancy fashion establishment called the House of DeVil. She goes to one of her top designers Anita Campbell-Green who is trying to design the next latest fashion. Cruella is pleased with her idea of making something consisting of spots and admires that she used her dog Perdita as inspiration. She then decides to make a fur coat out of Dalmatians. Later when Roger and Pongo are in the park, Pongo spots Perdita on a lead with Anita and immediately falls in love with her. The dogs get their own owners together after both of them end up in the duck pond from a nasty accident with their bikes. Roger and Anita fall in love as well and eventually get married, and so do Pongo and Perdita.
Cruella sends her two henchmen Jasper and Horace to see Mr. Skinner, a mute taxidermist. As they arrive, Jasper explains to Horace about how Skinner ended up being mute by having his vocal chords torn out by a dog at a young age and advises him not to look at the horrifying scar on his neck or talk to him. However, when they use the knocker and Skinner comes out, Horace immediately forgets and says something rude, so Jasper punches him out for his stupidity. Inside Skinner gives them a huge suitcase to take back to Cruella. Jasper and Horace drive back to Cruella's mansion and give her the suitcase that appears to be the skin of a dead Siberian tiger, which Skinner had stolen from the London Zoo before killing it.
Roger and Anita have settled in to their own house with Nanny as their housekeeper. Roger is still trying to make the perfect video game with no success and Anita and Perdita are both pregnant. Cruella comes round for an uninvited visit and after hearing about Perdita, she asks the Dearlys to let her know when the puppies arrive. On a stormy October evening, Perdita begins giving birth to the puppies with Nanny and Anita helping, while Roger and Pongo wait outside. Everything seems to be going well and the number of puppies get bigger and bigger to fifteen, but Nanny comes out with one that seems to have died. Roger gently strokes the puppy until movement comes from the tiny bundle giving them fifteen again, they name the surviving puppy Lucky. Straight afterwards, Cruella comes barging in after getting information from Jasper and Horace that the puppies had been born, but is disappointed that their spots haven't arrived and rudely calls them "white rats". Anita assures them that they'll get their spots later. Cruella decides to buy the puppies in advance until they're ready to leave their mother, but the Dearlys tell her that they're not for sale. After giving them offer after offer, they still refuse, making Cruella furious, firing Anita from the House of DeVil and swearing vengeance on the family for turning her down.
Some months later the puppies have grown up and some of them have been named: Jewel, Dipstick, Fidget, Two-Tone and Whizzer. Late one night Jasper and Horace are lurking in the shadows watching the Dearlys go to the park with their dogs. They break into the house and lock Nanny in the cupboard. They go to the kitchen where the puppies are being kept and snatch them in a giant sack. While they are putting them in the van, a general's dog barks fiercely at them and Horace suspects that he knows what they've done. In the park, Pongo and Perdita hear the general's dog barking and immediately rush back to the house with Roger and Anita chasing after them. They all return and Nanny who has finally freed herself from the cupboard tells them what has happened. Meanwhile Jasper calls Cruella and tells them that all the puppies have been stolen. She is delighted and Mr. Skinner, who is with her, adds them to the puppies they had previously stolen giving them a total of ninety-nine. Jasper and Horace go to an abandoned mansion to get some sleep and wait for further instructions from Cruella.
Back at the house, the Dearlys have called the Police and they agree to search for the puppies. Roger has his doubts that they'll ever find them, so Pongo goes to highest window and does the Twilight Bark to ask for help. One by one dogs and other creatures agree to help. One of them is Kipper, who had seen Jasper and Horace's van and heard the puppies inside. He follows them to the abandoned house and while the henchmen are asleep, finds all the puppies. Cruella calls Skinner and asks him to have the puppies killed and skinned tonight. Another dog arrives at the Dearlys' house and tells Pongo and Perdita that they've found their puppies and immediately go with him. Later the Dearlys realize that Cruella was behind the dognapping and after seeing Anita's sketch of the coat, deduce that she is going to kill them. They call the police again who investigate Cruella and discover her connection not only to the dognapping but also to other animal related crimes that they've never been able to solve.
Meanwhile the other creatures sabotage Jasper and Horace's truck while they're sleeping. Jasper and Horace later wake up and decide to kill and skin the puppies themselves. They hear a knock on the door and thinking that it is Cruella, open the door to meet her. However they see no one there because a woodpecker has been tapping, they look again and see some raccoons playing in their van and angrily go to stop them. While they are distracted, Kipper leads the puppies out of the house, but Lucky gets accidentally left behind because he was still sleeping. The Baduns finally get rid of the raccoons by hurling stones at them. They go back inside, and to their horror, they find that the puppies have escaped. When they split up and see Whizzer sitting alone in a corner, they try to catch him, but have little success, and the other puppies leave the house and head for the snowy meadows.
Cruella finally arrives, and is furious that the puppies have escaped. She leaves and decides to find them herself, unaware that a skunk has made its way into her car. Jasper and Horace go after them as well, but end up losing their van when the engine goes on fire from the animals' sabotage and finally a high-powered shock from an electric fence. Meanwhile, Mr. Skinner arrives at the abandoned mansion to find only Lucky there. Just as he is about to start the killing, Kipper appears and stops him by running over, biting him on the rump and pulling him to the ground. The police later come and arrest Skinner. Jasper and Horace have had enough, and after seeing the police cars in the distance, allow themselves to be arrested. However, they are confronted by an angry Skinner, who had his clothes tattered by Kipper.
Pongo and Perdita are united with their children and the other puppies at a farm, but Cruella tracks them down and proceeds to kill them herself. The farm animals try to hold her back as much as they can, while the dogs proceed to make their escape. In the ensuing chaos, Cruella gets farted on by a pig, falls into a vat of molasses, and is ultimately hurled into a pigpen. In the end, she ends up with her clothes being all filthy and is finally arrested as well.
The dogs escape to a nearby village where the police are waiting for them. The police round up all the Dalmatians, including Lucky who comes back with Kipper, and the total adds up to one hundred and one. All the dogs are sent back to the Dearlys.
In the police van, Cruella is telling Jasper, Horace and Mr. Skinner that because of their incompetence, her business, reputation and even her life are now spoiled. As she tries to open her supposed bag, the skunk, who was asleep on Cruella's lap, sprays its stench at the horrified four, making them smell badly for the rest of the journey.
The police finally arrive at the Dearlys' house and the family are very grateful to them. In return, the police suggest that the other stolen puppies need a home, or they go to the pound. At first, Anita is unsure, but after some encouragement from Roger and Nanny, she agrees.
As the puppies run into the house, Roger picks up a newspaper with the headline of Cruella's arrest and decides to use her for his latest video game idea. He shows it to Herbert again, this time with two Dalmatian puppies as the playable characters and Cruella De Vil as the villainess. The boy gives the game a good response, and his boss congratulates Roger and makes arrangements to manufacture the game. With the fortune made from Roger's video game, the Dearlys, along with their new baby, Nanny and the Dalmatians, move to a huge mansion in the country with Anita announcing to Roger that she's pregnant again..
- Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil
- Jeff Daniels as Roger Dearly
- Joely Richardson as Anita Dearly
- Joan Plowright as Nanny
- Hugh Laurie as Jasper
- Mark Williams as Horace
- John Shrapnel as Mr. Skinner
- Tim McInnerny as Alonzo
- Hugh Fraser as Frederick
- Zohren Weiss as Herbert
- Mark Haddigan as Alan
The film performed well at the box office, earning $136,189,294 in the United States and $320,689,294 worldwide. Reception was generally mixed, with critics at Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a "rotten" rating of 41%, with an average rating of 5.4 out of 10 from 42 reviews.
101 Dalmatians was released on VHS on April 15, 1997 and on DVD on December 12, 2000. Due to the high sales of the One Hundred and One Dalmatians Platinum Edition DVD, Disney re-released this film on September 16, 2008 in the U.S., along with its sequel, 102 Dalmatians, and the sequel to the original 1961 animated version, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure.
- When Discovery Family Channel aired this movie, it cut into the second half of the Great Oaks logo in widescreen scope.
- This movie was Glenn Close's first Disney film.
- The Minster Court was used as the exterior of Cruella's fashion house and the Sarum Chase was used as the exterior of her home.
- Glenn Close initially rejected the role of Cruella due to scheduling conflicts with the 1993 stage musical Sunset Boulevard. The producers then offered the role to Sigourney Weaver who also declined. By that time, Close had ended her run on Broadway, and when the producers offered her the role again, she accepted.
- Hugh Grant was offered the role of Roger.
- The animatronic creatures used in the film are provided by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.
- Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams also shared a scene in the 1997 film The Borrowers.
- Hugh Laurie and Tim McInnerny previously starred together in the Blackadder series.
- Cruella's car is a Panther De Ville.
- On top of one of the computer screens in Roger's office is a plush Figment from the Epcot attraction, Journey Into Imagination.
- Also in Roger's office, there is a Thunderbird 3 toy on one of his shelves.
- Both The Aristocats and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey were referenced as TV programs the puppies were watching before Nanny arrives.
- The video game that Roger creates at the end of the movie was actually released under the title Escape from DeVil Manor, where the mine cart was the final level.
- Patch was featured in one of the film's official posters, but never actually appeared in the movie.
- Cruella is referenced numerous times in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, which starred Joely's sister, Natasha Richardson. The twins use the name Cruella as a nickname for their father's fiance, Meredith Blake.
- For so far, this is the only live-action remake of a Disney animated classic to be designated the same MPAA rating as the original classic, which is G.
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