WITH $63.7 MILLION IN TICKET sales after only two weeks, Disney’s 101 Dalmatians is obviously no dog at the box office. So it’s nice to know that the 230 pups employed in the making of the movie were treated like A-list celebs from the start. During last year’s six-month London shoot, the animals stayed in climate-controlled kennels with a 24-hour medical attendant and had ink-free newsprint strewn around their canine comfort stations—so they wouldn’t smudge their fur with rub-off from the tabloids. “We had truckloads of unprinted newspaper,” says Gary Gero, chief trainer on the film.
And what of their natural presence? Put it this way: any one of them would have been spotted at Schwab’s drugstore. And professionally they catch on fast. “Puppies are an empty slate,” says Gero (whose company trains Frasier’s Moose, known as Eddie). With cooked chicken and beef bits as a reward, “they would learn things in minutes.” The bipeds on set sometimes had more trouble adapting. Jeff Daniels, who plays Roger, found his concentration tested as handlers barked orders to the dogs. “I was haunted by trainers going, ‘Up, up, up, get up,’ ” says Daniels. “You find yourself picking your head up and then realizing, They aren’t talking to me.”
As tough as it was working with dogs, the crew became fond of them. Director Stephen Herek Director Stephen Herek Director Stephen Herek even adopted Opus (one of the pups who played Wizzer in the film). “I fell in love,” says Herek: “He was trained.” It’s probably only a matter of time, though, before Opus will want to direct.