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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Disney Discussion - One Hundred and One Dalmatians

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #17 of The Disney Discussion
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
Featuring the voice talents of Rod Taylor, Cate Baeur, Betty Lou Gerson, Ben Wright, Lisa Davis, 
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton S. Luske, and Clyde Geronomi

Summary (in 150 words or less):
After their respective owners Roger and Anita fall in love, dalmatians Pongo and Perdita follow suit, fashioning a brood of fifteen puppies for themselves.  Problems arise, however, when Anita's childhood friend Cruella De Vil desires to purchase the puppies seemingly out of kindness.  When Anita and Roger deny her request, Cruella steals the puppies in an attempt to fashion a fur coat out of them.  The rescue mission then commences with Pongo and Perdita leading the charge!

Let the Discussion Begin...

One Hundred and One Dalmatians (which will heretofore be written as 101 Dalmatians) is the Walt Disney Company's seventeenth full-length animated feature film and as released on January 25, 1961.

The film was the tenth highest grossing film of 1961 and its current total gross stands at (an unadjusted for inflation) $215 million.

Although awards kudos weren't thrown its way, baddie Cruella De Vil took spot #39 on the American Film Institute's list of the Best Film Villains of All Time.

An interesting note -- the film was made possible thanks to a new development in the animation industry known as xerography which was essentially a Xerox system that allowed the animators to copy their drawings over so that they wouldn't need to draw 99 separate puppies.

The Characters
(The Best...The Worst...The Villains...)
The film cleverly opens up with a narrator talking about living in a flat in London with his pet.  However, as we quickly find out, our omniscient voice belongs to lovable dalmatian Pongo and his "pet" is actually his owner Roger.  Through an adorable meeting (which will be detailed later), Pongo and Roger meet the respective loves of their lives, Perdita and Anita.
To me, the characters of Pongo and Perdita are pleasant enough, but aren't really given any personality to latch onto.  While this doesn't necessarily harm the film in any major way, it does provide a little disappointment.  However, fortunately, the characters of Roger and Anita are so utterly charming that it makes up for the lack of development in their dogs.  There's an exuberance to the two human main characters that I simply adored.  I found myself wishing the film focused a bit more on them than the dogs.
But perhaps 101 Dalmatians is most remembered for its quintessential villain Cruella De Vil.  Seemingly a mash-up caricature of 1950s Hollywood talent like Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis, Cruella is a hoot.  Her evil nature doesn't come from magic or dark powers, but instead simply from the tremendous desire to have a spotted fur coat made from dalmatians.  She's the comedic backbone of the film and thanks to a deliciously throaty and breathy turn from voice actor Betty Lou Gerson, the movie truly comes alive when she's onscreen.

The Music
Songs are essentially non-existent in 101 Dalmatians with the exception of a quick little ditty written by the character of Roger about the film's villain Cruella De Vil.  The number, titled "Cruella De Vil," is absolutely amusing and charming (just like the character of Roger, a struggling songwriter, himself) and it gives the audience an opinion of its title character before we even meet her.  While admittedly the film didn't really call for music, considering this lovely yet simple tune written by Mel Leven is such a hit, I wish Leven could've been given more room to shine.

My Favorite Scene
101 Dalmatians starts off so goshdarn charming that it's almost too difficult for the remainder of the film to live up to the fantastic beginning.  Pongo would love for his "pet" Roger to find the love of his life so he stares out the window of Roger's English flat looking at ladies and their dogs as they stroll by.  Upon seeing the gorgeous dalmatian Perdita, Pongo is thrilled when he discovers that that Perdita's "pet" is attractive as well.  Pongo manages to convince his master to take him for a walk during which, through a comedic turn of events, Roger meets Anita after they both fall into a murky pond in a park.  The charm on display in this "meet cute" between Roger and Anita is priceless and it's one of best moments I've seen yet in a Disney film during this Disney Discussion.

Random Thoughts
  • As the film opens and a bunch of spots come on the screen, there is absolutely a (not-so) Hidden Mickey.  Is this the company's first hidden reference to their main guy?
  • This has to contain one of the longest opening credit sequences for a Disney film clocking in at just under three minutes, forty seconds.  The jazzy music is a treat, though.
  • Cruella's red phone has a devil's head on it.
  • The pet store that is shown definitely contains two characters previously seen in Lady and the Tramp.
  • Did you know that this was the first Disney animated film to take place in the "present time?"

Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
I've got to say that I was expecting a bit more from 101 Dalmatians than I actually got.  Ultimately, as I said above, I think the main issue with the film is that its dog characters aren't exactly lighting up the screen.  Don't get me wrong -- the puppies are cute and they're well animated, but the trials and tribulations involved in their attempt to get back to Roger and Anita aren't as exciting as they really should be.  Fortunately, the human characters more than make up for any disappointment that stems from the canines.  I've mentioned that I adore Roger and Anita and that I found Cruella to be a near-perfect comedic villain.

It certainly helps that I truly enjoyed the way the film looked.  The animation is more roughly drawn, creating a less polished style, but making it seem more fitting to the modern era in which the story is taking place.  I actually loved it and found the work of the animators one of the finest aspects of the film.

I certainly didn't dislike 101 Dalmatians in any way, but it didn't register as fondly as I remembered it from my childhood.  Story-wise, the film is almost too simplistic and because of that, despite the decent rating I've given the film below, I wouldn't necessarily be elated or saddened if this had or didn't have a place in the revered Disney Pantheon.

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Join us two Wednesdays from now for The Sword and the Stone, the eighteenth film in The Disney Discussion.


  1. B- ?!?! This may very well be a top 5 Disney for me (which I don't have properly sorted) This certainly was my favorite as a child before Toy Story. I had 101 dalmatian bedsheets! I love the style of the opening credits. Lucky's infatuation with the TV is something I still quote to this day. Cruella's introduction is utterly terrifying and the way she is animated, specifically her face contortions give me goosebumps to this day.

  2. Eric -

    I was anticipating much more from this because I too remember loving this one as a kid. I loved the way it looked in terms of animation, but the humans were so much more interesting than the dogs and inherently this is a film about the dogs. Cruella is certainly a solid and rather unique villain in the Disney pantheon and I loved Roger and Anita's relationship/humor/demeanor, but with the exception of the cute scenes involving the tv (as you mentioned), too many scenes with the dogs were just "okay."