101 Dalmatians

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton S. Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman
Screenplay: Bill Peet (based on the novel The One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith)
Voices: Rod Taylor (Pongo), Betty Lou Gerson (Cruella De Vil / Miss Birdwell), Cate Bauer (Perdita), Ben Wright (Roger), Fred Worlock (Horace / Inspector Craven), Lisa Davis (Anita), Martha Wentworth (Nanny / Queenie / Lucy), J. Pat O’Malley (Colonel / Jasper), Tudor Owen (Towser), Tom Conway (Quizmaster / Collie), George Pelling (Danny), Thurl Ravenscroft (Captain), David Frankham (Sgt. Tibs)
MPAA Rating: G
Year of Release: 1961
Country: U.S.
101 Dalmatians Blu-ray
101 DalmatiansEspecially at the time of its initial theatrical release in 1961, but even today, 101 Dalmatians remains one of Disney’s most modern animated films. With the exception of 1955’s Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians was the only Disney film to be set in the present time, rather than in a distant past or a fairy tale realm. The contemporary sights and sounds—not just the city of London as it was in the early 1960s, but specifics like television and mass-market advertising—give the film a decidedly modern vibe that stands in stark contrast to the incessant focus on magic and history in Disney’s previous films. It is particularly telling that 101 Dalmatians was released only a few years after Sleeping Beauty (1959), the very epitome of the lavishly mounted Disney fairy tale.

101 Dalmatians, on the other hand, lacks a sense of polish. This is not to say that it is not beautifully animated. Quite the contrary, it is one of the most visually stunning of all of Disney’s films, largely because its style is so unique and appropriate to the story. Rather than the lushness and picturesque beauty generally associated with Disney, 101 Dalmatians looks like a finely rendered cartoon from The New Yorker. It is angular and sharp, with incredibly detailed backgrounds that are given a hint of avant-garde abstraction by the painter Walt Peregoy, who never met a line he didn’t want to color outside of. No one at Disney would ever admit it, but it also seems like the film has borrowed some of its look and feel from Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes, which were frequently set in the present tense.

Based on Dodie Smith’s beloved 1956 novel, 101 Dalmatians is an anthropomorphized caper. The central characters are two Dalmatians, Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor) and Perdita (Cate Bauer), who come together when their pets (read: human owners) Roger (Ben Wright) and Anita (Lisa Davis) meet cute in the park and get married. Perdita gives birth to 15 Dalmatian puppies, which immediately catch the eye of Anita’s old schoolmate Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), a fabulously high-strung, high-fashion villainess. When Roger and Anita refuse to sell her the puppies, Cruella hires two cockney goons named Horace (Fred Worlock) and Jasper (Pat O’Malley) to dognap them, with the ultimate goal being to skin them (along with 84 other kidnapped puppies) to make Cruella a Dalmatian fur coat.

Much has been said about the role Cruella De Vil plays in the film, as she is the very definition of both scene-stealing and scenery chewing. Envisioned as a cartoon Tallulah Bankhead, she first appears on screen as a monstrous shadow through the window before the door explodes open and she cuts a swath through Roger and Anita’s conservative little house with her ridiculously long cigarette holder (that belches green smoke, natch) and enormous fur coat that hides her skeletal frame. Cruella is an inspired character, the kind who, if she didn’t exist, would need to be invented. Drawn entirely by master animator Marc Davis and voiced by Betty Lou Gerson with a luxurious perfection that barely masks her homicidal tendencies, Cruella is one of the truly unforgettable screen incarnations of the twisted forces of wealth and power. She’s not so much evil as she is wickedly determined to satisfy her own perverse desires, and when words like dahling drip from her lipless mouth, you can feel the repressed rage just waiting to explode (and explode it does). The only downside of Cruella is that she makes the other characters seem so flat, even though Roger and Anita are one of animated cinema’s most realistically affectionate couples, as are Pongo and Perdita.

While 101 Dalmatians starts out a little slow and a little too cute, in its second half it builds into a powerfully compelling extended chase as Pongo, Perdita, and the 99 Dalmatian puppies escape Cruella’s crumbling Gothic mansion and beat a hasty retreat across the frozen English countryside, aided and abetted by a four-legged underground consisting of a whole lot of dogs (some of which are making repeat appearances from Lady and the Tramp), one hilariously determined cat, and a barn full of matronly cows. The image of all these animals working together to save the innocent from depravity is the very heart of the Disney ethos, and 101 Dalmatians makes the most of it, right down to a fiery car chase along winding roads. The film’s balance of the cute (awwww … just look at all those puppies …) and the perverse (… who might be beaten to death and skinned …) is also a hallmark of classic Disney films, from the Island of Lost Boys in Pinocchio (1940) to those poor mutant toys in Toy Story (1995). The fact that 101 Dalmatians plays easily alongside both the oldest and most recent of Disney’s best is tribute to just how modern it was and continues to be.

101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD

Aspect Ratio1.33:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
  • French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
  • Subtitles English, French, Spanish
  • “Lucky Dogs” featurette
  • “Dalmations 101” featurette
  • The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt animated short
  • “The Best Doggone Dog in the World” episode of The Wonder World of Disney
  • “Redefining the Line: The Making of One Hundred and One Dalmatians” documentary
  • “Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney” featurette
  • “Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad” featurette
  • Trailers, TV spots, and radio spots
  • Deleted songs and alternate versions
  • Pop-up trivia tracks
  • Selena Gomez “Cruella De Vil” music video
  • DistributorWalt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
    Release DateFebruary 10, 2015

    When 101 Dalmatians first debuted on DVD back in 1999, the transfer was good for the time, albeit a little dull in its colors, which was improved with the 2008 Platinum Edition DVD. Seven years later, Disney has even further improved on that release with their new Diamond Edition Blu-ray, which features a nicely restored 1080p transfer that boasts bright, true colors that nicely reflect the film’s original look. The images is completely clean of artifacts or signs of age, but without being reduced to an overly digitized sheen. You can feel a real sense of warmth in the filmlike image. The Blu-ray offers the “DisneyView” option, which fills the black bars on either side of the 1.33:1 image with themed artwork, which I find terribly distracting but others apparently like since Disney keeps offering it on their releases. The newly remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel surround soundtrack is generally well balanced with good fidelity and an effective use of the surround channels in the action sequences and for the music. At times it feels a bit artificially strained, but nothing terribly noticeable. Plus, purists have the option of listening to the original monaural mix.
    For the Diamond Edition release, Disney has retained virtually all of the supplements included on the 2008 two-disc DVD set and added a few more. The best of the new supplements is “The Best Doggone Dog in the World,” a complete 1961 episode of The Wonder World of Disney television series that, of course, prominently features 101 Dalmatians. There are also two new animated featurettes: “Lucky Dogs” (9 min.), which features interviews with Disney animator Rolly Crump, ink and paint artist Carmen Sanderson, animators Burny Mattinson and Floyd Norman, and voice actress Lisa Davis about the various shortcuts (such as Xeroxing cells) Disney used to save money during the film’s production, and “Dalmatians 101” (5 min.), a kid-friendly primer on the dog breed hosted by Cameron Boyce. Also new to this release is The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt, a 2-minute animated short.

    The rest of the supplements have been drawn from the Platinum Series DVD, most of which provide in-depth background on the film for adults who grew up with it and appreciate it as more than just kiddie fare.

    “Redefining the Line: The Making of One Hundred and One Dalmatians” is a series of seven featurettes that can be played separately or together (played back to back, they run about 34 minutes total). The featurettes include interviews with Disney animators and directors past and present, Disney and animation historians, and some of the talent involved in the making of the film. The 7-minute featurette “Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad” features many of the same interview subjects discussing the creation of the infamous villainess. “Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney” is a 12-minute featurette in which the letters exchanged over the years between Walt Disney and author Dodie Smith are re-enacted, and rather cheesily I might add (it would have been much better just to have a stills gallery of the letters themselves). There are numerous trailers, TV spots, and radio ads for the film’s four major releases (1961, 1969, 1979, 1985). For those who love the music, there is an entire section of deleted, abandoned, and alternate versions of songs from the film. “March of the One Hundred and One” is a brief song that was recorded in its entirety and storyboarded, but ultimately cut, so we get to hear the complete recording set to the storyboard drawings. There are also two abandoned songs—“Cheerio, Good-Bye, Toodle-oo, Hip Hip!” and “Don’t Buy a Parrot From a Sailor”—that were recorded by composer George Bruns, but never sung by the cast. There is also an extended version and a temp version of “Dalmation Plantation,” demo recordings and alternate radio versions of “Cruella De Vil,” and alternate takes of “Kanine Krunchies,” the ridiculous television ad jingle seen in the film. Also on the disc is a music video for Selena Gomez’s modernized rock take on “Cruella De Vil.”

    Lost from the 2008 DVD are a series of games, including “Virtual Dalmatians” DVD-ROM game (which only works on PCs); the Puppy Profiler, in which you answer questions to see what kind of pet human you are; and the “One Hundred and One Dalmatians Fun With Language” game. Also lost are seven stills galleries that features Visual Development; Character Design; Layouts, Backgrounds, & Overlaps; Storyboard Art; Live-Action Reference; Animation Art; and Production Photos.

    Copyright ©2015 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    James Kendrick

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