101 Dalmatians [DVD]
Director : s Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton S. Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman
Screenplay : Bill Peet (based on the novel The One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith)
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 1961
Especially 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 kind of 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 a truly 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 Platinum Edition Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 4, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|When 101 Dalmatians first debuted on DVD back in 1999, the transfer was good for the time, albeit a little dull in its colors. This new two-disc Platinum Edition DVD is a significant improvement in both video and audio. The image was been completely restored, with much brighter, truer colors that better reflect its 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. There is some controversy with the aspect ratio, though. As with the previous release, it is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, which surprises me since other post-1953 Disney animated films have been released on DVD in their widescreen theatrical aspect ratios. It is possible that 101 Dalmatians originally screened in the Academy aspect ratio, but I find that somewhat doubtful (the Internet Movie Database lists its theatrical aspect ratio as 1.75:1). However, the compositions look okay in 1.33:1, so the only real loss is the anamorphic enhancement we would get with widescreen. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is very nicely balanced with good fidelity and an effective use of the surround channels in the action sequences.|
|Like the other initial limited edition releases of Disney’s classic animated films, the 1999 DVD of 101 Dalmatians was almost entirely lacking in any supplemental material, a problem that this new Platinum Series edition heartily repairs. The supplements included here are nicely balanced between games and goodies that will appeal to little ones and 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). The extensive collection of stills is divided into seven different galleries: Visual Development; Character Design; Layouts, Backgrounds, & Overlaps; Storyboard Art; Live-Action Reference; Animation Art; and Production Photos. 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.
The kids in the house will like the music video for Selena Gomez’s modernized rock take on “Cruella De Vil,” as well as the “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” games, which are clearly designed for very young children.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment