REVIEW: 101 Dalmatians
These days, it’s all about the Disney princesses, but Perdita is merely a dog without high pedigree. As a result, she and her mate Pongo, are often overlooked. They’re certainly overshadowed by their antagonist, the Dalmatian loving Cruella De Vil, about the chew every scene in Once Upon a Time. Thank goodness, then, that Walt Disney reminds us about the utter charm contained within their 1961 release 101 Dalmatians. Out Tuesday in a handsome Diamond Combo Pack, their 17th film holds up remarkably well.
The film arrived at a precarious time for the studio as rising costs made their animated fare very expensive. Tastes were changing and they were now competing with television for the younger eyeballs so a different approach was called for. From a technological standpoint, the arrival of Xerography allowed them to streamline the filmmaking process, reducing costs. Ub Iwerks, one of the grand animators in Walt Disney’s employ, gets the credit for finding a way to use modern technology while preserving Disney’s unique look and feel.
Then, rather than dip into fairy tales, they created their own tale with broader humor without sacrificing the heart.
In case you forgot, the story features Pongo (Rod Taylor), Perdita (Cate Bauer) and their 15 puppies. It’s a true love story, arranged through their efforts for their owners Roger (Ben Wright, with Bill Lee as his singing voice) and Anita Radcliffe (Lisa Davis) to meet. Across town, though, Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) is seeking more Dalmatians to complete her fur coat. She tries to do things aboveboard, offering to buy the pups, but even though he’s cash-strapped, Roger refuses. She then dispatches Jasper (J. Pat O’Malley) and Horace (Frederick Worlock) to steal them and things go from there.
Humans prove inept so Pongo and Perdita are determined to find their brood so, using the Twilight Bark, summon help from the neighborhood animals, including sheepdog Colonel (O’Malley), tabby cat Sergeant Tibbs (David Frankham), and gray horse Captain (Thurl Ravenscroft). By the time, Cruella is found, Scotland Yard recovers not 15 but 101 dalmatians. The film doesn’t rush through its 79 minute story, nor does it deviate from the core plot with extraneous sub-plots or songs. There is just one, “Cruella De Vil”, ostensibly penned by Roger, a struggling song writer. It’s memorable and fits the story.
The transfer is worthy of the Diamond moniker and you can watch it either at 1.33:1 or the letter boxed in Disney View. The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio is crisp and you can enjoy every yip and growl.
Disney has created four new bonus features for this edition which includes the charming “The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt” (1:48), an all-new story based on the television series seen in the film. Additionally, there’s “Lucky Dogs” (9:08) which places the film in context with on screen commentary from assistant animator Rolly Crump, ink-and-painter Carmen Sanderson, assistant animator Burny Mattison, animator Floyd Norman, executive Don Iwerks, and Lisa Davis (Anita). Disneyland’s “The Best Doggoned Dog in the Word” (51:05) episode is included and should be noted that it is an updated version of a 1957 episode, swapping out footage of Old Yeller with scenes from 101 Dalmatians (in glorious black-and-white of course). The Disney Channel’s Cameron Boyce fronts “Dalmatians 101” (5:12), the most skippable element on the two disc set. All the material from the Platinum Edition DVD is also here. These include Redefining the Line: The Making of 101 Dalmatians: Puppy Dog Tales (5:33), Howling at the Moon (3:36), New Tricks (5:16), Animation 101 (7:51), Drawing All Cars (4:12), Seeing Spots (5:45), A Dog’s Eye View (1:40), Music Video by Selena Gomez: “Cruella De Vil” (3:25), Deleted Song: “March of the One Hundred and One” (2:29), Abandoned Song: “Cheerio, Goodbye, Toodle-oo, Hip Hip!”(2:32), Abandoned Song: “Don’t Buy a Parrot from a Sailor” (2:39), Demo Recordings and Alternate Versions, and Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad (7:10), Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney (12:48).
All told, this is a slightly abbreviated package of goodies but you won’t mind too much. The sweet, entertaining film more than makes up for it and rediscovering its charm is just fine.