One Hundred and One Dalmations (1961)

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Fun With Animals | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Children will no longer trust people with fur coats.

A great deal of One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ appeal comes from its point of view. From where the film’s characters stand, the world is theirs for the taking; they can take care of themselves; they have no owners; and they are certainly not pets. Forcing us to see things from a dog’s perspective is by no means unique. In fact, just six years prior, Mr. Disney had us follow The Lady and the Tramp. In many ways, this is a continuation of the same themes with the ultimate resolution suggesting that animals and humans are a complementary species (The Incredible Journey and Homeward Bound do, too). After all, wasn’t it Lady that took control of the sleeping arrangements and daily routines? And, in turn, wasn’t it Jim Dear and Darling that finally gave Tramp a roof over his head and steady meals in his belly?

Dalmatians takes it further right from the start, as the spotted pup Pongo introduces us to his bachelor flat in London and his “pet,” a pipe-puffing musician named Roger. But, as Pongo explains, the bachelor’s life is dull. So the clever Dalmatian organizes a meeting in the park with an attractive female dog and her “pet” woman.

The couples move in together, get married, Dalmations2and all seems swell. That is until a former schoolmate named Cruella De Vil bursts into their door yelling, “Dahhhling.” Followed by green clouds of cigarette smoke, the spider-like woman explains that fur coats are her “only true love” and their dogs would make “such perfectly beautiful coats, I must say.” So when she hears that the Dalmations have an amazing 15 puppies, Cruella returns with an open checkbook.

Even though Roger refuses to sell them, Cruella has two bumbling idiots steal the puppies and hide them, along with 84 other Dalmation puppies, at a distant plantation. Thus, the rescue adventure to return the puppies to their rightful homes, dozens of miles away, begins.

This is where we learn the most about Disney’s dog world, as Pongo connects with an entire network of “watchdogs,” so to speak, and the distant animals promptly respond and pass the message down the chain (even the cast of Lady and the Tramp helps out).

What sets Dalmations apart from Disney’s multitude of other dog movies is its story and one specific character. No, I’m not referring to the cutesy puppies like runt Lucky, fat Roley, or riley Patch. The limelight belongs to Cruella De Vil, who inspired an iconic song and remains one of Disney’s very best villains. I credit her for the film’s repeated success in an animated series, straight-to-video sequel, and live action versions with Glenn Close.

The film was a transition for Disney – both the studio and Walt. This would be the last film personally made and completed under Walt’s supervision and the first film made with the Xerography process. The process involved live-action footage being Xeroxed into cells and painted like those that were hand-drawn. It was a cheap route, creating a distinctly hard look with less lively, immovable backgrounds. Walt disliked the look, but had to cut the animation department down after Sleeping Beauty, an expensive failure, until computers came into play (ironically with The Rescuers, which has a similar plot).

Just think, if a friend didn’t refer to Dodie Smith’s nine Dalmatians as making “a lovely fur coat,” the playwright and novelist would have never written this story and Disney would have never adapted it. More importantly, the world would be without Cruella De Vil.

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