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101 Dalmatians (1961)

Disney DVD
DVD Released: 3/4/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/17/2008

Any time a trend from the past suddenly becomes hip again (especially in fashion), someone will say, "Everything old is new again." This saying rarely applies to movies, which are a medium which is constantly modernizing. Take the Disney animated films for example. While they all share some core values, the movie have certainly evolved over the years, and those made today do not look like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. "Everything old is new again" doesn't apply here. If anything, we should say, "Every generation has their own definition of classic". Which brings us to the 1961 Disney offering 101 Dalmatians.

101 Dalmatians is set in London (in the 1950s?), and is narrated by Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor), a Dalmatian who lives with his "pet" Roger (voiced by Ben Wright), a lonely musician. Pongo determines that both he and Roger need a mate, so he drags his "pet" to the park, where they meet a female Dalmatian, Perdita (voiced by Cate Bauer) and her "pet", Anita (voiced by Lisa Davis). Anita and Roger soon fall in love and marry -- with the same going for Pongo and Perdita...in doggy terms. Not long after, Perdita becomes pregnant. Enter Anita's acquaintance from school, Cruella De Vil (voiced by Betty Lou Gerson), a chain-smoking beast of a woman who is very curious about the puppies. When the litter of 15 is finally born, Cruella offers to buy the lot, but Roger refuses. Cruella swears her revenge. Just as the family is settling in, two goons break into the house and steal the puppies. Using their canine contacts, Pongo and Perdita are soon on the case, and quickly learn that Cruella is behind the kidnapping. But, what does she want with those adorable puppies?

When we speak of modern-day animated movies from Disney, we often refer to them as "family films", not only because of their content, but because they contain material which will appeal to the entire family. Many still consider these movies to be solely for children, but most contain sly jokes and references aimed squarely at adults. The same can't be said for some of the older films. Some of them are so straight-forward and free of whimsy that children may be bored. With 101 Dalmatians on the other hand, we get a story which is so simple and free from surprises, that adults may find their minds wandering. Breaking down the above synopsis, the movie can be broken down to people and dogs meet and fall in love, bad woman wants puppies, bad woman takes puppies, doggy parents work with other dogs and a cat to save puppies. And that's it. There are no plot twists or elaborations on any of that. And there's no character development with secondary characters who are introduced in the latter half of the film.

But, this isn't to say that the movie isn't without its charms. The movie takes the common theme of anthropomorphism in Disney films and turns it on its ear. Pongo, Perdita, and the other animals can talk to each other, but not to the humans. However, as the narrator, Pongo is presented as the epicenter of the story and it's implied that he's the most intelligent character. There's no denying the fact that the puppies are cute and there's a nice diverse nature to the other animals who are presented in the third act. And for a Disney film which isn't a musical, the Cruella De Vil song is unforgettable.

So, is 101 Dalmatians a classic? I don't know. It's certainly one of those movies that everyone has seen and they recognize Cruella De Vil, but I don't think that the movie has stood the test of time. The pacing is incredibly slow at times, and the chase scene in the third act seems to go on forever. Today's youngsters wouldn't find Cruella's demeanor scary, but they'd be offended by her smoking and her desire to hurt animals. As for my kids, they watched a few minutes and left the room. 101 Dalmatians has its moments, but it's definitely in the second tier of Disney animated films.

101 Dalmatians can be easily spotted on DVD courtesy of Disney DVD. This newly released 2-disc set replaces the previous, long out-of-print DVD release from way back in 1999. The DVD features a new digitally restored transfer, which is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. (Is this the OAR?) We often hear the term "restored" thrown around, but it's easy to believe here, as the pictures looks very good. The first thing which one notices is the absence of any noticeable grain, black spots, or dirt on the image. Someone did a great job of cleaning up this movie! The second thing which leaps off of the screen are the colors. The colors are very rich and true, especially the reds. Of course, those black and white dogs look fine as well. Those familiar with older Disney films will also note the absence of the random lines which usually inhabit the faces of some characters. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Unlike many "newly created" 5.1 tracks, this one actually offers some surround sound and stereo effects -- not an abundance, mind you, but enough for the listener to realize that it is surround sound. The music sounds fine and there's no hiss during the silent passages.

The 101 Dalmatians 2-disc set contains several extras. On Disc 1, the viewer can choose to watch the film with either "101 Pop-up Trivia Facts for the Family" or "101 Pop-up Trivia Facts for the Fan", both of which offer a great deal of info about the movie. Disc 1 also contains the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Cruella De Vil" by Selena Gomez.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. "Redefining the Line: The Making of One Hundred and One Dalmatians" (34 minutes) explores the changes in the animation process which were introduced with the film. Through interviews with past and present animators, we learn about the groundbreaking changes used in the movie and how the story represented a departure for Disney. In "Cruella De Vil: Drawn to be Bad" (7 minutes), animators and historians discuss the impact and influence of the villainous character. "'Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney'" (13 minutes), documents correspondence between Disney and author Dodie Smith. The DVD boasts 5 Trailers and 7 TV Spots, along with 3 Radio Spots. There are 7 ART GALLERIES. The "Music & More" Section contains six songs -- one deleted, two abandoned, two demos, and one alternate track.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long