In 1961, Walt Disney Studios was riding on a creative high after releasing the masterpiece “Sleeping Beauty” in 1959. Unfortunately, they weren’t riding on a financial one at the same time. Their last film had indeed been outstanding, but it didn’t make a lot of money, and animation was incredibly expensive at the time. Looking to give it one more go, and utilizing a new method of reproducing drawings, the studio turned to a little book called “101 Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith as the source for their next project.
The story tells of Roger (Voice of Ben Wright) and his Dalmatian, Pongo (Voice of Rod Taylor), who fall in love with Anita (Voice of Lisa Davis) and her Dalmatian, Perdita (Voice of Cate Bauer). Not long after, Perdita gives birth to a litter of 15 puppies, all of which Cruella De Vil (Voice of Betty Lou Gerson), an old “friend” of Anita’s, wants to buy from them. A stern refusal from Roger forces the irate Cruella to resort to the drastic measure of sending in two bumbling burglars, Jasper (Voice of J. Pat O’Malley) and Horace (Voice of Frederick Worlock), to get them for her. When all human resources fail to get the puppies back, it’s left up to the dogs to find out what happened to them. Utilizing an extensive communications network, Pongo and Perdita must locate the puppies and bring them home before the evil Cruella and her henchmen turn them into fur coats.
“101 Dalmatians” is another in a long, long line of distinguished, enduring classics that continues to find new viewers with every generation. The film is over 50 years old now, but still as endearing to audiences today as it was back then, but what is it that’s made it so? As usual, much of the love stems from a gripping and exciting story: a whole boatload of puppies are in danger of being killed so that a psychotic woman can turn them into her latest fashion accessory, and it’s up to the parents of 15 of them (along with several helpful friends) to rescue them. It’s one of those tales where you just can’t help but root for good to overcome (a standard Disney staple).
Of course, this story wouldn’t be complete without the other vital element: an unforgettable villain. Like Maleficent of “Sleeping Beauty,” Cruella De Vil is an antagonist that one doesn’t forget easily. Her domineering presence, her harsh voice, and the swirls of green smoke emanating from her pink cigarettes set her up as unlikable from the start, and it only gets worse when we learn of her plan. With both sides established, the audience gets treated to a journey that is filled with some laughs, mystery, and many thrills as the titular pups try to make their way home while avoiding their pursuers. As enjoyable for adults as it is for kids, “101 Dalmatians” remains a great entry in Disney’s animated filmography that, like many of their films, will continue to delight audiences for many years to come.
“101 Dalmatians” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.33:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that makes the film look as good as new. The film may be 54 years old, but it’s been cleaned up very nicely, presenting an image that is wonderfully sharp and clear. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio gives new life to the soundtrack, allowing you to hear the dialogue, score, and, of course, the classic song “Cruella De Vil” in perfect quality. Overall, the film has been given outstanding treatment leaving no room for complaint.
The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt
Walt Disney Presents “The Best Doggoned Dog in the World”
Redefining the Line: The Making of 101 Dalmatians
Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad
Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney
What we get with the extras is a combination of old and new featurettes, but unfortunately, even with all of them combined, there are really only two that are worth checking out: “Lucky Dogs” and “Redefining the Line.” Both of these delve into the making of the film, featuring interviews with several Disney veterans, who discuss such topics as how the animation process changed when a new photocopying method was introduced. Sadly, the other featurettes are either directed at kids or don’t really have anything particularly interesting to be learned from them.
Featuring a gripping story, beautiful animation, and an unforgettable villain, “101 Dalmatians” remains one of Disney’s great enduring classics that has stood the test of time. Along with many other works that the studio has produced, it continues to find new fans with each generation thanks to its universal appeal (again, how could you not root for these puppies to find their way home?), and just like those other works, it will continue to live on for a very long time to come.