As far as animal movies, perhaps the dog is best suited for the role. They are man’s best friend after all so we must share some sort of connection with them. Dogs are intelligent, they’re active, they thrive on relationships, they like to eat. Except for the lack of talking, the sometimes questionable places in which to use the washroom and the obvious appearance issue, humans and dogs really are a lot alike. But dogs have the inherent cute factor as well. And what dog is cuter and more elegant than the Dalmatian?
Disney’s 101 Dalmatians could have easily suffered from excess and overkill given the shear size of the titular cast. But thanks to a couple of choice pooches and a genuinely dastardly villain, “cute and cuddly” pretty much sums up this canine caper – once you get past the idea of a lady looking to make a coat out of Dalmatian puppies.
Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor) and Perdita (Cate Bauer) are perhaps the perfect canine couple. Pongo is an active go-getter while Perdita is more the laid back type, a quiet warrior who acts more on common sense than compulsion. With the birth of their puppies, they’ve got a good thing going. But there’s no conflict in that. Enter Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), one of the most flamboyant villains in the Disney animation canon. She’s pretty scary in her own right, but there’s also the fact that she’s looking to make a piece of Dalmatian outer wear. And for Dalmatian outer wear you need Dalmatians And since people won’t normally hand over their puppies to be made into a coat, Cruella must resort to stealing them.
After Pongo and Perdita’s litter is dog napped, they set forth on an adventure to get them back. With a little help from some friends, the quest becomes hairy and crazy like only a Disney cartoon can. For the most part, that’s a good thing.
101 Dalmatians works largely because of its memorable characters. Disney can use all the wicked witches and hook-handed pirates they want, but it’s the very human Cruella that is the most gruesome in my books. To me she’s along the lines of a cannibalistic granny found in the real fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel. She’s creepy beyond belief and there’s a fierce side that any candidate for America’s Next Top Model should take notice of.
Besides Cruella, several of the canine characters also stand out. The Dalmatian puppies are each given their own personality to appeal to most types. There’s also the dogs that Pongo and Perdita meet along their journey. A couple are a little simplistic but for the rest they’re make for a rich pooch world.
Towards the end of the film I found 101 Dalmatians to be a little repetitive as the locations seemed to go more back and forth and back again. It led to something of a déjà vu feeling at a couple of points.
Still, 101 Dalmatians is rich in character and attitude, most notably for its villain that ranks among the all-time best, not just in Disney films but all films. The rest is a fun enough affair that will likely delight most children and mildly amuse their families.
101 Dalmations DVD Review
Disney’s two-disc Platinum Edition release looks absolutely remarkable. The picture (full screen format) has been fully restored and looks vibrant and clear. Audio comes with an enhanced Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix in English with optional tracks in French and English. Subtitles are also available in these three languages.
Although the feature doesn’t include a commentary track, there are two different trivia tracks, one for “families” and one for “fans”. These are done via pop-up bubbles. Disc one also has a new music video for the song “Cruella De Vil” by Selena Gomez.
Perhaps the two most interesting bonus features are two featurettes. “Redefining the Line: The Making on 101 Dalmatians” runs more than 30 minutes and explores several aspects of the film’s production and place in history as new animation technology took over amid rising costs. “Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad” is a dedicated look at the seminal villain. “Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney” is an interesting take on the creation of the film. It’s centered around a dramatic recreation of the correspondence shared by Walt Disney and the book’s author Dodie Smith.
Six different songs are presented as either deleted, abandoned or alternate versions. The DVD also includes a handful of games and children’s activities. The Virtual Dalmatians application is available in its full form via DVD-ROM or as a sample on set-top DVD players. It’s pretty basic in that you click buttons to “play” with a puppy but the little ones will likely get a kick out of it. Puppy Profiler is a questionnaire that pairs people with appropriate dogs. Finally, there’s a Fun With Language Game. It’s a little educational but the voice speaks far too slowly, even though it appears to be intended for those learning English for the first time.
This release also includes trailers, radio spots, TV spots, an art gallery and a handful of previews for other Disney DVDs and features.
101 Dalmations Gallery