Personal Overview: oh goody another dog film! That’s not sarcastic it is my actual reaction to it. My like of this one is accentuated by the fact that I read and really enjoyed both of Dodie Smith’s Dalmatian books.
Walt picked up on this one really early. The book was released in 1956 and he read it in 1957 and looked on it as a filmic possibility.
It’s a simple story and wonderfully narrated by Pongo with dashing Australian actor Rod Taylor providing the Dalmatian's vocals. I actually felt anyone with a voice like that should have had a more dignified name than Pongo. It’s a dual love story with both Pongo and Perdita meeting because of their ‘pets’ (the dogs call humans pets in a delightful inversion) and both falling in love and ‘marrying’.
It’s a kidnapping story once the evil Cruella has her henchmen steal Pongo and Perdita’s fifteen puppies. It’s rather dark really when you consider what Cruella wants to do is skin 99 Dalmatian puppies to make into coats. I’m betting she featured in more than a few nightmares for young theatre goers, especially if they had cute puppies.
I like the idea of the Twilight Barking, which is how the dogs communicate. I enjoyed the book and the film, although it wasn’t quite up to the standard of Lady and the Tramp for mine.
Hero/es: there are any number of canine heroes in this film. From the distressed Pongo and Perdita to the cat Sergeant Tibbs and the dotty old Colonel. Even the unnamed black Labrador who helps them get back home and away from Cruella.
Villain/s: Cruella, Cruella, Cruella De Vil. Even the name sends a shiver down the spine. She looks like the typical Disney villain although updated for the time. 101 Dalmatians was one of the few Disney films to actually be set in the time which it was screened. The car is delightfully over the top, and she is truly terrifying when she cruises past the shed that hides the Dalmatians with her two toned hair and those wild rolling eyes, face contorted into a rictus of suppressed rage.
Cuteness Factor: again the subject matter is naturally dripping with cute, but it’s amped up by Patch, Rolly and Lucky, the only 3 named Dalmatian puppies. They also have personalities. Patch is feisty and tough, Rolly is always hungry and Lucky is obsessed by TV.
Animation: the backgrounds are those 2D looking ones again, but they work for the setting. The dogs are well done, and must have driven the animators mad with all those spots. There were cameos from Peg and the British bulldog from Lady and the Tramp. You have to look close, but they do appear briefly. The opening credits were also animated with Dalmatian pictures. Little shout outs like that were what set Disney apart at the time.
Final Words: for me 101 Dalmatians is a winner. Audiences thought so too, which is just as well, because of Sleeping Beauty’s failure there was some thought at the company given to shutting down the animation department because it wasn’t profitable enough. Personally I don’t think this ever would have happened in Walt’s lifetime. Of course I’m a dog person, but it wasn’t just that it was about cute dogs, it’s a story about family and what parents will do for their children and to be honest what people will do for their pets.