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Directed By:
Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske, & Clyde Geronimi
Produced By: Walt Disney
Based On: Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmatians
Premiered On:
January 25, 1961
Distribution By:
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

101 Dalmatians, and yes I’m quite aware that it is technically supposed to be spelled out but I’d much rather save space, is a film whose story sounds rather simple but is one that I can wholeheartedly say I’ve yet to find anything even remotely similar. The tale begins with a young man named Roger whom together with his Dalmatian, Pongo, who happens to spot a young lady named Anita and her Dalmatian, Perdita. Pongo, realizing that this is the best chance to get his human a mate, and with the added bonus of one for himself too, manages to get the two humans to meet and interact with each other.

It’s love at first collide and the two pairs are tied together in holy matrimony faster than you can blink. We quickly move on ahead to Perdita giving birth to not one, not four, but fifteen puppies in all. However, the happy moment is swiftly spoiled with the arrival of an old “friend” of Anita’s named Cruella de Vil, or as Perdita knows her “Devil Woman.” Cruella is positively ecstatic over the birth of the puppies though she’s initially horrified at the sight of them being with spots.

She says that she’ll buy them all but Roger and Anita both refuse her offer and she leaves with quite a rage. A few weeks go by before Cruella’s henchmen, Jasper and Horace, bungle their way into the Radcliffe home and burgle away the fifteen puppies. Despite their near incompetency, Scotland Yard is unable to find the pair and so Pongo and Perdita utilize the “Twilight Bark,” a canine equivalent to a gossip line.

Word eventually reaches a sheepdog named Colonel, his feline compatriot Sergeant Tibbs, and equine buddy Captain. The three investigate and its old Tibbs that finds the fifteen puppies plus eighty-four more in the old de Vil place, appropriately named Hell Hall. It’s there that Tibbs, and eventually Pongo and Perdita, learn of Cruella’s plan to make a fur coat out of the 99 Dalmatian puppies and thus it’s a race against time to rescue the puppies.

I’d say more of the film’s ending but really, it’s got to be seen to be believed, especially when one considers how utterly and maniacally insane Cruella de Vil actually is, especially when it comes to her getting what she wants.

Rather surprisingly, at least for me at any rate, it was 101 Dalmatians that helped to successfully pull Disney out of the financial, ahem, setbacks that resulted from Sleeping Beauty’s higher production costs. Aside from being a box office hit, the film utilized many inexpensive animation techniques, like xerography, which is in itself a dry photocopy technique.

Basically, rather than having the artists original drawings having to be redrawn onto the animation cels, they were printed directly onto them, removing a major step in the coloring process. This technique was used for a little over twenty-eight years and well over twenty different films, some of them even being films from other studios like The Ballade of the Daltons and The Land Before Time.

As to the original story compared to the film, I will first go on the record saying that Dodie Smith’s dream had actually come true when not even a year after it was published, Walt Disney himself had read it and promptly acquired the rights to make it into a film. I shan’t lie, I’m more than a wee bit envious of Miss Smith in that regard. Anyway, as to the differences, there’s really only a few to be worth mentioning and even then, so few people have actually read the book, never mind actually knowing there was one in the first place, that it hardly matters.

Regardless, the biggest, and likely most major, of changes between the book and film is tied directly with Perdita. In the novel, Perdita was actually a sort of canine wet nurse found and rescued to help care for the many Dalmatian puppies that were born of Pongo and his mate, Missis. In the book, there were 97 puppies with the wet-nurse Perdita and her mate Prince together with Pongo and his Missis to make the total 101 Dalmatians. There was also a surprising subtraction in the film, a cat belonging to Cruella.

A cat who positively and absolutely loathed her with a passion to make the bowels of Hell itself seem tame by comparison because Cruella, ever true to her idea that animals are worthless beyond their fur, had every single one of her cat’s many litters drowned.

… Wow. Hard to believe that the film version of Cruella is actually tamer than the book version…

Contrary to most Disney animated films that has songs in them, 101 Dalmatians has one of the fewest with a meager three with only one actually having any part in the overall story. That of course being the song that got Roger his major score and provided the funds for the family to acquire enough land to house well over a hundred Dalmatians. That song of course being the popular “Cruella de Vil,” a song that Roger created to express his utter disdain for his wife’s old schoolyard chum.

Overall, I give 101 Dalmatians a solid four out of five. It’s a good film, great even for its animation and storytelling, but… Again, much like Lady and the Tramp, it appeals more to the avid dog lovers, particularly those whom favor Dalmatians. Cruella is a rather frightful individual for the young, particularly when she goes full rage on or off the road. That and I shan’t lie, looking that many puppies at once makes one’s eyes go sore from trying, and failing, to count them all.