'101 Dalmatians (Two-Disc Platinum Edition)'
(Rod Taylor, Betty Lou Gerson, et al / 2-Disc DVD / G / (1961) 2008 / Disney)
Overview: Back in 1961, Walt Disney got a little hip with 101 Dalmatians, making use of that flat Saturday morning cartoon style that had become so popular. The result is a kitschy change in animation and story. Pongo and Perdita are two lonely dalmatians who meet cute in a London park and arrange for their pet humans to marry so they can live together and raise a family. They become proud parents of 15 pups, who are stolen by the dastardly Cruella De Vil, who wants to make a fur coat out of them. Cruella has become the most popular villain in all of Disney; she's flamboyantly nasty and lots of fun. But it's the dalmatians who shine in this endearing classic, particularly those precocious pups.
DVD Verdict: "101 Dalmatians" may be the most unfairly slighted of Walt Disney's 'classic' animated films, as this dog-napping adventure literally saved the studio, introduced the ultimate Disney villainess, Cruella De Vil, and ushered in a visually graphic 'style' that would set the industry standard for a decade. Oh, and it's great FUN, too!
Based on Dodie Smith's 1956 novel (inspired by her own Dalmatian pets), Disney knew it would be a 'natural' for the screen, at a time when he desperately needed a blockbuster. Despite the huge success of "Cinderella", in 1950, the decade, with the studio's resources stretched between both live and animated features and shorts, television, and the opening of Disneyland, had been a costly one, and the skyrocketing cost of producing animation, after a string of less successful cartoons (culminating in the failure of "Sleeping Beauty"), threatened to curtail any future animated films.
It was a desperate time (most of the major studios were shutting down their animation departments, and the 'limited animation' of Hanna-Barbera, which Disney detested, appeared to be the 'future' of cartoons), and he turned to production manager Ken Anderson to find a way to make the film cost-effective while maintaining the 'Disney' look.
Anderson's solutions didn't please Walt, but would create a film revolutionary in style, and far less expensive to produce. Utilizing xerox technology to copy original artwork directly onto cels, he eliminated the huge staff of painters who had traditionally inked and colored each frame. The line work had a scratchier quality, which he complimented by more stylized, linear backgrounds, with splashes of color.
As the story would be the first 'contemporary' Disney feature (with far less music, and a more dramatic plot), the new 'look' worked perfectly (especially in the brilliant conception of the scene-stealing De Vil, who quickly achieved 'legendary' status among Disney villains). The technique did have shortcomings (the climactic chase between De Vil's hot rod and a Dalmatian-filled moving van, as she plows into a snow bank, looks artificial, particularly as snow covers her car), but the film, as a whole, was an astonishing achievement.
Despite Walt's misgivings, the film was exactly the blockbuster the studio needed, becoming the top-grossing film of 1961, and, for years, the highest grossing animated film of all time. Critically praised, it became such a fan favorite that it was re-released frequently, always successfully. Blessed with a rich, funny plot, unforgettable characters, and 101 of the cutest dogs you'll ever see, it certainly has earned a place beside "Snow White", Pinocchio", "Bambi", and "Cinderella".
While I wish somebody had invited Rod Taylor (the voice of Pongo) to share his experiences of the production, I was blown away by the extraordinary quality of image and sound of this remastered edition, and enjoyed the second disc of special features (did you know TWO actresses voiced Perdita?) This 2-Disc Platinum Edition is an absolute ESSENTIAL for every Disney collection! This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of:
101 Pop-Up Trivia Facts for The Family
101 Pop-Up Trivia Facts for The Fan
"Cruella De Vil" Music Video by Selena Gomez
For "The Humans:" Backstage Disney
Redefining the Line: The Making of One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Cruella De Vil: Drawn to be Bad - Featurette
"Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney"
Trailers, Radio & TV Spots
For "The Dogs:" Games & Activities
Disney Virtual Dalmatians (DVD-ROM)
101 Dalmatians Fun with Language Game