Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 79 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish, French; 1.0 mono English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: March 4, 2008
Review Date: March 4, 2008
To my mind, 101 Dalmatians is the last of the true classic Disney animated features and was not surpassed by another animated Disney film until The Little Mermaid over a quarter of a century later. Its undeniable quality, an animated thriller matched only in tension and heart by Pinocchio, found a ready audience in 1961 and in all of its subsequent theatrical reissues. In fact, for years it ranked as the studio’s highest grossing animated feature. Revisiting it now after an absence of several years proves that the film has lost none of its charm, humor, or thrills. It truly deserves the Platinum Series treatment it receives with this release.
Pongo (Rod Taylor) and Perdita (Cate Bauer), two noble London Dalmatians, are delighted when their pet humans Roger (Ben Wright) and Anita (Lisa Davis) are married, and the family soon adds fifteen adorable Dalmatian puppies to its number. There’s danger lurking, however, in the evil person of Anita’s old schoolmate Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) who adores fur coats and desires to have one made from Dalmatian puppy fur. She’s sure her old, poor friend Anita will let the fifteen pups do for a start, and she has plans of purchasing every other Dalmatian puppy she can get her hands on to fulfill her heart’s desire. When her friend refuses to part with the puppies, however, Cruella has her henchmen Horace (Fred Warlock) and Jasper (J. Pat O’Malley) steal the dogs and keep them under wraps on her old family estate in the country until the proper time arrives that they can be skinned for her new coats. The pups’ only chance is to escape from the evil clutches of these fiends, and for that they’re going to need a lot of help.
The stylized look chosen for 101 Dalmatians met with some criticism at the time of the original release, but hindsight has enabled us to see its quality and appreciate it apart from the more naturalistic animation of Bambi or Peter Pan. It’s a look as individual as the story itself, a dogs’ eye view of the world with highly static backgrounds and humans often grotesquely limbed and clothed. And the Xerox process perfected by longtime Disney contributor Ub Iwerks used to make the handling of all those spotted dogs feasible works to perfection allowing the animators to invest time and talent into giving many of these puppies real personalities paired with some terrific voice casting.
Rod Taylor was just coming into his own stardom around the time of this release, and he makes a sincere and steady Pongo, but the hit of the movie has to be the Tallulah Bankhead-esque vocal histrionics of Betty Lou Gerson as Cruella. The witchiest non-witch in the history of the Disney animated features, she’s a nightmarish delight sweeping into a room with her venal green cigarette smoke trailing along behind her, bowling over everyone in sight with her opinions and desires. And her huge red limousine careening around the countryside fits her oversized personality to perfection, barreling along ready to mow anyone or anything down that gets in her way.
101 Dalmatians relies less on songs than any other Disney animated movie up to that time. There are three numbers, but only one will stay with you: “Cruella De Vil” will haunt your psyche for days after watching this movie for the first or the one hundred and first time. As for the rest of the movie, the breathless escape from the potential killers makes for a really tense number of climactic sequences, and the brilliant plotting by Bill Peet (based on Dodie Smith’s original book) keeps audience pulses racing as the escapees somehow manage to foil their own attempts continuously and must find other ways to elude capture. Mention should also be made of the most imaginative opening credits in Disney feature history up to that time. Superb animation, terrific voice acting, and a superlatively thrilling story combine to make 101 Dalmatians a true treasure in the Disney canon.
The film’s original 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is reproduced faithfully in this latest DVD transfer. The film has never looked better with outstanding sharpness, not a hint of dirt or debris, colors as true, deep, and solid as they’ve ever been, no banding, and blacks that are never crushed and whites that never bloom. Some may object to the absolutely pristine look with such razor sharp lines and no film grain at all, but the viewer will become so deeply drawn into the world created here that such complaints should be easily and quickly forgotten. It’s an incredible job of cleaning and restoring the film to absolute video perfection. The film is divided into 16 chapters.
The new Dolby Digital 5.1 (enhanced home theater) sound mix impressively updates the original mono track with George Bruns' music well balanced between the fronts and rears, and some discreet sounds (barking and other country sounds) also getting the surround treatment with some nice use of the LFE channel as well. Occasionally, reminders of the original mono mix remain (as when barks in the distance emanate from the center channel rather than from one of the surrounds or the background score shares the center channel with speaking voices), but the update is an overall excellent job. For purists, the original mono track has been cleaned up and is provided as an audio selection.
Each disc in this two disc set contains bonus items.
On disc one, there is no audio commentary (which is much missed). However, the viewer has the option of turning on either of two pop-up trivia tracks, one dealing mostly with trivia concerning the background of the original story written by Dodie Smith. The second track is more oriented toward the feature film such as which directors supervised which sequences and other interesting tidbits. There are 202 pop-up facts (101 for each of the tracks), and they work seamlessly while the film plays.
A new music video of “Cruella De Vil” is performed by Selena Gomez. The 4:3 video is 3½ minutes long and presents the song with a much harder rock edge than the way it’s performed in the movie.
Previews for such upcoming Disney releases as The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, Tinker Belle, Wall-E, and The Jungle Book 2 are presented.
Disc two contains the majority of the bonus features.
“Redefining the Line:The Making of 101 Dalmatians” is a 34-minute paean to the film by current Disney animation personnel along with archived interviews with many of the people responsible for making it. The documentary is divided into seven segments which can be viewed together or individually and is presented in nonanamorphic widescreen. (Incidentally, the clips from the film are also cropped in this feature showing the wisdom of presenting the movie in 4:3 for this video release.)
“Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad” is offered as a separate featurette on its own apart from the previous documentary. It’s 7 minutes spent mostly with animator Marc Davis talking about his work on this legendary villainess and testaments from Disney animators then and now as to his greatness. We also see some stills of actress Mary Wickes who did the live action reference footage for the animators.
“Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney” is an interesting feature on the correspondence between Walt and original author Dodie Smith with excerpts from their back and forth communications over a period of years during the production of the movie. This 4:3 feature runs 12½ minutes.
A parade of trailers and radio spots are grouped together in one section. There are trailers and TV spots for the 1961 original release (3 total), 1969 reissue (4 total), 1979 reissue (4 total), and one 1985 reissue trailer. There are 3 radio spots of varying lengths for the 1961 release, 6 for the 1969 reissue, and 3 for the 1979 reissue.
A stills gallery featuring seven different sections dealing with such themes as artwork for the film, background shots of the artists at work, live action footage, and character designs can be selected and stepped through by the user.
The Music & More section deals with the six songs that were either used in the film or written and discarded at various stages of the production. The deleted song (“March of the One Hundred and One”) features the original dialog and singing audio track and the storyboards for the sequence. Two other cut songs are presented in demo form. For the three songs that actually appear in the movie, each has demo versions plus numerous takes of various actors attempting to put down suitable recordings. Most interesting here is “Cruella De Vil” which features actor Ben Wright trying to do his own singing as Roger. We then get several takes of famed voice double Bill Lee first trying to mimic Wright’s British accent and then opting to sing in his own voice.
The Games & Activities section features a DVD-ROM game in which various dogs can be selected and taught tricks and played with in various ways. It can be played on a PC or a Mac. There is also a sampler on the disc so the user can see what the game will be like before inserting it into his computer.
A Puppy Profiler is an activities section where the user can answer a series of multiple choice questions to see what kind of dog he’d be and which famous Disney characters he’d be paired with.
Fun with Language Games offer very rudimentary reading skills activities for the very young to read words and find objects represented by the words.
One of the true classics of Disney animation, 101 Dalmatians arrives in a handsome DVD set worthy of its pedigree. Though it does lack a commentary, just about every other bonus feature for the set has been offered, and one is grateful that the film itself has been handled so lovingly with both sterling picture and sound worthy of the finest of Disney’s efforts.