DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: 101 Dalmatians: 2-Disc Platinum Edition

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Matt Hough, Mar 4, 2008.

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  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    101 Dalmatians: 2-Disc Platinum Edition
    Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi

    Studio: Disney
    Year: 1961
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    Running Time: 79 minutes
    Rating: G
    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


    The Film

    4.5/5

    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.

    Video Quality

    5/5

    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.

    Audio Quality

    4/5

    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.

    Special Features

    4.5/5

    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.


    In Conclusion

    4.5/5 (not an average)

    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.


    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC
     
  2. James 'Tiger' Lee

    James 'Tiger' Lee Second Unit

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    I doubt 1.33:1 is the correct theatrical aspect ratio
     
  3. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    And why do you doubt that, James?

    =======================

    Thanks for the review, Matt. You sure do make that transfer sound mighty attractive.
     
  4. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    According to studio authorities, the film was composed in 1.33:1 with suggestions to theaters who wanted to matte it. Seeing excerpts of the matted version in a couple of the featurettes gave it no breathing room at all and had some heads partially cut off at the top of the frame.

    I think they made the right call here.
     
  5. Scott-S

    Scott-S Cinematographer
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    IMDB lists the ratio at 1.75:1

    IMDB: 101 Dalmations - Main Details Page

    I don't know where they get their info, so I am willing to believe it could be wrong.

    This is by far my favorite Disney movie. Is there any chance this will end up on Blu-ray anytime soon? If it does, will it look any better than this one?
     
  6. James 'Tiger' Lee

    James 'Tiger' Lee Second Unit

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    Seems an odd thing to do but I'll buy that!
     
  7. Chris S

    Chris S Cinematographer

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    Great review! Looking forward to picking this up after I get done voting tonight. [​IMG]
     
  8. Bill Thomann

    Bill Thomann Supporting Actor

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    Great review. I agree that the pq is flawless. Plenty of nice goodies on disc two too. A worthy Platinum Edition release.
     
  9. Joe Lugoff

    Joe Lugoff Cinematographer

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    The same argument broke out over "The Jungle Book".

    I saw these movies when they were brand new, and they were shown matted, "widescreen". I have no idea why Disney supposedly designed them to be 1.33:1, but then had theaters show them at 1.75:1 or what ever widescreen ratio was used. But apparently that's just what they did!

    I think they should be put on DVD as 1.33:1, then if someone wants to watch them at 1.75:1, all they have to do is get an HDTV and hit the zoom button!
     
  10. cafink

    cafink Producer

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    "Getting an HDTV" is hardly a trivial thing. Plus, they'd lose the additional (33%) resolution afforded an anamorphic widescreen transfer. Ideally, I think the DVDs should include both aspect ratios.
     
  11. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    This would make a nice 1.78 anamorphic release
     
  12. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I wouldn't trust the IMDB too much, since they get information wrong sometimes.

    UCLA Film & TV Archive's online database listing for their circa-1961 dye-transfer 35mm print:
    [​IMG]

    I'm a bit let down that Disney continues to make their Platinum Edition releases so fluffy on supplemental content. Peter Pan didn't have much interesting content besides a commentary, a very short "making of" featurette, and some deleted scene material. This at least seems to be a little better, but I think just getting some animators and historians together would allow for a great commentary. WB does this with their animation, anyways.
     
  13. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    By the time that 101 D was released, it was almost impossible, with the exception of revival houses, to project a 35mm film in any aspect ratio other than 1.85 or 2.35.
     
  14. James 'Tiger' Lee

    James 'Tiger' Lee Second Unit

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    Yes, that's why I thought the aspect ratio was wrong for the DVD. Note that when Robin Hood came out in widescreen, ignorant folk went around screaming CROPPED!!!
     
  15. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    It's a 2-disc set. Why not give us both 1.33 and 1.66 anamorphic and let the viewer decide? Of course, if they did that, someone, somewhere would find a reason to complain.
     
  16. Shawn DuHast

    Shawn DuHast Stunt Coordinator

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    So in Cinema's Sleeping Beauty & Lady and the Tramp were released in 2.35:1 before 101 Dalmatians and after it, Jungle Book, Aristocats and Robin Hood are all 1.66/1.75:1,

    So why was/has 101 been released in 4:3????
     
  17. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    Lady and the Tramp is 2.55:1 for the CinemaScope version and 1.37:1 for the simultaneous Academy Ratio version shot at the same time. The current DVD's 4x3 version is pan & scan from the 2.55:1 instead of from the 1.37:1 version.

    Sleeping Beauty was shot in Technirama, so 35mm anamorphic prints were 2.35:1 while 70mm prints were 2.20:1.

    After that, all films unless made for television were intended to be 1.75:1 matted widescreen in theater through the 1970s. Even the live action films unless they were shot in Panavision (or the equivalent), but I think a lot of the 1970s films ended up as 1.85:1.
     
  18. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    If I'm not mistaken, Disney's upcoming re-release of THE SWORD AND THE STONE will also be 4:3.
     
  19. WadeM

    WadeM Supporting Actor

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    The Digital Bits & UltimateDisney.com is reporting The Sword and the Stone " will be included in anamorphic widescreen video (1.66:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio"

    Hopefully they'll include the original soundtrack also.
     
  20. Shawn DuHast

    Shawn DuHast Stunt Coordinator

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    So why ONLY 101 Dalmatians released 4:3????? from this era ie Sword in the Stone, Jungle Book, Aristocats, Robin Hood all widescreen re-releases and before it Sleeping Beauty & Lady and the Tramp. ALL these films been released widescreen.
     

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