The next Disney animated movie in our ongoing review is 101 Dalmatians. Wait, didn’t Disney just do an animated movie about dogs not long before this one? Lady and the Tramp was released only six years previously. Oh, well. Unlike that movie, this one made the humans more prominent, and not just in the background and seen from the dogs’ perspective. Still, it really is primarily from the point of view of the canines. The plot involves two dalmatians named Pongo and Perdita, who belong to (or, in their own view, keep as pets) a human couple named Roger and Anita. They have fifteen puppies, which attracts the attention of Anita’s old schoolmate, the thoroughly nasty and fur-obsessed Cruella de Vil. Her plan is to make a fur coat out of dalmatian puppies, which really isn’t such a good idea even when you put aside the cruelty issue. As Beth pointed out, wouldn’t it smell of wet dog if you wore it in the rain? Cruella is a different sort of villain from many of the ones we’ve seen in other Disney films, completely without compassion yet with a plot that’s rather small-time in the grand scheme of things.
Anyway, when Roger and Anita refuse to sell the puppies, she sends the brain-dead goons Horace and Jasper to steal them. These two are a very slapstick pair, and I remember being amused by their antics when I first saw this film at the age of eight. I guess their bumbling kind of distracts from how dark the plot really is. I get the impression that even Horace and Jasper, as mean as they are, are a bit reluctant to go through with killing the puppies, considering how they keep putting it off.
I have to say that one of my favorite parts of this movie is the network of dogs, sometimes assisted by other animals, who help Pongo and Perdita find their puppies when the human police fail. I suppose one lesson the film teaches is that, if your dog is barking uncontrollably in the middle of the night, they might actually be relaying an important message. Or maybe they just saw a bird, but you never know. The dalmatians are helped along the way by a bloodhound, a sheepdog called the Colonel, a cat named Sergeant Tibbs (let’s hear it for a cartoon movie where cats and dogs are on the same side), a collie, and a Labrador Retriever.
It’s also worth noting that one of the dogs relaying the message is a Scottie who looks exactly like Jock from Lady and the Tramp. There are apparently other cameos in that scene as well.
The bloodhound kind of looks and sounds like Trusty, but not exactly. The title comes in when it turns out Cruella has also captured eighty-four other dalmatian puppies, which makes me wonder why she’s so desperate for those extra fifteen. The movie ends with all hundred and one coming to Roger’s house to be adopted, leaving open the question of how he and Anita will afford to care for them. Cruella actually raises this question when there are only fifteen puppies. We know Roger is a songwriter, but does Anita have a job? I get the impression that they’re not supposed to have that much money, yet somehow they can afford a maid.
For a movie featuring a songwriter, it’s really pretty low on songs. The main one we do get is Roger’s composition about Cruella, which we hear on the radio toward the end. Since she’s a private citizen, couldn’t that be considered slander? Roger also sings a bit of another song, “Dalmatian Plantation,” when deciding to adopt the extra puppies. As for animation, there’s definitely a different style here than on earlier Disney features, and I don’t know that I like it as much. One thing I noticed is that, while the backgrounds are detailed, they look more like paintings than real parts of the scene. I understand that Walt didn’t like the style that much either, but the studio was forced to do this one for less money. On the positive side, I think this is the first Disney animated film to show television, and we get a few different styles used to show what’s on the tube.
This movie spawned not only a direct-to-video animated sequel, but also a live-action remake and a sequel to that, as well as a cartoon series. Mind you, I haven’t seen any of them, but I still feel I should mention them. I’m still thinking I might force myself to watch the direct-to-video sequels when I’m done with the official features, but there’s still a way to go before I have to make that decision.