1961; Rated G; 79 Minutes
Rod Taylor: Pongo
Betty Lou Gerson: Cruella De Vil
Cate Bauer: Perdita
Lisa Daniels: Perdita
Ben Wright: Roger Radcliff
Frederick Worlock: Horace Badun
Lisa Davis: Anita Radcliff
Martha Wentworth: Nanny
J. Pat O'Malley: Colonel/Jasper Badun
Produced by Walt
Disney; Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton S. Luske
and Wolfgang Reitherman; screenwritten by Bill Peet;
based on the novel by Dodie Smith
by DAVID KEYES
"101 Dalmatians" is an unusual piece of work because it
shamelessly ruptures from the threads of common sense. Cartoons
have different rules than live action when tinkering with
stories, but here is an idea so ridiculous and absurd, it
is amazing how animators thought they could have gotten
away with it. The theory that animals can talk with human
vocabulary is unbelievable enough; imagine seeing them outwit
a viscous dog-napper, and traveling miles in the snow at
a staggering number of 101. These images are passable (sometimes),
but when Pongo, the head of the Dalmatian family, takes
inventory of his children, we jump to our feat and shout
in wonder--"Who taught these dogs to count?"
lot of the postwar Disney cartoons flourished from the same
prospects, and by the time "101 Dalmatians" followed up
with "The Sword In The Stone," those ideas had completely
consumed the animated genre. Of course, Disney died in 1967
upon completing "The Jungle Book," but he left behind a
legacy that would only force his studio to pursue new and
exciting heights. The animation department experimented
for the next few years, starting with the last approved
Disney project, "The Aristocats," and eventually ending
with what is generally considered the rebirth of animation,
"The Little Mermaid" (although 1985's "The Black Cauldron"
was the first to truly sparkle on screen). In between were
projects of poor quality and often ludicrous payoffs. Each
succeeded in their own ways, yes, but none approached the
magic of earlier Disney days, which ended in 1959 with the
masterpiece "Sleeping Beauty." "101 Dalmatians," released
in 1961, was the first to precede that classic, and, by
comparison, it is uneven, disappointing and lacking in artistic
merit. But despite flaws, we have constant admiration for
the insanely-written plot, which sets us up on a tour with
101 dogs as they make their way through cities and snow-covered
landscapes to get away from their enemy, in this case the
notorious Cruella De Vil.
story is already familiar with animation buffs. It tells
the story of Pongo and his "pet" Roger, two bachelors who,
at first glance, are happy with their lifestyle. But the
Dalmatian describes his life as "downright dull," and is
determined to find mates for both he and his owner. In one
of the film's most successful scenes, Pongo sits at a window
and examines the pairing of women/dogs, and whether or not
they qualify as successful mates for both he and his pet
(naturally, he makes up his mind simply by the dog's appearance).
At least, with this peculiar story, Pongo is willing to
admit that dogs are a poor judge of human beauty.
a few pairs pass, he finds what he is looking for. Now the
difficulty comes into play--how does Pongo bring both couples
together? Simple: Roger takes his pet for walks after five.
If Pongo manages to set the clock ahead of time, he and
Roger may very well pass the females in the park. The story
takes chances, and always gets away with them.
of these coincidences and unbelievable animal characteristics
might have failed, if it weren't for the presence of Cruella
De Vil. Cartoons of the past guarantee admiration if they
are able to attract a ruthless but well-animated villain
to the viewer. De Vil, one of the few scoundrels to actually
be female, is perhaps one of the strongest; her style as
woman in love with animal fur coats inflames us with droves
of dislike. Yet she also generates a sense of admiration,
as mishaps prevail over her diabolical plans, and she loses
sanity when the dogs have seemingly outwitted her. The pairing
of Jasper and Horace, the two hired bandits working for
Ms. De Vil, is observant as well.
animation certainly doesn't score points. Being the first
of the animated vault to use a process called "Xerox animation,"
in which animators could cut corners and copy images instead
of redrawing them, the film repeats character animations
in extreme ways. The 101 Dalmatians themselves have a dimensional
quality to them as they scurry through halls and down hills,
but the backgrounds lack depth and are filled with hard
edges. The animators might have resorted to this because
their previous production, the lavish "Sleeping Beauty,"
was budgeted 6 million dollars, and it failed to turn up
profit. This new process enabled animators to get movies
out faster, but in the process, decent stories were accompanied
by ugly and familiar animated styles. Compared to the early
days, in which characters and scenarios were hand-crafted,
these films were second-rate.
will be interesting to see how well the movie sells on DVD.
After two VHS editions, not to mention countless theatrical
re-releases, the Disney cartoon that attracted so many die-hard
animation fans has apparently gained more popularity than
it deserves. Even though it clearly doesn't deserve the
attention of the cartoon classics, like the recent release
of "Pinocchio," we understand why this is the case--because
the story's absurdity and over-the-top quality have a soggy
charm, and the characters (with the exception of the dogs)
are written with unique personalities. This isn't one of
those Disney masterpieces like "Fantasia" or "Bambi," but
it is an entertaining, observant film with enough credit
to its name to be considered recommendable.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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