When I was a kid, there were periods in my life when I would literally become OBSESSED with movies (heck… I still do it today). A lot of the time when I was little, that movie would 90% of the time be Disney related. Most of the time it was animation.
101 Dalmatians is the first movie I really remember becoming OBSESSED with. I had a Dalmatian hat, complete with a face on the brow and ears hanging off the side. I had Dalmatian bedsheets (heck… I honestly still use the pillow case with Lucky’s face on it under my bird’s cage so it doesn’t scratch the dresser). I had at LEAST three stuffed animals. I just HAD to have all the McDonald’s toys. I had to have the books. I had to have EVERYTHING. To anyone who knew me in 1st or 2nd grade, I was the Dalmatian girl.
To state the obvious, I like this movie. I still do. The characters are good, the plot is exciting, the villain is awesome. And it has cute puppies. What more could you want? Is it one of my all time favorites? It’s definitely got a spot in the top 15 if not the top ten. We’ll have to see where it ends up. But it still manages to be charming.
This movie is based on a book of the same name by english author Dodie Smith. While there are a few differences between the book and the movie, they follow each other pretty closely. The story follows a Dalmatian named Pongo and his “pet” human, Roger. Roger’s a bachelor and a composer, and Pongo decides that his pet needs companionship. This leads them to meet Anita and Perdita (wow I just now figured out that those two rhyme… that’s bad), which ends in a marriage for the two humans. Soon after, Perdita gives birth to 15 puppies. At this time an old friend of Anita’s, Cruela de Vil comes to visit and wants to buy all the puppies. She’s scary and crazy and they see through her and Roger exclaims that the puppies aren’t for sale.
We bounce foreword in time a bit, and one night when the puppies are older two men named Horace and Jasper break in and steal the puppies. Forlorn, the humans try everything but cannot locate where they were taken or who took them. Pongo and Perdita try their way, starting the “twilight bark,” or almost a telephone of barking dogs to figure out where the puppies are. The message gets out to the country where an old Sheepdog named the Colonel and a cat Mr. Tibbs realize that they heard barking in “hell hall,” the old de Vil place. Tibbs goes to investigate and not only finds the 15 stolen puppies, but a whole lot more as well – 99 in all. He finds out that Cruela stole them to make coats out of them. He returns and Colonel sends a message back. Pongo and Perdita race out to the country to rescue the puppies, and Tibbs gets them out just in time. The rest of the movie is a race against Cruela and Horace and Jasper to get home without getting caught.
Like Sleeping Beauty before it, what this movie does so well is its villain. Cruela is a force to be reckoned with, and dear sweet lord is she scary. Her character design is reminiscent of a starving woman, but you don’t see it because they surrounded her in this ginormous yellowish fur coat. If you weren’t sure, this clinches it. Fur is her first and only love. She even says that in the movie. Her two toned hair, constant smoking, high heels and voice like nails on a chalkboard makes her one of the most memorable disney villains in the canon. She’s in your face, knows what she wants, and isn’t going to let anything stop her. Plus, can we mention for a moment that she was going to kill PUPPIES to make a coat? way to hit extremely low. Anyone who wants to hurt a puppy is diabolical. And creepy. I remember the day I figured out that her last name was really devil. I also remember wondering why Anita would ever have been friends with someone like her. I also still wonder what happened to her after the movie. I mean, she crashes into horace and Jasper, but… then what? do they turn her in? does she get arrested? or is she just going to try this again?
The rest of our characters are good. Our four adults, Roger & Anita and Pongo & Perdita, are good enough. This movie has a lot going for it, so it’s hard to really say they’re incredibly good characters. I like that Roger has his music thing and he’s a little goofy. I like that Pongo is a big goofy as well but is a good dad, is smart, and really cares about his kids and Perdita. Anita and Perdita are less developed, but we still get that they’re both incredibly sweet. We understand that Perdita will do anything for her puppies and is devastated when they’re taken. I don’t know that you honestly could have done much more because there are so many characters in this movie and they all needed (and got) a personality all their own.
Our next more minor characters that still manage to be memorable and have great personalities consist of our three animals at the farm: The Colonel, Tibbs, and… the horse. I have to look up his name. The Colonel is an old sheepdog, takes everything super seriously, but you can tell he’s got a few screws coming loose. He can’t hear really well, he barks orders but then goes and does funny things like tries to run on ice and doesn’t understand what Tibbs is trying to do. The Colonel has a great heart, and is willing to do anything to rescue the puppies and get them safely to their home. Tibbs the cat is honestly probably my favorite character in the movie. He takes orders from this old sheepdog, but you get the feeling he’s really the brains of the operation. He’s the one who finds out why the puppies are there, actually rescues them from the hit men (at least until Pongo and Perdita show up) and he expects order but at the same time understands they’re just kids. The horse (Captain!! I remembered it!) only has a few lines. He’s not as developed because he’s stuck in the barn, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t help.
Then we have Horace and Jasper. Cruela’s bumbling sidekicks are as stupid as they look, and in a kid’s movie, that always gets a laugh. They’re hired with doing the actual job, but don’t manage to because they want to see the end of a TV program and for some reason don’t see that all the puppies are disappearing beneath their feet. They remark while they’re chasing them that dogs aren’t as smart as they are when we see Pongo et al doing some pretty smart things. They’re trying to point out just how dumb these two are, and they do a good job. They’re funny but there’s also something scary about them, because they don’t think twice about killing and skinning the dogs. just… ugh….
The puppies are the last characters I’ll talk about, because I literally could go on and on telling you about everyone they meet, from the cows to the labrador, but that’s pointless. Of Pongo & Perdi’s 15 puppies, we get to know a few of them. By “know” i mean that these few puppies actually have names and lines. In the book most of them had names, but in the movie, they don’t. We know Rolly the fat puppy who always complains he’s hungry & Lucky the puppy who loves TV and is named Lucky because he’s the one that almost died (btw that scene is done so freaking well). Patch is the one with a black spot over his eye and is a little feisty. I guess they’ve all gotta have a gimmick. Freckles is the puppy who’s on Pongo’s head all the time, and Penny is the polite one. We apparently have a pepper, but you only hear his name and never know which one they’re talking about. After the live action movie (ugh) we had a few more puppies named, and if you go online, you’ll see a few more, but in the original movie, this was it. As a kid I latched onto Lucky and Patch. Kids are weird like that. Their favorite characters in the movie have 2 lines. Ah well.*
Switching gears, this movie has TWO songs. It’s such a change from the movies before you’d think the songs would be missed. But… they don’t. It’s kinda refreshing that the dogs don’t sing. The only song we have is a doozy though, in Roger’s “Cruela De Vil.” Now there’s a song you’ll get stuck in your head. The last one is another one of Roger’s (which is fitting because he IS a composer) called “Dalmatian Plantation.” It’s catchy too, and a good way to end the movie. I guess what I’m saying is that although I love Disney songs, this movie is BETTER because it didn’t have a lot.
Ook, here’s what I don’t like about the movie:
~ This is the first movie not to use hand drawn cells. There was a new technology and this is where Disney Animation starts to look sort of “messy.” I understand Walt liked to work in new tech, but this movie ushers in what I call the “dirty” Disney movies. You can see the line strokes as the character moves. the backgrounds aren’t quite as detailed. This would continue until the 80s, when a new technology would replace this one. Thank GOD.
~I feel like the end is rushed. I remember being a kid, and they’re singing the “Dalmatian Plantation” song and saying they’re going to keep all the dogs and buy a big house in the country. I wasn’t a stupid kid. I remember how much time they spent in the beginning setting up the fact that Roger & Anita are poor. They talk about how they’ll keep all the puppies even if it will bankrupt them. Now they’re talking about buying a huge house in the country? I know NOW that there is a line or two about how Roger sold the Cruela song (actually she just goes “That song is the best thing to happen to us; we have more money than we could have ever dreamed) and it plays on the radio. Apparently as a kid I couldn’t make that connection : they have money, the songs on the radio = he must have sold it. I dunno. It’s a stupid problem i have with the movie. I just feel like that line would have been better placed after Roger says “let’s buy a big place.” Anita could have gone. “Yes, now we can afford it because you sold that song!” I dunno. Like I said. It’s nit-picky, but I have to be like that with this movie.
101 Dalmatians is definitely worth watching if you’ve never seen it. It’s fun for kids and adults. I DO remember being scared of Cruela when I was a kid, and a few of the scenes near the end can be a bit scary. But this movie is awesome. A personal favorite.
I give 101 Dalmatians (1961) a 4 out of 5.
Up Next: The Sword and the Stone (1963)
* I was just reminded as I was searching for images of the short lived animated 101 Dalmatians. I used to watch that. I’m ashamed…