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101 Dalmatians

(1961) *** 1/2 G
79 min. Buena Vista. Director: Hamilton Luske. Cast: J. Pat O'Malley, Rod Taylor, Betty Lou Gerson, Cate Bauer, Frederick Worlock.


The 1961 animated feature One Hundred and One Dalmatians (a.k.a. 101 Dalmatians) found Disney tightening its belt following 1959's pricy flop Sleeping Beauty. In Disney Animation history, 101 Dalmatians remains known as the crossroads at which the innovation of Xerox photography halved the production budget at the cost of Walt's aesthetic approval. But then and now, Disney fans of all ages have thrilled to the animation-ambitious sight of the titular pack, and chilled at the villainy of mad diva Cruella De Vil.

Adapted by Bill Peet from Dodie Smith's novel, One Hundred and One Dalmatians first recounts the meet-cute of dalmatians Pongo and Perdy (Rod Taylor and Cate Bauer) and their respective "pets" Roger Radcliffe (Ben Wright speaking; Bill Lee singing) and Anita (Lisa Davis). Roger's "bachelor flat" just off London's Regent's Park becomes a crowded house when Perdy gives birth to a litter of fifteen puppies. Anita's one-time schoolmate De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) has her wild eyes set on the litter, but Anita decides she just can't give them up to the eccentric Cruella. Undaunted, De Vil sics Cockney henchmen Jasper and Horace Badun (J. Pat O'Malley and Frederick Worlock) on the task of stealing the puppies, adding to a collection that already includes 84 soft-furred puppies destined to become a high-fashion jacket for the witchy woman. The chase is on, with England's network of animals lending support to Pongo and Perdy and the ninety-nine puppies as they seek to escape Cruella's clutches and forge an unconventional family.

Though 101 Dalmatians isn't a musical, we get "Kanine Krunchies Jingle" and, since Roger's an aspiring songwriter, the briefly heard tune "Dalmatian Plantation" and the catchy song "Cruella De Vil," which in the world of the film proves a disturbingly popular ode to feminine treachery. Cruella has held sway as a popular villain ever since, enough so that Glenn Close—coming off her 1995 Tony for playing another fictional diva, Norma Desmond—agreed to play De Vil in Disney's 1996 live-action remake and a 2000 sequel. Aside from De Vil, 101 Dalmatians scores with amiable adventure and evocative animation (distinguished by background coloring and shading). Whenever it rises back to the surface of public consciousness, there's a run on dalmatians, inevitably and ironically leading to irresponsible breeding, ownership, and abandonment. At least the film preaches love and rescue (if unrealistic expectations about the responsible care of pets going into three digits): with apologies to Elvis, when it comes to hound dogs, don't be cruel.

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Aspect ratios: 1.33:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 2/10/2015

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Disney's Diamond Edition of catalog fave 101 Dalmatians arrives a month after the passing of Rod Taylor, in the form of a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack. The film's domestic HD debut features a strong transfer that should appeal to purists in what appears to be faithful color rendering and animated detail (the sketch-y Xerox lines at times visible amidst the characters haven't been digitally scrubbed away, for example, tempting though it may have been to do so). Soundtrack options include a state-of-the-art DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mix, as well as the original theatrical audio in lossy Dolby 1.0 mono. As a purist, I'm inclined to go for the original mono track, which has, not surprisingly, been well preserved by the studio, but there are obvious advantages to the lossless 7.1 mix, including a tastefully designed separation of effects and a greater fullness to the music.

The 2015 Diamond Edition adds four new bonus features to what's been previously available in the Platinum Edition DVD. “The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt” (1:48, HD) is a brand-new animated short expanding on the show-within-a-movie character of Thunderbolt. “Lucky Dogs” (9:08, HD) allows assistant animator Rolly Crump, ink-and-painter Carmen Sanderson, assistant animator Burny Mattison, animator Floyd Norman, executive Don Iwerks, and Lisa Davis (Anita) to discuss the production of 101 Dalmatians, with an emphasis on overcoming the challenges posed by cost-cutting at the studio. “The Best Doggoned Dog in the Word” (51:05, HD) is a 1961 The Wonderful World of Disney episode that updated a 1957 Disneyland episode, replacing scenes from Old Yeller with ones from 101 Dalmatians. Lastly, Dalmatians 101″ (5:12, HD) finds The Disney Channel’s Cameron Boyce (who plays Cruella De Vil's son in Descendants) running down some trivia about the feature.

Pre-existing Platinum Edition DVD bonus features include Redefining the Line: The Making of 101 Dalmatians, which comprises "Puppy Dog Tales" (5:33), "Howling at the Moon" (3:36), "New Tricks" (5:16), "Animation 101" (7:51), "Drawing All Cars" (4:12), "Seeing Spots" (5:45), and "A Dog’s Eye View" (1:40). Also archived here are the "Music Video by Selena Gomez: 'Cruella De Vil'” (3:25), "Deleted Song: 'March of the One Hundred and One'” (2:29), "Abandoned Song: 'Cheerio, Goodbye, Toodle-oo, Hip Hip!'”(2:32), "Abandoned Song: 'Don’t Buy a Parrot from a Sailor'” (2:39), "Demo Recordings and Alternate Versions," "Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad" (7:10), and "Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney" (12:48).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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