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07 February 2010 @ 04:06 pm
Disney Movies: #17 One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)  
Entry #4 in the 'Watch all the Classic Disney (Animated) Movies' Challenge

One Hundred and One Dalmatians was one of my favorite movies as a kid. Even though I've never been an animal lover, I liked the adventure and the talking animals. My mother bought the movie on VHS, and my brother and I must have watched it a couple dozen times throughout our childhood. But it's been a good ten years now since the last viewing, so I honestly thought I was going to be disappointed. The story would be lamer than I remembered, or the voices would be annoying...I figured that the movie just wouldn't live up to my memories.

I'm so glad that I was wrong.

First, does anyone watch the opening credits as children? No, of course not! But One Hundred and One Dalmatians's creativity starts with a fantastically animated title card, and uses a 'spots' motif throughout the credits while a snazzy jazz tune plays. I never noticed this as a child, naturally, but it's really clever to see how dalmatian spots become music notes and puffs of smoke.

Anyway, quick plot synopsis: Pongo, a dalmatian, lives in London with his 'pet' human Roger, a songwriter completely wrapped up in his work. Tired of living the bachelor life, Pongo finds Roger a 'mate' named Anita who just happens to be the pet of another dalmatian, Perdita. As the humans find love, so too do the dogs. Soon after the wedding of Roger and Anita, Perdita gives birth to fifteen puppies (a huge litter, poor thing) but Cruella De Vil, a fur-obsessed friend of Anita's, frightens the dogs by demanding to take all the puppies away. Roger refuses to sell them to her, so Cruella hires two thugs, Jaspar and Horace, to kidnap the puppies. The police can't find the missing pups so it's up to Pongo and Perdita to save the day with the help of all the other dogs in London.

The narrative of One Hundred and One Dalmatians is really tight. I mean, the story has been worked and refined so that everything on the screen is essential. In some of Disney's movies (Black Cauldron comes to mind instantly) there are characters that could easily be cut or scenes eliminated and it would not effect the overall story. Not so with One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The story moves briskly from one scene to the next, yet without rushing. Seanie was really impressed with the leisurely introduction to Pongo and Roger at the movie's opening. I'd also forgotten how suspenseful it is; Cruella's reasons for wanting the puppies are kept secret for much longer than I'd remembered. It was just really, really fun.

As a kid I barely noticed the human characters Anita and Roger. There's a scene where Cruella comes to the house looking for the puppies before they're born. Roger's making up a song about her, and upon her arrival he retreats upstairs and does everything possible to blast the tune of his new song down at her. I mean, he's stomping his feet, blowing trumpets and trombones, ANYTHING to make a ruckus. It's HILARIOUS and somehow I completely missed his antics before.

The animation is still very fresh, too. At the time, Disney was experimenting with a new method of animation production that utilized the Xerox machine, giving the animation a more realistic, but messier/scratchier appearance. This would have looked odd if it had debuted on a classic fairy tale, but the new style complimented a modern story perfectly. Apparently Walt Disney wasn't crazy about the way the animation looked - I don't blame him, it really is quite different from the lusher style of his earliest movies - but it really looks great today.

Cruella De Vil = one of the greatest villainesses ever.
Maleficent beats her, hands down, but off the top of my head I can't think of another major contender.

10/10 stars, for sure.
This movie is one that actually deserves to be called a classic.  Visually, it's stunning and innovative.  Unlike another innovative, visually gorgeous film that came out this year (*cough*avatar*cough*) One Hundred and One Dalmatians has strong, memorable characters and an entertaining, original plot.  
creatorpunksaturn on February 8th, 2010 05:19 am (UTC)
This is definitely one of my favorite Disney movies as well.

I loved your comment on the opening credits.. because while they evoke familiarity.. I don't remember watching them in detail as a child. So re-watching them and falling in love with the creative openings (such as this one) is always a delight. :)
Suzik00kaburra on February 8th, 2010 06:32 am (UTC)
The other thing that struck me about the movie - but I didn't think to mention it above - was that so much of the art looks straight out of a Bill Peet book. I read so many of his book as a child, yet I never realized until was reading the credits that he was employed at Disney, and in the case of One Hundred and One Dalmatians he did all the story-boarding for the entire movie. It's really cool!
tryptonymphetictryptonymphetic on February 8th, 2010 05:24 am (UTC)
I have to say, I am really into this Disney challenge and reading your reviews! It makes me wish I hadn't sold my entire Disney collection on VHS, because there are about a million subtleties you're writing about that I wish I could go back and revisit myself.

Cruella gave me chills as a kid. By some fluke of fate, I didn't manage to see Sleeping Beauty until I was almost 16/17 years old, and that skews my ability to gauge how scary Maleficent would have been to me then.