Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” (1961) Review

Image: Disney, Wikipedia

This review has me seeing spots!

PLOT –

Pongo and Perdita, two Dalmatian dogs, are blessed with the birth of fifteen puppies. Their owners’ happiness is soured, however, when acquaintance Cruella De Vil hires thieves to steal the puppies so they can be skinned for their furs. Now the 101 Dalmatians must find their way home and not end up in Cruella’s clutches.

The beginning of the film up to the birth is the best part of the film. It’s kind of a slice-of-life, which I really enjoy. Pongo’s inner monologue isn’t really bothersome at all, and the principle cast falling in love is nice to see the buildup of. Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn’t all that great, and the rest of the film involves the conflict. There really isn’t any danger or weight to the conflict, because who wants to watch an antagonist like this succeed on film? We all know that the puppies survive the story (though we do have a close call at the beginning) and that just sucks the surprise out of watching this.

The ‘Twilight Bark’ sequence goes on for a while and can be done in a montage or quicker than that. I appreciate the characters they stuff into this, and there are many, but there’s only roughly 80 minutes to develop over one hundred characters (I kid, I kid, but there’s around 30 characters that get a line or two then vanish), and they all take up time that the story can use instead. A lot of these scenes do little to advance the story, and even though I love it, there’s a scene where the puppies just sit there and watch a Western on television (weirdly enough I’d rather watch that on its own).

My PLOT RATING is 2 / 5. This story is more driven by the characters than anything. Some plot points take far too long to come to fruition, and the movie seems to be going in circles, introducing more characters rather than plot points. The beginning is the best part, as well as portions with just the puppies.

CHARACTERS –

Pongo (Rod Taylor) and Perdita (Cate Bauer) are your basic doting, loving parents that will stop at nothing to save their children. They do take a lot of action and are clever in many ways, but nothing really wowed me. They are mostly archetypes without much personality, and while they do have personalities, they are basically the same characters as Roger and Anita.

Roger and Anita are like Pongo and Perdita with more flare. Roger defies the ‘proper’ British stereotype in the best of ways, and his singing of ‘Cruella De Vil’ gets me every time. He truly cares about everyone he comes across (aside from Cruella, which gets a fun scene of him drowning her out with his music), and is just weird and fun, in a good way. Anita is a step up from the usual female protagonist, having a more active role here, shutting down Cruella’s advances towards the puppies (with some backup from Roger, not she really needs it), and she is a little more stuffy than Roger, but there had to be some kind of weird in her for them to marry.

Cruella De Vil isn’t a villain. She’s just an egomaniac and a narcissist. She comes off as incredibly fake to other characters, and incredibly angry to her henchmen. This two-faced-ness is interesting, it layers the character (like fur). The most villainous thing about her, though, is that she wants to skin and kill puppies, animals that we all know should only pass on from natural causes. She isn’t my favorite Disney Villain though, yet her style and charisma will live on through others…

Jasper and Horace are your basic ‘fat and skinny’ pair and they barely share a handful of brain cells. They’re more repulsive than evil, and man can Jasper make a creepy set of faces. They’re sort of threatening, but more annoying and a couple of jerks instead of good characters, more obstacles than characters, really.

Nanny is my favorite character in this. Bubbly, funny, and a right firecracker, she is. I get the most emotion in this film from the scene where she runs in the street calling for the puppies. It’s heartbreaking. All of her scenes are great, and her enthusiasm is infectious.

There are A LOT of minor characters here, at most 10 or so. They’re all somewhat memorable, but here’s two that I particularly enjoy.

Rolly is like the star of the puppies. He has the most lines out of them and makes the most appearances. The puppies as a whole are a great cohesion of kid characters, all with their own minute personalities, yet Rolly has the most fun value. He always says he’s hungry (even though he’s the most rotund of the bunch), and it’s fun to mock that he’s eaten a few of the title characters (I kid, I kid, but could you imagine the horror spinoff “Rolly’s Revenge”?).

The Colonel is also a highlight. His incredibly scratchy look (thanks, Xerox), bushy mustache, and WWI / II British voice always is good for a laugh. He also has the most memorable run cycle where he runs in place, unable to gain traction, and when he does, he’s usually on ice, so he trips constantly. I’m not one for slapstick, yet this is just so humorous to me. He’s great.

My CHARACTERS RATING is 3 / 5. Too many characters to even mention them all.

DIALOGUE –

The interactions between characters is a delight here. The words are becoming more and more organic, and less rote, like a play. The way the characters emote, particularly Pongo and Perdita, is done well, with several characters showing their melancholy through their voice. It’s almost a bored sadness that’s not overacted or underacted. Cruella has a lot of good hammy lines, as well as Horace and Jasper, but what I find that this film does well is silence. Not to disparage against the dialogue, but the silent scenes are really done well. Sometimes part of the dialogue score is when the dialogue is absent rather than present.

My DIALOGUE RATING is 4 / 5. Silence is golden.

EFFECTS –

As the first of the Xerox films, there is a scratchy look to it that it shares with it’s future siblings. The color palette is muted with a lot of red, black, and white (is there a newspaper reference I’m missing?) and it’s kind of dull (this is London after all). Weirdly enough, the best animation comes from the TV show. It’s small snippets, but a lot of work seemed to go into it. Also, the effect of having that many characters onscreen at once is astounding. The snow effects are also brilliant (when not on a separate layer being pushed by Cruella’s car), and the river swim scene is beautifully horrifying. This film also has my favorite opening credit sequence so far. Incredibly creative and wild.

My EFFECTS RATING is 4 / 5. Xerox ahoy!

MUSIC –

There aren’t really that many songs in the film. What music exists is good though. Energetic and jazzy, with a lot of brass and piano. George Bruns does a good job here, just not as memorable as his score for “Sleeping Beauty”.

“Cruella De Vil” – Brilliant. Perfect. One of my favorite villain songs. Incredibly Catchy and reminds me of “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch”.

“Kanine Krunchies” – Quite the earworm, and man, Disney knew what they were doing with the TV segments, it’s almost satire.

“Dalmatian Plantation” – Short yet memorable. I love how it uses piano, which is somewhat an underused instrument.

My MUSIC RATING is 4 / 5. #RogerRadcliffeGrammy

OVERALL –

Not the best Disney film, yet not the worst. Completely overstuffed with characters that range from ‘memorable’ to ‘who?’, with the exception of Cruella, and a few others. The plot moves at a crawl, as the cat-and-mouse game takes far too long, and even the car chase doesn’t really phase much. The dialogue is great when it is and isn’t onscreen, and this film takes advantage of some quiet moments for tension. The effects are pretty good for their time, and new life is breathed in with Xerox technology. The music is also pretty good with a few songs here and there, and this is nowhere near a musical, but what little they have slays, especially “Cruella”.

Image: Disney, Dalmatiansqld.com.au

My OVERALL RATING for “101 Dalmatians” is 68%.

Next time, I’m going to pull this Sword from this Stone!

Nnffh!

Mmph!

Almost got it!

Ooph!

Hup!

Aah!

Just a little Elbow Grease!

Ergh!

OH, COME ON NOW!

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