Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Classic Movie Dogathon: 101 Dalmatians

101 Dalmatians ranks easily as my favorite Disney animated feature. It puzzles me that it’s rarely mentioned among the Disney classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and Pinocchio. While I admire those films, they fail to blend the critical animated film elements—well-developed characters, quality artwork, and strong narrative—with the ease of 101 Dalmatians. (Admit it, both Snow White and Pinocchio have their share of slow spots.)

Set in London, the well-known plot traces the courtship and marriage of Dalmatians Pongo and Perdy (and their human “pets” Roger and Anita). It’s a happy home until Anita’s wealthy “friend” Cruella De Vil pays a visit and decides that Perdita’s puppies would make “such perfectly beautiful coats.” Hiding her intentions, Cruella tries to buy the puppies. When Roger and Anita refuse, Cruella has her bumbling goons Horace and Jasper kidnap the pups.

It’s a lively, entertaining story rich with fully developed characters. Even the puppies get memorable personalities, with my favorite of the litter being the plump Rollie who spouts classic lines like: “I’m so hungry I could eat an elephant” and (a few minutes later) “I’m hungry, Mother…I really am.”

Anyone who has loved a dog will appreciate the care with which the animators have captured canine traits. Pongo drags Roger mercilessly on walks, shakes off water vigorously when wet, and sticks his butt in the air when getting playful.

Indeed, the entire film exhibits a delightful fondness for little details. Like all parents, Pongo and Perdy spell out certain words in front of their children—important canine words like W-A-L-K. As with many children, the puppies are glued to the TV screen for their favorite show (the adventures of the heroic dog Thunderbolt). The TV show is even sponsored by a children’s food (Kanine Krunchies). And when the the spotted dogs are pursued by Horace and Jasper, they roll into coal dust to disguise themselves as black Labradors. My favorite little touch, though, is the “twilight bark,” a canine telegraph system in which dogs howl important messages to one another each evening.

Technically, 101 Dalmatians boasts splendid animation. The London buildings and the rural countryside are painted with charm and detail (to include a flashing neon billboard for Kanine Krunchies). The use of shadows and silhouettes brings depth to the images. Even the direction is imaginative, as evidenced by the clever scene of Roger and Anita’s wedding. As the “camera” pulls back through a church window, we see that Pongo and Perdy are holding paws as part of their own matrimonial ceremony.

In my opinion, 101 Dalmatians was the last great American-made animated film until Disney revived the genre in the 1990s with Broadway-style musicals like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

Be sure to check out the rest of the films in the Classic Movie Dogathon. Click here for the full schedule.


  1. I remember this film fondly. My whole family went to see it when it was rereleased in the late 1970's. Even my Dad who was not big on animation loved it!

  2. The animation in this film is excellent, not an easy task keeping track of all those spots. I really loved the songs "Cruella De Vil" and the ending song "Dalmatian Plantation." Awesome review!!

  3. Spot on review of one of Disney's best animated movies, Rick! I was really moved during the weddings scene and the birth of the pups, even when there is a moment that is touch and go. The twilight bark is such a clever device to alert dogs everywhere of an emergency situation. I love Labradors so of course the disguise scene was extra fun for me, too. I love this film and your wonderful post!

  4. This was one of my late mother's favorite films and it is one of mine, also. In fact, I wanted to write about it too, Rick, but you beat me to the punch! :)

    The Twilight Bark is my favorite part of the film since it just makes a lot of sense and it is handled in the film so beautifully and meaningfully.

    I loved the drawing of the collie too. Wow, what majestic looking dog.

    In fact, I don't think there's anything in this film I don't like. In one word, it is superb.

    Thanks for doing it justice, Rick. (It is Rick, this time - right?)

  5. Rick, a marvelous post. I didn't see this until a few years ago when I was visiting friends who put it on one morning to keep their toddler occupied while they did their household chores. I started watching it with him and was immediately hooked! I'm not a big fan of animated movies, but I have to admit that for once I liked this one as much as a live-action film. As charming as the live-action remake was, this one beat it. I think you put your finger on the reason with your discussion of the constantly engaging plot, with its great combination of humor and menace, and all those details that made it so vivid. I was especially impressed with the renderings of the English countryside and the supporting characters, especially the flamboyantly unforgettable Cruella and her two bumbling Cockney henchmen. A delightful movie.

  6. Rick, 101 DALMATIANS was one of my favorite Disney films when I was a kid. Heck, we of Team Bartilucci loved not only the movie, but the animated TV series that came out when our daughter Siobhan was a little tyke! You're spot-on (no pun intended :-)) about the splendid animation and all the little details that bring the story and its characters to warm, vibrant life!

    Another thing that endears 101 DALMATIANS to our family is that when I gave birth to Siobhan in 1996 at NYU Medical Center (we lived in the Bronx then), the hospital had just installed a wider variety of TV shows at each patient's bedside. Our choices included TCM (back in its early days!) and a family channel that played 101 DALMATIANS 24/7! My visitors and I were OK with it, especially younger family members, though a visiting friend quipped, "Is a movie about puppies being kidnapped to be turned into coats REALLY the best choice for a new mother to watch?" :-) Great post!

  7. Rick,
    I would take 101 Dalmatians and The Lady and the Tramp over The Little Mermaid and The Beauty and the Beast any day! Such a great film and who doesn't love dalmatians?

    I've never noticed the "Kanine Krunchies" neon sign. I'll be looking for it next time now.

    What a fun film, one of Disney's best work during that era and a wonderful choice to showcase dogs for your Dogathon.

    Thanks again for inviting all of us to participate in what's been a lot of fun so far. I'll be looking forward to the Horseathon!

  8. OK, I admit it: "(Admit it, both Snow White and Pinocchio have their share of slow spots.)" I still love them, but 101 Dalmatians is definitely one of Disney's best. You have done a great job in the plot synopsis and opinions of what makes the movie so special. I really enjoyed this review, Rick. Kudos!

  9. I am so with you. 101 Dalmatians is one of my top 3 favorite Disneys. Okay, boys, you might not be able to relate, but I had the paper dolls, the coloring books and the story books. I wanted to change my name to Perdita. Yes, I grew out of it, but I never got over it. Love those pups!

  10. Rick ~ a perfect choice for a canine themed blogathon. Disney made a number of animal centered films, and while “Big Red” is my favorite live action film centered on a dog’s life; “Lady and the Tramp” is my favorite animated film. This is partly because I have never seen “101 Dalmatians;” I was either too young (or in my mind) too old to see the film in one of its many re-releases in theaters. Fortunately, most of Disney’s catalog is now available on DVD, and I’m making up for all the films I missed (some really lovely and sweet films such as “Bambi” and “Dumbo”). Thanks for reminding me to add this one to my list of films to see.

  11. 101 Dalmations, in our opinion, is one of the few movies that is actually better than the book. Everything in this movie was so well done.

  12. Great post, Rick! My wife loves the live-action version with Glenn Close, but mostly for the cute doggies. But live or animated, they're all pretty adorable, especially with butts pointed skyward. Thanks for a splendid read!

  13. Rick, I have a very soft spot for this film. As a child we had dalmatians. And, as an adult my first dog was a dalmatian. My brothers and I loved watching 101 Dalmatians with our dogs at our side. Plus, Cruella De Vil reminded us of our fur-wearing grandmother. LOL!

  14. Rick,

    Thanks for taking me back to my childhood. It has been so long since I've watched this movie. Now I must watch it! Growing up, 101 Dalmations was a favorite alongside Robin Hood, Cinderella, and Snow White. Excellent post. Really enjoyed it!

  15. This was one of my favorite books as a kid. I probably read it a dozen times. Once I saw the movie, it didn't disappoint. Thanks for the review!

  16. Rick,

    Yours is one of the few films I've seen (sadly) of the entries in the Dogathon. I agree, it's a great one. It hadn't occurred to me until I read it in your post that it isn't usually mentioned as one of the Disney greats. A puzzler! The animation and characters warm ones heart - just beautifully written. Rollie is my favorite pup as well. Your affection for the film comes through. Great read, as always.

    I've run a bit behind reading and commenting on the entries to your Dogathon but have had a blast so far. A treasure of talented writers and movie lovers. Can't wait to read the rest of the entries. And again, a thank you for hosting it and for including me in this group of awesomes.


  17. Thanks everyone for the comments! It was delightful to hear that others enjoyed 101 DALMATIANS as much as me. I forgot to mention that some characters from LADY AND THE TRAMP have cameos in the twilight bark sequence. Here's a YouTube link that shows Jock and others: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_JYi7v4_xU. Tramp is supposed to be there, too, but I can't spot him (no pun intended). I wouldn't be surprised, though. Disney animators are notorious for "Easter eggs" (hidden treats) on their DVDs.