I remember seeing One Hundred and One Dalmatians for the first time when I was much younger, probably during its rerelease in theaters in 1979. As with Mary Poppins, this film was based on a novel by a British author, Dodie Smith. In this case, though, Ms. Smith actually wanted Disney to animate her film.
The story is told from the perspective of Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor), the owner of bachelor singer-songwriter Roger (Ben Wright, singing by Bill Lee). Pongo is bored with the bachelor life, so he arranges for Roger to meet the pet of a beautiful Dalmatian while on a walk in the park. Of course, Roger and Anita (Lisa Davis) fall in love, as do Pongo and Perdita (Cate Bauer).
Not too long afterward, Perdita is about to have her first litter of puppies, and Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson)—Anita’s old college dorm-mate—stops by to see how the puppies are and to offer to buy all of them. After being refused, she hires some thugs to steal them and the rest of the film follows Pongo and Perdita as they try to get them back.
I really love the music by Mel Leven in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and it’s not even a musical. My favorite song is “Cruella De Vil”, which is extremely catchy and a true earworm. The Kanine Krunchies Jingle is a fun one, and marked the first time Disney had included a fake product jingle in one of their feature films. The incidental music by George Bruns used in the background really helped set the film as hip and modern (for the time it was released), and it really enhanced the film experience for me.
This was the first Disney feature film to make extensive use of Xerox machines to make the animation process must less expensive. Disney Animation had been in a hard spot after expense of creating and releasing Sleeping Beauty, and there were talks of actually closing the studio. The Xerox process, while not allowing for the crisper lines of hand-drawn cel outlines, gave the film a different feel which really worked with the modern feel from the coloring and the music. Stylistically, One Hundred and One Dalmatians is one of my favorite Disney films.
The story is pretty straightforward, and mostly follows the story from the book (there are a few changes). I can’t really think of anything which didn’t fit in the film, or which slowed it down to the detriment of the pacing. It is the simple love story of Pongo and Perdita (and their pets), with a generous side helping of action and adventure while they rescue their 15 puppies and 84 more. While the film doesn’t directly mention it, they all move out to the country, buy the old De Vil mansion, and live happily ever after.
I highly recommend One Hundred and One Dalmatians. It has humour (it is based in London, after all), wit, great music, and fun animation. I have rarely met anyone who dislikes it. It has something for almost everyone, and truly is a Disney animated classic. Go see it again for the first time.
Release Date: January 25, 1961 (USA)
MPAA Rating: G
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (some smoking, some drinking)
Violence: 1 (some slapstick violence, some mild peril)