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50½ Thoughts on 101 Dalmatians

Woof! To celebrate the first time release of Disney's beloved One Hundred and One Dalmatians on Digital HD, Blu-ray™ Combo Pack today (it's also available on Disney Movies Anywhere and On-Demand starting now) here's a classic from the Film Experience Vaults. It was first published for the beloved classic's 50th anniversary in 2011. But it'll be new to many of you! We suspect that 101 thoughts would have tried your patience too much but perhaps you could share the article with 3½ friends if you enjoy it, or leave 1½ comments behind before you go. The more the merrier, you know. And doesn't this wonderful movie wag its plentiful tail at that very motto?!

01 The first charming thing is its sketchy, spotty, doggy opening credit sequence. It's a prime candidate for "Art of the Title Sequence" ... I wonder if they've ever done it?

02 The movie was released in the early 60s and takes place in London. I can't think of another animated Disney feature off the top of my head that's this British but then,  "The British Invasion" was just around the corner so maybe America's Anglophilimaniac phase was already in the air in the late 50s when Disney started storyboarding this feature?

03 If you've been keeping up with your animation the past several years you probably see an immediate resemblance to the palette and cityscapes for Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist.

(Read the full post - that Devil woman is coming right up)

04 Pongo, the first (of many) dalmatian narrates and refers to Roger as "my pet". Animated movies have anthropomorphized animals since the creation of the form but one wonders when people started joking about the inner lives of animals? Maybe Adam & Eve even chuckled about how bossy the garden creatures were?

05 Though the movie feels more leisurely than today's animated features, from its opening frame it's giving you the narrative and characterizations pretty quickly.

06 Pongo wants Roger to settle down. The scene where he's judging human/dog pairs from the window is like one of those now cliché comic audition scenes where you see a few obviously unsuitable candidates before you get to the real goods, the final auditioner, the one you're supposed to root for.

07 Which you like best? 

(Clockwise from top left)
"Very Unusual Breed"
"Too Short"
"Much Too Fancy"
"Too Young / Too Old"

08 Jumping back to Thought 6, extended: If you give it more than a second's thought you realize it's an odd cliché since it doesn't occur in real life. You can take it from someone who used to do corporate recruiting. You can't really stop the auditions as soon as you love someone. There are these pesky things called politeness, appointments, and bosses who'd like a few options later on. Sometimes you end with a real dud, not the superstar! And it's not true of dating either. Most people don't settle down with the first person that isn't totally unsuitable ;)


09 Although maybe it's truthy for cutthroat Hollywood? Perhaps casting directors boot out every starving actor in the hallway as soon as they get their first wow?

10 This post: Too fancy? Much too fancy?

11 The pan around Roger's apartment is so evocative, funny, super detailed and gorgeous. It's busy and messy and bachelor chaos without being overbearing. Those background painters really outdid themselves back in the day.

12 This post has been published at 5:14 UK time by Pongo's request.

13 For our British readers if you haven't left work yet maybe you should right now? Take your furry friend for a long walk in the park.

14 Wait, do you even have a dog?

15 I sometimes imagine that all TFE readers are cat people.

16 How adorable is it that Pongo talks like a dog when he's with humans and we only get the translation with the animal-only scenes. The sound work is pretty strong. You can actually distinguish between the "voices". The movie is full of strong line bark deliveries.

17 The heavy ink lines around the characters are a thing of the past. When I was a little kid I bought "how to" animation books and I remember that the ink lines had something to do with the outlines for cel animation being one job and the painting of color being another entirely. Different people did different jobs though I don't remember what the various positions were actually called. One was named "inbetweeners" I think, which is such a great job title. In some scenes the heavy ink lines are much more prominent than others which I can't quite figure. Was it a quickie production? Did it change hands? Were there different teams for the different "chapters" of the movie? Any Disney historians reading?

18 Pongo wraps the leash around the humans and sends them tumbling into the pond. He very obviously and proudly thinks it's one of the best "meet cutes" in film history. It's a sly move and he gets his own wife (Perdita) in the bargain. There's a double wedding... and soon Perdita has 15 buns in her oven.

19 Speaking of ovens... "Nanny" is the stock plump "help" Disney character -- it's like they don't even redesign them at all between movies but for their clothes -- but she's adorable.

20 What do you call the opposite of anthropomorphism, when animals project animal characteristics onto humans? Pongo on Nanny...

"At times she seems almost canine."

21 This following screenplay construction detail is the best in the movie (has anyone read the book this is based on? Maybe they just lifted it?). We've been hearing Roger hum the famous theme song and he playfully tells his curious wife "Melody first dear, then the lyrics" which is immediately followed by Cruella's entrance.

Her entrance would be strong enough on its own but then it becomes all entangled with his melody becoming lyrics essentially, so that when she exits it's not just a trail of smoke she leaves behind but a hit single.

21 That iconic look, costuming and hair. The skull shaped face. Cheekbones so sharp you'd think they'd tear open her own skin.

"It's that devil woman."

In short, this is how you do character design. No small wonder Cruella is a Halloween mainstay.

22. Different times. Smoking does not automatically equal evil in this movie. Roger himself is always puffing away at his pipe. Needless to say his smoke is not nuclear waste green. You have to differentiate it somehow.

23. The biggest mystery about Cruella's visit is not why she wants the puppies but why she feels the need to destroy Nanny's cupcakes.

That's just uncalled for. Cupcakes are delicious.

24. No, I amend. The biggest mystery is that we're told that Cruella and Anita were friends in school. There are any number of reasons why this requires more capacity for suspension of disbelief than sane audience could muster. I mean what kind of friends could they have possibly been? accidental roommates? L.U.G.s? pledge sisters?  Please feel free to explain in the comments.

25. Cruella exits the scene after cruelly mocking Anita, polluting the entire house and expressing her suspicious desire to return when the puppies are born. Melody first, then the lyrics. Fun. It's here where Roger becomes totally irresistible as a character: witty, funny, discerning, playful, and still head over heels in love with his new wife.

The glare in her look
The ice in her stare
You innocent children
Had better beware
She's like a spider waiting
For the kill
Cruella, Cruella De Vil

At first you think
Cruella is the devil
But after time has worn
Away the shock
You come to realize
You've seen her kind of eyes
Watching you from underneath
a rock!

Cruella De Vil
Cruella De Vil
If she doesn't scare you
No evil thing will
to see her is to
take a sudden chill

Cruella, Cruella De Vil

26. Something to think about: "Cruella De Vil" becomes a major hit single (though it didn't win an Oscar nomination. Zero Oscar attention for the movie) but couldn't Roger be sued for defamation of character since Cruella is an actual person in the world in which he releases this hypothetical hit single? I mean, would you write about the person you most hated in the world and use their real name?

26. Perdita is heartbroken that De Vil wants her puppies and suddenly wishes she weren't having any. Vera Drake is just blocks away (and could easily be illustrated with the Nanny stock character template) but no call is made. I realized that is a terribly insensitive unfunny joke but I typed it out and couldn't stop because my brain regularly mushes improbable movies together and Vera really is just blocks away and a contemporary. Maybe she was once roomies with Anita & Cruella?

27. The puppies are here! There's a bit of a scare on the 15th puppy but he/she survives.

28. This birth scene is so 1950s, the men waiting outside the room, smoking.

29. The happiness doesn't last long as Cruella returns for the puppies with checkbook in hand. GREAT visual gag as her pen splatters ink all over Roger & Pongo. Only Roger gets a substantially new look.

30. Can't you see Cruella as a guest on Project Runway or E!'s Fashion Police with Joan Rivers?


Someone arrange that for us, won'tcha?

31. Cruella seems to be everyone's favorite villainess but I'd actualy rank her third after Maleficent and Ursula. I'm also fond of "Medusa" from The Rescuers but no one speaks of her. Where would you rank Cruella in the Disney Bitch-offs?

32. Pongo & Perdita have 15 puppies and we don't even learn all their names. We get five names and only three personalities ("Patch" who is feisty, "Rolly" who is fat/hungry, and "Lucky" who likes to block the view of the TV with his head. He grows up to be Greg Berlanti) Didn't Snow White and the Seven Dwarves teach us how much comic mileage you can get from big casts of characters with names as personalities?

"Patch" is a cutie. It's the ring 'round the eye.

33. Basically the only thing we learn about all 15 puppies is that they like to watch TV... so really even Lucky doesn't get a personality. We meet lots of other dogs very soon but the time might have been better spent characterizing the puppies. Wasted opportunity!

34. The scary "DOG-NAPPING". It's even gets a newspaper headline. If we were playing "HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT" I might choose this one. It's so live-action thriller.

Out for their evening constitutional, a lovely pair of turtle doves, around the johnny corner and off to the park.

 35. After the puppies are stolen, Pongo & Perdita start the all dog alert "The Twilight Bark". It's here where the movie starts getting a big draggy. The best part is that those bitches (literally) from the "audition" scene at the beginning show up again. "Unusual Breed" and "Too Fancy" aren't so useless after all!

36. We spend way too much time out on the farm with "The Colonel" and "Sergeant Tibbs". More importantly, what kind of cat takes orders from a dog anyway? I'm talking to you Tibbs, traitor to your kind!

37. The Colonel's weak old-man bark is totes endearing, though.

38. The shot of Hell Hall, the old De Vil place is so funny because, honestly, what super villain does not live in a gothic mansion/castle which is always lit by stormy weather? That's a selling point if you're demonic. Can you imagine a super villain living in a tract house in Florida? It just doesn't happen (in the movies).


39. On second thought, I don't think Cruella would sue Roger for his hit single even if she could. Her house is called "Hell Hall" and she likes puppy coats and even her phone is shaped like a demon so chances are she loves being referred to as "vampire bat, inhuman beast, evil thing, spider waiting for the kill".

40. Horace and Jasper are, like Nanny, totally stock characters "The Henchmen". But some of their dialogue has character.

Double crossing little twerps pulling the snitch on us.

41. There is really expressive color work in the film at Hell Hal: Lots of greys, blacks, whites and varying intensities of purples as well as some judicious scary uses of bright red. About that "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" I think I have to change my answer. But it's also a "scary" shot. Why are animated films at their best when they're scaring little children? Check out this bold composition.

During this escape sequence, Horace lands on a cake, flattening it. You should never leave a cake on a piano, duh! What does this movie have against pastries, anyway?

43. The puppies are endearingly bad at math. Once rescued, Pongo says, "All 15 of you?" or something to that effect and one of his little boys says...

Twice that many, Dad. Now there's 99 of us."

15 x 2 = 99. LOLZ.

44. Once the puppies have escaped with Pongo and Perdita they take refuge in a farm and there's a really odd scene involving a group of cooing cows who offer up their warm milk and the babies take suck. The cows greatly enjoy this -- "the little darlings!" -- and one of them ends the scene plaintively.

I wish they could stay with us for always.

Someone needs counselling. You just met them, cow-lady. Think about your choices. There are serious co-dependency issues churning about at all these farms.

45. There's a joke in the final chase sequences about "crazy woman drivers" and, yes, Cruella is one. I remember hating the live-action interpretation of this climax with Glenn Close in full shrieking gargoyle mode. (I haven't seen that movie since opening night in the theaters, no joke. Did you like it?) But there was also a joke about women drivers (albeit of carriages) in The Black Swan (1942); so much sexism in old movies!

46. Speaking of which, Perdita and Anita are kind of useless in the realm of intellect. Pongo and Roger are ALWAYS the heroes, the ones coming up with the solutions while their adoring females merely look worried or adoring. Pongo comes up with a plan to disguise all the puppies in soot as labradors as a way to give Cruella and her henchmen the slip. (It works though Cruella catches on in time to give chase.)

"I'm a labrador!" / "it can't be!"

47. Y'know. It occurs to me that maybe someone ought to write a book on exploitation as viewed in Disney movies versus Disney boardrooms. Consider that the whole crux of this plot is that a soulless businesswoman, who thinks only of herself, is eager to exploit tiny cute things for a buck. She wants to make coats out of puppies. How much more evil could anyone get? But... you'd probably be hearing more about this movie's 50th anniversary if Disney, a giant soulless corporation, weren't so gleefully exploiting every tiny cute thing they'd ever made a buck from. How to celebrate the 50th anniversary of something when you're busy celebrating every anniversary of everything, virtually tearing up the heart and soul of every classic into millions of horcruxes to be placed inside of key-chains, tote, pins, stuffed animals, t-shirts, and straight-to-DVD cheapie spinoffs and and and and and.

48. When the dogs return home, still covered in soot, Roger writes a new hit single about them right there on the spot. He and Anita have decided to keep all 99 puppies, bringing their doggie total to One Hundred and One! De Vil and Disney aren't the only ones up for a little dogsploitation. Oh the irony.

We'll have a Dalmatian Plantation ♪ ♫ ...

You really shouldn't play the piano when you're covered in soot. Pretty soon you won't be able to tell the black keys from the white. Pretty soon it's no Steinway but a Labrador.

50. Do they have enough money to put TVs in every room of that plantation? Puppies love to watch.

50½ I know what you're going to say. You...

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Reader Comments (17)

I remember thinking for many years that Cruella was secretly furious that Anita had stolen Roger from her and then rewatching and realizing that I'd just imagined that and it was never in the movie. It was a real revelation.

That Vera Drake reference was hilarious, but not as much as seeing the utter weirdness of that scene with the cows transcribed.

February 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAR

I haven't read your thoughts yet (will do after work) but I just need to verbalize my undying love for this film, which I must have watched upwards of 500 times (no, really, I watched it every week/day for years) as a kid. Every time I watch it again, I get lost in its magic again.
Disney's most underrated film.

February 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

"I mean what kind of friends could they have possibly been? accidental roommates? L.U.G.s? pledge sisters?"

I'm gonna say roommates. Anita was probably the scholarship kid to Cruella's heiress.

February 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBia

I loved this movie too. You're so right about the background details. I love that about the old Disney movies. There's such a sense of place and peripheral activity.

This one is such fun, but I agree that I always wished the female characters were more active heroines and that more of the puppies were girls (like Hermione Granger puppies).

I also read the books when a kid, and loved them, this one and the sequel, The Twilight Barking, by Dodie Smith. There's some differences of course. Disney is clever at streamlining. Roger is a financial wizard, not a songwriter. (Like Mary Poppins, the movie version is more fun. Roger is like one of the Sherman brothers). There's a subplot about another pair of adult Dalmations that are parted lovers (and parents of some of the kidnapped dogs). There's Cruella's husband, the furrier.

To have room to keep all the Dalmations, Roger and Anita move into Hell Hall, which is cheerfully renovated. (Roger solves the National Debt, so the government gives them lots of money).

Walt Disney used to make movies of the books his daughters read and re-read, their favorites. This seems like a strategy that really worked out. Little bookish girls tastes rule.

February 10, 2015 | Unregistered Commenteradri

I know you're a die hard Maleficent fan, but you have to give Cruella her due. She made an entrance just as impactful, without needing black magic to do so.

February 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBen

One of my favorite Disney films. The animation has such character to it! And it is only now reading this that I realized that Cruella and Anita are supposed to have been friends. I ALWAYS thought Cruella was either Anita's aunt or boss. I think she is her boss in the live-action version, but I remember thinking that was the case whenever I watched this version, too. Cruella just looks so much older than Anita - perhaps she's meant to be an early PSA on the dangers of smoking?

February 10, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I love this post. 101 Dalmatians was always one of my favorites. I love that it's not a love story.

February 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

This is the film that truly turned me into a devoted film fan. I saw it eleven times, mostly in a double feature with The Light in the Forest. Great memories.

February 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Love this movie. I get excited every time I see "101 Dalmatians" when I'm cruising Netflix....but it's the Glenn Close. It's always the Glenn Close. :(

February 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJake D

ANITA DARLING!!! I also love this movie - and love the write-up. I feel like I'm always referencing this movie.. from the dog and owner pairings to the twilight bark. Roger is my Disney Prince.

February 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRump Sizzle

I always think Cruella is like the Regina George to Anita's Cady Heron.

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterfadhil

Your point about "How in the hell Cruella could have been classmates with Anita?" makes me want to give extra credit to John Hughes, who wrote the slapsticky live-action remake. He simply solved that problem by making Cruella Anita's boss. No mess, no fuss.

Does anyone remember the "sound-along" books Disney used to distribute? It would tell the story of the movie, and you would play a sound (attached to the book) with certain actions? I had the "101 Dalmatians" version of it and I distinctly remember it -- the names of the dogs, the car honk when Cruella drove up, et cetera.

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjakey

Hayden -- isn't it weird that there are so few Disney movies that aren't love stories? They sorta get the love story out of the way here in about 15 minutes at the beginning.

Fadhil -- this makes sense to me. Thank you.

Jakey -- that is also a good solution

February 11, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

101 has always been my favorite Disney film -- more than any of the fairy tales. I read thru your first few points but feel I need to rewatch the movie again first before reading further. Right now I just remember bits from it. But I am thrilled to know others share my love for this.

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterkit

101 has always been my favorite Disney film -- more than any of the fairy tales. I read thru your first few points but feel I need to rewatch the movie again first before reading further. Right now I just remember bits from it. But I am thrilled to know others share my love for this.

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterkit

Anita and Cruella don't even look the same age. Maybe the relationship back in school was less Odd Couple but more Patsy/Eddie.

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

One of my favorites as a kid...Especially Cruella...I loved her. and that jazzy swinging design style...

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDO

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