THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayI first saw Walt Disney's "101 Dalmatians" on my 11th birthday at a small local multiplex theater. The auditorium was tiny, as was the screen. The sound was poor and the popcorn was stale. Local theaters in the area that used to run Walt Disney re-releases were usually tiny mall theaters that skimped on any luxury items. It didn't matter to me. I was seeing a Walt Disney classic at the movies, and that was always special.
Walt Disney's "101 Dalmatians" is now on DVD in a special 2-disc set.
I've always enjoyed "Dalmatians" since the first time I saw it in that dingy theater. The movie is a carefree and comical caper that almost always delights children when they see it. I know I laughed very hard when Cruella de Vil (voiced by Betty Lou Gerson) and her bumbling minions chase the Dalmatians in the moving truck. Most of the movie is done in slapstick, and it all works fine. The movie is short enough to get a kick out of, and then you can go on with your day. There are no heavy messages or "starring the voice of" attributes to spoil the film (though Rod Taylor was a star talent when the film was released). This is fun entertainment and that's that.
"Dalmatians" came at a time when the Disney Studio was trying to save money on animation. "Sleeping Beauty," which came out in 1959, was billed as the most expensive animated film of all-time. In its first release, it lost money. "Dalmatians" returned to the studio to a more basic formula, relying on a simple story and cute characters. By utilizing the Xerox process, animators saved both time and money in replicating the animated canines. The film turned out to be a big hit for Disney and would go on to become one of their classics they'd re-release over the years.
The animation style also broke away from Disney's highly polished look, though some of Disney's own experimental shorts tried more limiting animation styles (i.e. "Pigs Is Pigs.") The scattered pencil lines gave "Dalmatians" a distinctive look. The animation is still very fluid, yet there is a roughness to the animation. According to Leonard Maltin in a speech at a recent screening for the film, some Disney purists at the time were put off by this new style. It didn't matter. The film still went on to make a lot of money, and future animated films after "Dalmatians" would use the same technique.
By far the film's signature character is Cruella de Vil. Animator Marc Davis did a splendid job, dahling, on her features and mannerisms. She's a delight to watch and virtually steals every scene she's in. She makes nearly every character in the movie meek in comparison. Both Betty Lou Gerson and Marc Davis gave her the voice and personality that makes her memorable. She's one of Disney's best villains.
The dogs are cute as any Disney dog creation. Pongo and Perdita (Rod Taylor and Cate Bauer) are fairly straight forward characters, mainly there to move the plot of their puppies along. The puppies are cute, too. Rolly (Barbara Beaird) is especially funny as the puppy who's always hungry.
The 1996 remake with Glenn Close didn't come anywhere near the charm of the 1961 original. The characters of Roger and Anita became even more bland in the live-action version, while as good as Close was, she didn't have the comedic spark as her animated alter ego. The real dogs, oddly enough, didn't have the cuteness as the animated ones did. Stick to the original and you'll be entertained.
Special thanks to Click Communications
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