Movie 17: 101 Dalmatians

101 dalmationsIn any genre of movies we like different films for different reasons.  Some are pure entertainment.  Others teach us lessons.  Some help us empathize with others.  Others are artistic experiences.  Some have great special effects taking us to a new world and then others are just a lot of fun.

101 Dalmatians falls into that latter category.  It is not one of Disney’s ambitious artistic masterpieces; although it certainly has it’s own style.  But, it is an incredibly charming movie for the whole family.  I watched it again today and literally every scene works.  Every character is right on pitch for the story they are trying to tell.  Disney’s more ambitious pictures will always be my favorites but 101 Dalmatians is it’s own version of perfection.


Released in 1961 101 Dalmatians had the unenviable job of trying to save the studio after the disaster of Sleeping Beauty.   (It seems the end of a decade this happens for Disney.  Always looking for that savior project!).  Sleeping Beauty had taken 9 years to finish, was incredibly labor intensive and it did not turn a profit.  Walt Disney at one point even considered closing down the animation department, as the live action Disney wing was doing very well.

Like so many times before Disney needed a hit.

The project actually began with Walt Disney.  At this time he was minimally involved in the actual production but heavily involved with the storyboarding and brainstorming process.  He had read the novel by Dodie Smith and really liked it.  He then gave it to writer and illustrator Bill Peet and told him to come up with a script.

When Peet gave Disney the script he said it was ‘so perfect’ he didn’t need to be involved and handed the project over to Peet.

At the time a xerox technique had been invented where hand inking could be replaced by a camera that would copy the lines on the cells.  They had tried using this for Sleeping Beauty but it didn’t look right.

Fortunately, the process looked great with black and white, black and white dalmatians that is!

This is why the style of the movie looks like a sketch book.  It was where the xerox technology was and saved animators 1/2 the cost and time it would have otherwise taken.


The characters were also done using hand drawings and not the rotoscoping of previous films requiring human actor filming, which saved money as well .


On the xerox they used a spot pattern like a constellation and once they had one anchor spot they went outward.  By the end of the movie they had animated 6,469,652 spots!

They also had a terrific villain that the author Dodie Smith said Bill Peet script had improved upon the book (that’s pretty cool to have an author say about a movie!)

Like Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians did very well at the box office and is still the only Disney animated movie to be remade (for better or worse). Although 2 versions of Jungle Book are coming (groan).

This is also the first time Disney had a movie set in the time period they were writing in.  Previous movies had been period pieces or fantasy settings.

The Story

We start out being introduced to the male dalmatian Pongo.  He tells us about his pet human Roger, who is a confirmed old bachelor.  Naturally Pongo plays matchmaker after he spots a beautiful dalmatian and her equally beautiful owner.

Both pairs end up getting married.


Next we see wedded bliss and get introduced to Cruella De Vil who is a schoolmate of  Anita.  She is obsessed with beauty and furs. We also learn early on that she is an insane driver.  Her voice performance is so funny.

She is such a great villain because she isn’t even in it for the money.  She just wants to look good.    The vocal performance by Betty Lou Gerson may be my favorite in all of Disney.  It is so funny and over the top.

You will see in the scene above we get the main song in the movie which only has 2 full length songs- Cruella De vil and Dalmatian Plantation (which is actually not fully sung).  It’s actually a pretty big departure for Disney to have so little music.

Cruella finds out when the puppies are delivered and this scene is just hilarious and I love the light in the doorway.

With no luck Cruella sends her goons Horace and Jasper out to steal the puppies in a pretty heartbreaking scene.

The humans try everything but to no avail so Pongo and Perdy send word through the twilight bark- a system of telegraphing information from dog to dog.  What’s amazing about these scenes is the characters are only introduced for a moment or two and yet I like every one of them.  I particularly like a set of horse, a dog named the Colonel and a Tabby Cat that saves the puppies on more than one occasiondalmatian midnight bark.

The Tabby Cat notices some movement over at the old De Vil place ‘Hell Hall’ (not too subtle on names here Cruella De Vil living in Hell Hall!).  So they create a plan to get the puppies away.  To their shock there aren’t 15 but 101!

Like I said, the Tabby Cat is pretty great and saves the puppies until Pongo and Perdy storm in!

I really like this tabby cat. He’s got guts!

tabby cat

I also like the thieves  are watching a show called ‘What’s My Crime’ set up like a quiz show and a friend of theirs is the guest criminal.  There are lots of little moments of humor in the movie.

what's my crimeCruella finds out they have lost the puppies and becomes enraged.  I find it hilarious to watch this woman drive.

The rest of the movie is a chase caper with various dogs helping the 101 Dalmatians, as well as some cows!  The dogs outsmart the humans every step of the way.

I mean if that doesn’t melt your heart something is wrong with you!

They end up arriving at the house and a dalmatian plantation is in the works!

My Review-

I think little kids respond particularly well to 101 because they can relate to the puppies.  They are cute and kids like stories were children (or small puppies) are smarter than the adults.  That’s why kids like Home Alone so much.  I remember seeing Home Alone in the theater and laughing so hard I could barely breathe.  I think you have some of that same spirit with 101 Dalmatians.

It’s also very well written.  Bill Peet did a terrific job endowing every character with humor and a specific personality.  It reminded me this go-around of the Toy Story movies where we get to know so many of the toys.  Except this was even harder because at least the toys don’t all look alike.  The writing had to be pretty special to make this story work, and they pulled it off.

Cruella is hilarious in every scene she is in.  It is such a preposterous notion for someone to want to kill puppies to make a coat.  I am no dog lover but even I know you don’t hurt puppies! With Lady and the Tramp the conflict came from other animals- cats, rats, etc.  The humans were kind of incidental carriers of the animals.  In 101 there is no real barriers between the dogs world and the humans and this is established right away with the courtship scene in the park.  The two worlds are basically coexisting together and the story does not treat the dogs as any less because they are owned by the humans.  In fact, it may be the reverse as Pongo gets the whole story going.

After my review of Lady and the Tramp I told a commenter that ‘for what they were trying to do it is about as good as they could make it’ but where that movie needed a stronger villain, 101 has that in spades and Cruella is one of Disney’s best.  Mostly because her motives are so shallow and she is completely insane.  It’s a great voice performance and the animators thought of ever detail down to her long icy cigarette and her crazy driving.  She’s so much fun to watch.crazy cruela

So yes, it’s not Disney’s most ambitious artistic film but it does have it’s own style and I just think every choice they made was right.  It is just about perfect.

Evidently Walt Disney was not a great fan of 101 Dalmatians because he felt it took them away from the fantasy and dreaming of earlier projects- was more pedestrian in feel.  I’d agree but it still works.  I wonder if this is why the movie is basically ignored at Disneyland?  No rides or other attractions despite it making a lot of money.

Oh well.  I love it!

Overall Grade A+

45 thoughts on “Movie 17: 101 Dalmatians

    1. It could be interesting. So far the live action retellings of fairy tales have been terrible but I always try to be open minded.

      It’s so funny how often Hollywood duplicates itself. 2 ants movies, 2 fish movies, 2 snow white movies etc. We will see!

      1. or 2 white house take over movies last year. That has to be one of the strangest pairings.

  1. I also love the movie, but I wouldn’t give it such a high ranking. Objectively it is a little bit too much geared towards children.
    The scene in which the puppies sneak on the van is very well done, though.

    1. Honestly there isn’t anything I would change about it. It’s got romance, action, a terrific villain, and my favorite artistic use of the xerox style (only case where strong black lines worked). I like how close they get to getting captured time and again. It makes it exciting. I feel confident with my A+ that for me it is not an overgrade (a few of my other grades I’ve reconsidered and wondered about when looking back a few weeks and having more films to compare it to). But that’s just my little old opinion. I don’t see it as a children’s film but more of a family film. Something for everyone.

  2. Awesome review once again! I watched this film earlier today and I got to say that it was definitely better then I remembered. I wouldn’t give it an A+, but at least an A to say the least. I also thought Cruella was hilarious, along with the cat as well. I also liked it when the cat pulled the horse’s ears to kick Horace and Jasper. Just curious, you mind if I ask what your thoughts were on the live-action version of this film?

    1. I love when you comment on one of my canon posts. It was such a weird time for me being laid up watching movies all day. Fun to read them again.
      I really do love 101. I stand by it making my top 10. It’s tense, funny, with a great villain and one of the only time the sketch style works in a films favor. I’m like you I love that cat! I think his name is Sgt Tibbs. If I do a best sidekicks post he will be on there.

      It has been a long time since I saw the live action but I remember thinking they were ok and that Glenn Close was pretty good. Certainly better than recent live action efforts.

      1. Agreed! I thought the live-action version of Jungle Book that came out in 1994, I believe, was good too. Oh, that’s right, the cat’s name was Sgt. Tibbs! Anyway, I thought this Disney cartoon was great too. I thought the criminal show that Horace and Jasper were watching was great too.

        Hey, just curious, you ever watched any of Lazerdude 99’s Animated Lookback episodes? There was one where he was reviewing this film and every time the reviewer says 99, he brings up the clip where Sgt. Tibbs says 99. It’s really funny! Feel free to check it out. Anyway, great review once again!

      2. I will take a look. Thanks. What do you think is the better Disney dog movie Tramp or 101? I would pick 101

  3. Honestly, I was expecting to like Tramp better. However, after watching them both again, I’ll say that in some ways, I like Tramp better, but in most other ways, I like this one better. By the way, did you know that 101 Dalmatians is being re-released on DVD and Blu-Ray tomorrow?

      1. I will let you know, maybe do a video on it when i can watch all the special features. Thanks so much for all your support

    1. Oh, so I failed to mention this before, but I guess Lazerdude 99 in his review for this film, mentioned that he thought that the films escaping from Cruella De Vil was very much like the black slaves escaping from their space owners I. The event known as the Underground Railroad. Just curious, would you agree or disagree?

      By the way, did you see that the Lawn Gnome reviewed this film yesterday or last night or something line that?

      1. I didnt see his review. Will check it out. I see what you mean about underground railroad and there are some similarities but I would be hesitant to draw too much similarities between a real life and death situation and a story about dogs.

  4. Understood! But remember, those were his words, not mine. Still, I would sort of agree to a degree about the Underground Railroad thing, seeing as both were risky situations. Anyway, hope you enjoy the Lawn Gnome’s review of this film soon.

    1. Yeah I see what you or he means. I watched the review and it was great. Thanks for the heads up.

      1. You mean the Lawn Gnome’s review? Awesome and you’re welcome. I honestly can see why he gave it a 4 out of 4 stars. I’m still trying to debate whether or not I give it that or 3 1/2. Honestly, I liked Sleeping Beauty and a few others better, but still. Ah, I’ll ahead and give it 4 out of 4 anyway. You know, I liked it when he mentioned that people thought he should be reviewing Cinderella this month and what not, since the live-action version comes out this month. Oh, speaking of which, I hear the Lawn Gnome’e reviewing that film towards the end of this year. How cool is that?

      2. Yeah I was referring to the Lawn Gnome. I’m a little surprised he didnt review Cinderella but it’s really hard to compare any of the fairytale movies to 101. They are so different. Best comparison is probably Lady and the Tramp and I think Tramp looks better but 101 has better story and a great villain (Tramp doesnt really have a villain but the Siamese cats who are only in it for a few minutes and the rat). Both are worlds better than the Aristocats which steals from both. Disney doesnt have that many urban modern movies. Oliver and Company and Big Hero 6 are only other one’s I can think of. It’s great.

        Also the recent bluray is really good of 101.

      3. Did you see my series reviewing 4 different versions of Cinderella on my channel? It was when I was just starting so I’ve improved a lot but there’s something there. Cinderella is probably the fairytale I’m the most open to a reenvisioning because I’m not so attached to the original Disney. Early buzz has been good on new one. Fingers crossed

      1. For sure. I kind of wish I had waited to do my Cinderella series on my own channel.

  5. Fun fact: I actually saw the Glenn Close version of 101 Dalmations first, and for what it was I was reasonably entertained by it, equal parts terrified and mesmerized by Close’s off-the-walls performance as Cruella. In hindsight, I find it very strange that Jeff Daniels was cast as the very British Roger, even to this day his casting doesn’t make any sense to me. I still consider it a decent enough remake considering the limitations, even getting the animals to perform well must have been a tough task. And if for some reason some idiot decides that Cruella De Vil needs the ‘Maleficent’ treatment and makes her into an airhead animal rights protectionist trying to SAVE the puppies from nasty owners, then God help us all!!

    On a lighter note, the thing that especially stands out is the catchy songs and the jazzy score. The animation, while basic compared to the 50s has it’s own charm to it, and of course I really like Rod Taylor’s vocal performance as Pongo. Of course, having it be animated allows the animal characters to talk; a huge plus! So while its not necessarily among my highest favorites, I’d be remiss to call it “overrated”, it’s just another really good Disney film that just happens to be eclipsed by other films.

    1. Great comment. We are getting a Tim Burton Dumbo so I think God may have abandoned Disney for the moment… 😉
      Good point about the score. It is great. So funny you saw the live action first. So were you comparing the animated to the live action when you first saw it?

      1. From time to time, you spot a line that appears both films, and it is an interesting experience. In some ways the live action film fleshed out the human characters more, especially kind of relationship Anita had with Cruella, even making Cruella a head of a giant fashion company was a clever spin. And Hugh Laurie as Jasper was just unbelievable! Overall, I think having to rely on Home Alone inspired slapstick, while the original’s climax was a car chase held the remake back to a large degree. I’ll delve deeper into Dumbo later, when I get to it.

  6. One story record I grew up listening to was a 7-inch vinyl, wherein the story centered on Lucky (one of the original 15 puppies) & his futile attempts at TV stardom. Cruella, Horace, Jasper & the other 84 puppies were nowhere to be seen in that story, although the B-side did include the songs “Cruella DeVil” & “101 Dalmatians.”

    The record version of “Cruella DeVil” contained a 2nd verse not found in the film: “The curl of her lips, the ice of her stare. All innocent children, you’d better beware.” And Thurl Ravenscroft sang the line “But after time has worn away the shock.”

    1. Oh cool. I will check out your blog. I agree with you about 101 Dalmatians. It’s one of my favorite Disney films

  7. Great review though I have one criticism.

    Actually, it should be noted that this was NOT the first Disney, the first Disney animated film to be set in the time when it first released was Dumbo, which STAYED AWAY from a Historical or Fantasy setting, according to the newspaper at the end of the film! 101 Dalmatians would be the second film to do that! It’s also unclear who provided the voice of Scottie, since no records are shown, though his voice kinda resembles closely to Archimedes.

  8. I forgot to tell you that I heard that Hans Conried (Captain Hook in Peter Pan) turns out to be the reference model for King Stefan and that he recorded some additional dialogues as the herald while nearly having the chance of voicing Stefan, but since he was replaced by Taylor Holmes for the voice role for Stefan, we may mever know the truth of the herald’s voice actor for any certainty, though his voice does sound like Conried in a high tone, a little bit. I think you should include the little known fact that Hans Conried almost had the chance in voicing Stefan until being replaced by Taylor Holmes (lame as Stefan) that resulted in the unsolved mystery of the herald’s voice.

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