101 Dalmatians (1961)
Director(s): Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton S. Luske & Wolfgang Reitherman
Starring: Rod Taylor, Cate Bauer, J. Pat O’Malley, Betty Lou Gerson & Ben Wright
Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Based on Dodie Smith’s beloved 1956 children’s novel, 101 Dalmatians centers on an adorable litter of dalmatian puppies as they are kidnapped by the bumbling accomplices of the wicked, fur-obsessed Cruella De Vil. Determined to retrieve their children, Pongo and Perdita, with the assistance of other fellow city animals, brave their London surroundings before the puppies fall victim to Cruella’s cruel fashion fixation. Rod Taylor (The Time Machine), Cate Bauer (The Third Man), J. Pat O’Malley (The Jungle Book), Betty Lou Gerson (The Fly), Ben Wright (The Sound of Music) & Lisa David (Queen of Outer Space) provide vocal talent.
Struggling after the box-office failure of Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney heavily considered shutting down his animation division fearing its increased expenses would destroy the studio. Nevertheless, Disney rebuffed the idea, remaining loyal to the artistry that his very empire was founded on and righteously continued to move forward. After falling in love with Smith’s original novel, Disney quickly snatched up the rights, finding the property a perfect fit for his studio to weave their animated wizardry. Cost conscience as ever, Ub Iwerks, in charge of special processes, modified a Xerox camera allowing drawings to be transferred directly to cels, saving immeasurable time and capital for the studio. Able to capture the spontaneity of the animators work, 101 Dalmatians has more in common visually with the loose, free-spirited style of Dumbothan the delicate precision of Cinderella. Told through the perspective of dalmatians Pongo and Perdita, 101 Dalmatians charms the viewer with cuddly characters and yet another memorable antagonist in Cruella De Vil. Skeletal-looking and draped in a gaudy fur coat with a slimline cigarette holder always in hand, Cruella De Vil is the genius of Disney Legend Marc Davis whose endless talents brought such characters as Snow White, Alice, Tinker Bell and of course, Maleficent to life. In addition, the film’s contemporary London setting, gorgeously realized by Production Designer Ken Anderson (Sleeping Beauty, The Aristocats), is a stunning sight, once again stylistically different from previous animated Disney productions but, perfectly fitting. Aided by the support of several other local animals, the puppies are able to evade their dimwitted captors via hilarious, slap-sticking means retaining the heart and humor audiences have come to expect from a Walt Disney production.
While, the film would prove to be a smashing success becoming the highest grossing film of 1961, Disney was apparently unhappy with the look and style of the finished product. Meanwhile, audiences have adored the film for its noticeably unique animation, humorous characters and memorable songs, most famously “Cruella De Vil”, from famed songwriter Mel Leven. Serving as one of the final animated films released under Walt Disney’s supervision before his untimely death in 1966, 101 Dalmatians has stood the test of time as a bonafide Disney classic where it will most assuredly remain for another 101 years and beyond.
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents 101 Dalmatians with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Admittedly, there is minor digital tinkering at hand on the transfer, removing instances of natural grain making way for an intendedly squeaky clean presentation. Far from deal-breaking, 101 Dalmatians still stuns in high-definition with bold colors, inky black levels, most appreciatively in Cruella’s hair and of course, the dalmatians‘ endless spots, along with fine detail allowing the viewer to appreciate the animators looser than usual pencil lines. A solid sight from start to finish, 101 Dalmatians has never looked quite as vibrant before. Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, 101 Dalmatians satisfies once again with crisp dialogue levels and the film’s soothing jazzy score nicely handled throughout its runtime. No noticeable instances of hiss or distortion were heard throughout this well-handled mix. In addition, the film’s original Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix has also been included for your listening pleasure. Celebrating its Diamond Edition status, newly added special features include viewing the film in optional DisneyView which incorporates artsy panels to fill out the otherwise black bars as the film plays, The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt, a brief episode of the Thunderbolttelevision show the puppies view in the actual film (1:46), Lucky Dogs interviews several Disney alumni including Floyd Norman, Lisa Davis, Burny Mattinson, Carmen Sanderson and more as they discuss what working at the studio was like (9:08), Dalmatians 101: Hosted by Cameron Royce finds Royce, star of The Disney Channel’s upcoming Descendants as he counts down the top five coolest anecdotes about 101 Dalmatians (5:20). In addition, the best treat of the new supplements is Walt Disney Presents: “The Best Doggoned Dog in the World” (1961 Version), a vintage episode of the memorable television series presented in HD (51:05). Finally, the Diamond Edition ports over the following classic bonus features from its previous DVD release with Redefining the Line: The Making of 101 Dalmatians (33:55), Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad (7:10), Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney (12:48), several Trailers and TV Spots (7:80), Promotional Radio Spots (1:40) and Music & More (33:46). Finally, Sneak Peeks for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Dog With a Blog, Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Lost Missions, Big Hero 6 and Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast round out the bonus content.
Long considered a Disney classic, 101 Dalmatians is unquestionably one of the finest efforts the Disney Studio produced in the 1960s, cementing its appeal with later generations through successful re-releases, a live-action remake, an animated television series and a belated direct-to-video animated sequel. Possessing a stylistic departure from animated efforts before it, 101 Dalmatians is a dazzling sight with a story filled with charm and substance to match. 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition makes its long-anticipated domestic Blu-ray debut with a colorfully bursting transfer, quaint sound mix and a robust spread of special features, both newly produced and vintage, that total over two hours worth of content. Heart-filled and humorous, 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition is essential for Disney devotees and animation aficionados alike.
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