Disney Animated Features
<< Sleeping Beauty | The Sword in the Stone >>
Release Date: 25 January 1961
Once again, Disney turned to a less-known novel rather than a well-known fairy tale. The source this time was a 1956 novel by Dodie Smith, The Hundred and One Dalmatians.
The movie tells the story of two Dalmatians, Pongo and Perdita, in 1950's London who fall in love just as their owners (Roger and Anita) do the same. A litter of fifteen puppies results in due course, but with horrible timing; an old friend of Anita's, Cruella De Vil, has decided that she simply must have a dalmatian fur coat. Adult dalmatian fur being too coarse, she sets out to gather enough spotted puppies to complete her wardrobe.
After Pongo and Perdita's puppies are kidnapped by Cruella's henchmen, they set out to rescue them, assisted by other neighborhood canines via the Twilight Bark. When they arrive at the hideout, however, they discover 84 other puppies in addition to their own fifteen...
This film was the first of Disney's animated features to make use of Xerography, or photocopying. Without that technology, the reproduction of spots on 101 dogs would have been far too costly; with it, however, each dalmatian in the film could be given his or her own unique pattern of spots, preserved throughout. A side-effect of the use of this process was that the animation developed a "scratchy, hard outline look" (IMDb). It also necessitated the use of more static backgrounds than had been used in previous features. Disney films from 101 Dalmatians to The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh all maintain this similar style, but by the late 1970's, technology had improved enough to allow for smoother, cleaner animation and more detailed backgrounds.
The film, in an unusual departure for a Disney animated feature, contains almost nothing in the way of songs. There is music, of course, but it stays almost exclusively in the background. The sole exception is the nasty little rag, "Cruella De Vil," penned in the movie by a spiteful Roger (this even before the puppies are kidnapped) but in real life by George Bruns.
101 Dalmatians earned little award recognition, aside from a Best Animated Film award from the British Society of Film and Television Arts.
In 1996, Disney remade this film in live action, and in 2000 they released a theatrical sequel to the remake. This raises the question of which is more difficult: animating over three million spots or directing over one hundred dogs.
Information for the Disney Animated Features series of nodes comes from the IMDb (www.imdb.com), Frank's Disney Page (http://www.informatik.uni-frankfurt.de/~fp/Disney/), and the dark recesses of my own memory.