101 Dalmatians Review
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Disney’s animators have never shied away from a good challenge—whether it’s producing the very first full-length animated feature or inventing new techniques to make digital animation more and more realistic. For 1961’s 101 Dalmatians, Disney took on the monumental task of animating 101 unique pups—and one extravagantly evil villain—with unforgettable results.

This spotted Disney classic tells the story of Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor), an easy-going Dalmatian who once lived alone with his pet, Roger (Ben Wright), a solitary musician. Tired of the bachelor’s life, Pongo decides to find Roger a mate—and Pongo and Roger soon find themselves settling down with Perdita (Cate Bauer) and Anita (Lisa Davis).

Not long after the two couples begin their happily-ever-after, Perdita gives birth to 15 adorable puppies. It seems that life couldn’t get any better for the Pongos until Anita’s old friend, Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), takes an interest in the puppies, secretly plotting to turn them into stylish fur coats. And when Roger sends her away empty-handed, she takes matters into her own hands.

101 Dalmatians features a bunch of lovable four-legged characters who work together to save the day. From Pongo and Perdita and their adorable pups to the vigilant canines of the Barking Chain to the cats and cows and horses who help out along the way, they’re all lively characters with unique personalities.

The animation, too, is beautiful, employing various techniques to create striking sets—whether the characters are trudging through the snow-covered countryside or racing through the shadowy streets of London, with streetlights illuminating their way through the fog.

Despite the furry heroes and striking settings, though, the most memorable thing about 101 Dalmatians is still Cruella De Vil. She’s an unforgettable villain—and not just because she has her own catchy theme song. She’s equal parts comical and creepy—and perhaps criminally insane, too. She’s spoiled and condescending and downright cold-hearted. And while her wild hair and flamboyant style make her an amusing character, when her plan backfires and she becomes wild-eyed and obsessive, she’s absolutely terrifying in a way that can give even grown-ups nightmares. There’s nothing magical about this animated villain; she’s simply a truly heartless human being—and perhaps that’s what makes her all the more horrifying.

Fortunately, Cruella has a pair of mostly incompetent henchmen, Horace and Jasper (Frederick Worlock and J. Pat O’Malley), who balance out Cruella’s sheer evil with their half-hearted bumbling. And, in the end, no matter how evil she may be, she’s no match for the clever canines of London.

Put them all together—the loathsome villain and the courageous animals—and you’ve got a winning combination. Though Cruella’s wilder moments may, admittedly, be a bit too scary for some younger viewers, 101 Dalmatians is still an animated classic that’s worthy of a place in your collection.

Blu-ray Review:
The Diamond Edition Blu-ray release of this canine classic also includes a number of worthwhile extras. In addition to the classic DVD features—demos, deleted songs, a making-of feature, and more—there are also several brand-new offerings on the special features menu. The all-new animated short, The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt, continues the adventures of the puppies’ favorite hero (complete with occasional commentary from the puppies themselves). In the 1961 special Walt Disney Presents: The Best Doggoned Dog in the World, Walt himself discusses his lifelong love of dogs while telling stories about his favorite heroic canines. And young Disney Channel star Cameron Boyce offers more tidbits and trivia about what makes the this Disney classic so remarkable in Dalmatians 101.

If you love movie history as much as I do, though, you won’t want to skip Lucky Dogs, a behind-the-scenes feature that mixes archive footage with all-new interviews to give fans a sense of what it was like to work at Disney’s animation studios. Several long-time Disney animators explain the process and the innovations that went into making 101 Dalmatians—and how those innovations ultimately saved animated movies.

The extras included in this Blu-ray release offer something for fans of all ages—from young Disney Channel fans to armchair historians. So after you finish catching up with Pongo, Perdita, and their pups, be sure to check out the special features menu, too.

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