101 Dalmatians remains by far one of Disney's most ambitious animation projects ever undertaken. Just issued in a new DVD edition, the film has never looked or sounded better. Fans of the film will find plenty of bonus features of the type only Disney could deliver to give them hours of entertainment.
As the film opens, we are introducted to Pongo (Rod Taylor), a dalmatian living in London with a semi-successful songwriter named Roger (Ben Wright). Pongo longs for an end to their bachelor existence and decides to take matters into his own hands during a walk in the park when he encounters another dalmatian named Perdita (Cate Bauer) and her owner Anita (Lisa Davis).
Roger and Anita fall in love and marry while Pongo and Perdita have a chance to raise a family of their own. They end up having 15 dalmatian puppies which are soon kidnapped by the evil Cruella De Vil, who wants to use the puppies' coats to make herself a new fur. Soon it's a race to see whether Pongo and Perdita can rescue their puppies in time. Little do they know that Cruella has been buying up dalmatians all over London and when they finally find their puppies they find eighty-four more, making for a family of 101 dalmatians.
This film broke new ground for Disney by moving away from its classical style of ink and paint animation (which required hand painting of each individual animation cel) to a Xerox process that was cheaper and faster. Stylistically, the artwork was more modern and contemporary than the film's predecessors. As a result, the look is much sharper and not as lush as other Disney films. However, it's also a more ambitious and detail-oriented film than other animated features. The task of animating ninety-nine dalmatian puppies and all their spots can be a nightmare for even the most talented of animators.
Disney has opened up its archives once again to show much of the behind-the-scenes work that went into this film. Numerous animators (both past and present) are interviewed as well as several Disney historians. We get an intimate look into the detailed effort that went into the making of this film. They have also included a pop-up trivia feature that allows the viewer to discover fun facts about the movie while watching it.
We also get to see an intimate portrait of Marc Davis, the animator responsible for creating Cruella De Vil. Little did Mr. Davis know that he was creating one of Disney's signature villians. 101 Dalmatians would be the last film Davis would work on.
Probably most fascinating among all the bonus features is "Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney" which focuses on the correspondence between Walt Disney and Dodie Smith, author of the original children's book that the film was based upon. Disney and Smith developed a close friendship both during and after production of the film and their relationship is beautifully captured in their letters.
101 Dalmatians ranks as one of Disney's greatest achievements in animation. This DVD, with the new digital restoration of the film, will only enhance its reputation as one of the best classic animated features ever made.