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DVD Review: 101 Dalmatians: Two-Disc Platinum Edition (1961)

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101 Dalmatians is loosely based on the 1956 children's book The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. In Smith's book there are actually four main dalmatians. Their "pets" are already married. Roger is a "financial wizard" who has been granted an exemption from income tax for life because he freed England of its national debt, they have a nanny and a butler, and Cruella De Vil is married to a furrier and covets expensive fur and ridiculously high temperatures. I mention these details because Walt Disney removed or reworked several of these facts when he adapted the story for a film back in 1961.

Despite the changes, 101 Dalmatians remains one of my favorite animated Disney films of all time. In the movie, Pongo (Rod Taylor) lives with his "pet" Roger (Ben Wright), a struggling composer in London. Pongo makes it his mission to find a wife for Roger and a mate for himself. When he sees a beautiful dalmatian named Perdita (Cate Bauer) and her "pet" Anita (Lisa Davis) heading to Regent's Park, he sets out on a mission for him and Roger to meet them there. Predictably, Pongo's efforts pay off; Roger and Anita get married and Pongo gets a mate.

Soon, Perdita is due to give birth to dalmatian puppies, providing a family for themselves, their childless "pets" and Nanny. Enter Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), an old school acquaintance of Anita's; Cruella enters the scene like a whirling dervish. With her two-toned hair, blue skin, and shockingly bad posture, she storms into Roger and Anita's flat demanding to buy the puppies for a large sum of money. Loosely based on Tallulah Bankhead (Lifeboat, "Black Widow" on television's Batman), Cruella steals the film as soon as she arrives. As soon as Anita inquires how she is doing, Cruella responds, "Miserable, dah-ling, as usual. Perfectly wretched." As created by animator Marc Davis, de Vil looks like death warmed over, covered in a monstrously oversized pelt. The fact that she hatches a plan to skin the puppies for a coat to match her thatch of black and white hair comes as no surprise. After all, what else could we expect from someone who looks like her and tears around the streets in her limo like a bat out of hell?

Because Anita and Roger won't sell the pups at any price, De Vil hires a couple of thugs to kidnap the prized litter. Their "pets" try everything they can think of, but even Scotland Yard can't help. From then on, it's up to Pongo and Perdita to find their children. They use the "Twilight Bark" to alert other dogs in England of their loss, and go on an extended adventure aided by other animal friends to find their puppies. The "101" comes from the number of pups De Vil has accumulated for her coat making scheme.

Of course, Pongo and Perdita decide to bring their 15 children along with the other 84 dalmatians home to live with their "pets." Now the chase is on, as the crew of 101 dalmatians must make it back to London with Cruella and her thugs in hot pursuit.

In the end, Pongo, Perdita, and the rest of the puppy clan have a happy reunion with their "pets." The thugs are left laughing, as Cruella is sideswiped in mid-puppy pursuit (her limo stripped of its chassis reveals the ultimate dragster), Cruella is left crying in the snow. Even with her closing crying jag, Cruella De Vil remains the ultimate animated diva.

In making 101 Dalmatians Walt Disney chose to use a new Xerox process that resulted in a rougher style that probably aided in creating the hard edges of Cruella De Vil's appearance and the dark mood of the film as the search for the puppies commences. Seen below is an early color model cel of Cruella De Vil created by Marc Davis during his development process of the character for 101 Dalmatians. They were used to determine the final color styling for Cruella throughout the film.

Marc Davis, one of Walt Disney's legendary 'nine old men' of animation, was the only artist to work exclusively on Cruella throughout the entire film. This image was graciously revealed by Marc's widow, Alice Estes Davis, a Disney legend in her own right.

The picture quality of 101 Dalmatians: Two-Disc Platinum Edition is very good. The digitally restored and remastered video provides a nicely defined image and the colors are fairly bright. The restoration has eliminated any signs of age, delivering a picture that looks like it could have been drawn last year.

CEL_Cruella_5_Davis.jpgThe sound has been redone in Dolby Digital 5.1 home theater track as well as remastered in the film's original 1.0 monaural. Again, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds like it could have been done last year. While the soundtrack won't exactly boom out of your home theater speakers, the sound is more than acceptable.

101 Dalmatians: Two-Disc Platinum Edition is packed with special features. Disc one contains two sets of pop-up trivia notes, one called "101 Pop-up Trivia Facts for the Family" and the other "101 Pop-up Trivia Facts for the Fan." The track for the family provides information on the differences between the book and the movie, while the one for the fan delves a little deeper into behind-the-scenes material. Then there is an all-new music video, "Cruella De Vil," performed by Disney Channel star Selena Gomez. I could have done without that, but young people will probably enjoy it.

Disc two contains: "Games and Activities," "Music and More," and "Backstage Disney." Under "Games and Activities, we get two versions of "Disney's Virtual Dalmatians," one a DVD-ROM item and the other a set-top sampler. In either case you get to pick a puppy and train it to do various things. Next is "Puppy Profiler," wherein you answer questions about yourself to see what kind of pet would best suit you. And third, there is the "101 Dalmatians Fun With Language Game," designed to help very young kids learn new words and numbers.

"Music and More" includes about thirty-four minutes' worth of deleted songs, some of them abandoned by Disney, some of them alternate takes.

In "Backstage Disney," there is a thirty-four-minute documentary, "Redefining The Line: The Making of 101 Dalmatians." It presents the views of animators and filmmakers on the subject of the film. After that are a pair of featurettes, "Cruella De Vil: Drawn To Be Bad," seven minutes on the famous villainess; and "Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney," twelve minutes recreating the correspondence Disney conducted with author Dodie Smith before and during the film's production. Lastly, there are seven trailers, radio, and TV spots; seven separate art galleries for such things as "Visual Development, "Character Design," and "Production Photos."

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