From its man’s best friend focus to the iconic villain, Walt Disney’s Studios’ 101 Dalmatians, based on the 1956 novel of the same name by Dodie Smith, is one of Disney’s most enduring classic animated features; Walt Disney, himself was such a fan, he immediately bought the movie rights. Despite Disney Studios’ difficult financial situation at the time, the film went into production almost right away. Finally released in 1961, 101 Dalmatians is largely responsible for Disney’s continued effort in animation. A longtime favorite, it’s surprising that the new Diamond Edition Blu-ray package marks the picture’s first North American high definition release.
Since 2000, Walt Disney Studios has gone from Gold, to Platinum, to Diamond releases of their classic films. Though, the marketing might suggest otherwise, the Diamond Edition title is simply the moniker Disney is using for its Blu-ray re-releases. Considering the high definition presentation, you might expect that the newest package to be the definitive version, however this is not necessarily the case. The last year’s Diamond Edition of The Jungle Book was widely criticized for its aspect ratio change from 1.33:1 to a cropped 1.75:1. Apparently, Disney listened, and the Diamond Edition of 101 Dalmatians is presented in its original non-widescreen format, with the optional “Disney View.”
As revealed in the extra features, 101 Dalmatians utilized a number of new technologies to cut production costs, partially due to Sleeping Beauty’s box-office struggles, Like its predecessor, 101 Dalmatians is highly stylized, albeit in a completely different style. The biggest change to Disney’s animation process, in this film, was the use of Xerox machines. While this allowed significant cuts in the number of artists needed, it also resulted in somewhat fuzzy looking lines. This made the vibrant, detailed style of animation Disney was known for impossible. To incorporate the technical limitations, 101 Dalmatians embraced a new hand-drawn pen and ink style with a softer, pastel-shaded coloring.
While I prefer, Disney’s more vibrant presentation styles, I do appreciate 101 Dalmatians’ less musical approach. Besides “Cruella De Vil,” there are really only two other songs featured in the film, one of which is in a television commercial. Speaking of television, 101 Dalmatians is also the animated Disney feature film that used a current setting. That means besides the buckets of puppies, automobiles and other modern fixtures play prominent roles in the movie. Those and the other sounds, and voices are all surprisingly well handled in the new 7.1 channel, re-mastered audio.
The extras included with the 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition are mainly geared toward Disney animation history enthusiasts, with most of the bonus features focusing on the internal workings of Disney during the era the movie was made. There is a new animated short in the package that continues the puppies’ favorite television show, “The Adventures of Thunderbolt.” Walt Disney’s 1961 edition of “The Best Doggoned Dog in the World” is also included. Of course, the iconic Cruella De Vil character and her song play a large part in the remainder of the offerings.
Considering 101 Dalmatians is now more than 50 years old, the Diamond Edition release is a fairly impressive effort. Including the Blu-ray, DVD, and the more convenient digital download offering, the Diamond Edition is satisfying package. While the art style isn’t my favorite, the video reproduction is solid with good contrast and the “Disney View” hides the black bars on a widescreen television. The audio options include DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio on the blu-ray, and Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD. An original theatrical audio, Dolby 1.0 option, along with French and Spanish dubs are also available. The Digital HD option allows the main feature to be viewed through Apple’s iTunes, or Disney Movies Anywhere.
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