One Hundred and One Dalmatiansis the story of a heroic, black labrador who helps a couple of dalmatians rescue their stolen puppies by suggesting they become black labradors too. Or perhaps it’s all about the Dalmatians, and my endless love for black labradors has affected my perception of the movie.
The film came out January 25th, 1961, in a time of need for Disney. Their last movie had been, as you know if you’ve been following our Disney Canon series, Sleeping Beauty. That had been a very expensive project, and it had left the studio deep in debt. There were even talks of closing down the animation part of the studio, *shudder*.
Luckily, Disney had read the eponymous book on which the film is based, written by Dodie Smith, and he optioned the rights. Not only that, but this was the first time the studio used the infamous Xerox technology, which cut costs in half. This would give all the Disney movies that scratchy, hard outline look until Fox And The Hound. But this being a relatively cheap project and also a good story that pitted a fantastic and iconic villain in Cruella De Vil against a team of dogs (talk about pure evil facing pure good), the movie became a massive hit and was an enormous help, financially speaking.
Now, let’s look into why the story works so well and what makes this movie a classic!
Well, the movie has more than a hundred dogs so it has a huge head-start over every other movie. Not only that, but most of them are puppies. Of course this was going to be a hit. The world and the characters are perfect. It’s full of details like the Twilight Bark that make it feel like a lived-in world despite the lean running time of 68 minutes.
The animation is also fantastic. I was particularly struck by the scene where the puppies are walking in the cold before they reach the barn with the cows. There is no dialogue, but those puppies look so cold. Every step seems like a major effort, and when they have to turn back, they do it like they have no energy left whatsoever. It’s fantastic.
The characters are all likable, including the goofy villain henchmen Horace and Jasper. Pongo’s and Perd’s humans are perfect for their roles. They make a wonderful couple, and they’re generous enough to barely hesitate in the decision to keep the 80 extra puppies that come to their house at the end.
The movie is also very, very English. I don’t think I had ever noticed how it permeates everything about it. The characters are always saying things like “By George!” and “That is simply capital!” It adds to the great atmosphere the filmmakers created.
But we can’t talk about this movie without discussing its phenomenal villain. So let’s talk about Cruella De Vil.
Cruella steals every scene she’s in. She leaves a putrid cloud of green smoke everywhere she goes, both literally and figuratively. Her character design is just astounding. She just looks so evil that it’s hard to imagine her as a classmate of the sweet Anita. Everything about Cruella is just bigger than life, and every detail works so well.
I mean, who would want to skin ninety-nine puppies to make a coat?! Yet when it comes to Cruella, it feels so natural. Of course that’d be her plan. Of course her car looks evil. Of course she’s a maniac when she drives.
Although every aspect of the movie is good, I feel Cruella is the extraordinary component that makes everything else pop and elevates the movie to classic status. This is an incredibly enjoyable story, full of humor, heart, fantastic character moments, and one of Disney’s most iconic villains ever. And it’s only 68 minutes long! What are you waiting for? Go rewatch it!
And finally, good luck to Emma Stone, who will try to make us relate to a woman whose plan is, I reiterate, to skin almost a hundred puppies to make herself a coat.
What do you think about this movie? Where does Cruella rank in the Disney Villain pantheon for you?
Pablo Ruiz is a Colombian filmmaker. Movies like Toy Story, The Lion King and Aladdin made him fall in love with the art form and now he hopes to dedicate his life to telling stories, hopefully for Pixar (if they go back to doing original films).
Some of his ambitions are making a movie as emotionally impacting as Toy Story 3, meeting JK Rowling, and petting a million dogs. Follow him on Twitter (@PabloRV7).