101 Dalmatians (1961)
August 8, 2019 11:46 PM - Subscribe

When a litter of Dalmatian puppies are abducted by the minions of Cruella de Vil, the parents must find them before she uses them for a diabolical fashion statement.

[Howard Thompson, New York Times, 1961]
For his latest animated color feature, the master has used a book by Dodie Smith to spin a generally cozy and sentimental little yarn about a nice young English couple, their brood of dogs and a lady "dognapper" who collects Dalmatians to make coats. It's a rather clever idea, if a bit unsettling.While the story moves steadily toward a stark, melodramatic "chase" climax, it remains enclosed in a typical Disney frame of warm family love, human and canine. And, as adapted by Bill Peet and directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton. S. Luske and Slyde Geronimi, it offers likable, human-voiced sprinters.
[Ralph Novak, People, 1991]
What it lacks in romantic extravagance and plush spectacle, this 1961 Disney film makes up for in quiet charm and subtlety. In fact, if any movie with dogs, cats and horses who talk can be said to belong in the realm of realistic drama, this is it.

That’s partly because the relatively austere animation style and restrained use of color sober the tone. Even Cruella De Vil, the memorable villainess whose interest in Dalmatians is coincident with her interest in fur coats, is restrained in her way—she looks like a demonic Cyndi Lauper, but she’s only humanly evil, not a witch.

[Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 1991]
By the time the film was made, the golden days of full animation were already past. It was simply too expensive to animate every frame by hand, as Disney did in earlier days, and computer assistance was still in the future. In a film like “101 Dalmatians,” you can see certain compromises, as when the foreground figures are fully animated but the backgrounds look static and sometimes one-dimensional. The strong point is in movement, and the animal figures have a nice three-dimensional reality to them, as in a scene where a puppy crawls under a blanket and tucks itself in....

If there's one thing that's absolutely first-rate about the film, it's the character of Cruella, with a voice by Betty Lou Gerson, who achieves almost operatic effects with her sudden entrances and exits, accompanied by clouds of yellow cigarette smoke. She's in a league with the Wicked Stepmother and the other great Disney villainesses - but the rest of the movie is more ordinary.

[Joanne Rhetts, KNT News Service, 1985]
[Betty Lou] Gerson will be forever identified with Cruella De Vil because Gerson's bronze vocal cords gave voice to the hilariously evil puppy- napper of Walt Disney's One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which has just been re-released. Even today, Gerson's "WHERE ARE THOSE PUPPIES?" booming through the telephone lines from Southern California would give pause to the horses in the streets or the reindeer in the sky....

What makes her voice distinctive, she said, is "the covered tone. You have a lid on your voice. It's not wide open." She takes the "lid" off, and the difference, while difficult to articulate, is the difference between the resonance of a cello and that of a cigar box.

[Amy Braun, UltimateDisney.com, 2008]
Have people ever heard you speak and recognized your voice from the movie?

Yes, they do, and sometimes I will be out and people say, "I've heard your voice before!" and all I have to say is, "It's teatime, Roger, it's teatime, darling," and they say, "Oh, it's 101 Dalmatians!" And then they bring a child over and they say, "Do you know who this lady is?" and the little child will say no, and they say, "Will you say that again?" and I say, "It's teatime, Roger," and they say, "Oh, it's Anita, it's Anita!" and I say yes. I think that's my most famous line, "It's teatime, Roger".

How was it showing the film to your children and letting them know that their mother is the voice of a Disney character?

Oh, it was endlessly wonderful. I mean, first it was my children, and now it's my grandchildren. Recently the Walt Disney studio showed the movie at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard there, and we had a lovely big screening. I had my little 3-year-old grandchild in the audience and it was the first time she'd actually seen it on the big screen. And she just said, "That's you, Nana, that's you, Nana!" and I said, "Yes, sweetie, it is."

[Susan King, Los Angeles Times, 2015]
“Sleeping Beauty” had been a pet project of Walt Disney, who had mandated that the film “should look like a moving tapestry,” animator-director Frank Gladstone said. “It was heavily art-directed. The animation was so pristine and precise.” Perhaps too precise. Though it received high marks for its visual style, “it didn’t carry the emotion people expected from a Disney film,” Gladstone added.

Veteran animator Floyd Norman, a young artist at Disney at the time, said the studio had serious concerns that animation might not be viable financially. “We truly needed a hit,” he said. “We needed to come back strong.” They did: “101 Dalmatians,” Norman said, was the film that “really kept animation alive at Walt Disney Studios.”

Cruella's greatest lines:
I liiiive for furs, I woooorship furs! After all, is there a woman in all this wretched world who doesn't?
Blast this pen! Blast this wretched, wretched PEN!!
You idiots! You--you fools! Oh, you imbeci-hi-hiiiiiiles!!
posted by J.K. Seazer (14 comments total)
I found Dalmatians to be refreshingly janky, as Disney animated films go. There are about as many brilliant highlights as disappointing failures. People split on whether they like the scratchy Xeroxed line work, but I'm a fan; it helps convey the more realistic setting of Dalmatians as opposed to the high European fantasy of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. On the other hand, I thought the writing was pretty weak. Cruella, of course, is the star of the show, but she could have been even better with more flavorful dialogue. Instead of saying "You idiots" three or four times, why not "You blithering nitwits", or "You lunkheaded dolts"? Still, it's poetry compared to the insipid lines that the good guys are saddled with.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 1:50 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

I really liked the style for the animation they went with. It has a strong vibe of magazine illustrations from the era, or slightly before, which works really well with the story and action I think. The story is hella hetronormative though and, unsurprisingly, a bit dated in its attitudes. Pongo scoping out potential mates because he decides Roger needs a housekeeper is all sorts of a yesterday idea that doesn't hold up well, even if they handle the meet cute well enough visually.

More than that though is the Cruella de Vil thing. She's a dynamic character, but pretty clearly styled on Mame, which makes the conflict seem even more about maintaining the hetro-bond in face of Anita's threatening single woman friend, who's menace Roger sees immediately, coming up with the catchy Cruella de Vil song, and Anita doesn't catch at all until later after the "kids" are stolen.

The action scenes and dog brigade that helps the puppies escape were fun to see when I was young and still have some good moments, but the focus on action leaves the story feeling a little thin, when the opening sort of hinted there was a more involved domestic tale that could have been told instead. It's still interesting though that it does at least frame the story around the "parents" to start instead of the more usual coming of age-ish sort of thing Disney does.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:28 AM on August 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Cruella de Vil and dead puppies. Name a more iconic duo. I'll wait.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:17 AM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cruella is pretty awesome in her villainy. I mean she's basically a witch, but one who, instead of wanting children to eat, wants to skin them and wear their skins for funsies, with her power tied to money instead of magic. It's pretty grim really, given the dogs all not only "speak" but are clearly smarter than the humans, so wanting to kill a bunch of puppies for fashion is right up there in the evil ideas stakes. (That her money is the also used as contrast to Roger's inability to provide goes back to my earlier point too of course. With "maybe dad will need to sell me if he can't pay his bills", being a nice little added scare for kids identifying with the pups.)
posted by gusottertrout at 11:55 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

With "maybe dad will need to sell me if he can't pay his bills", being a nice little added scare for kids identifying with the pups.

I like that interpretation. The animals in this story are like a fantastic underclass, coexisting peacefully with humans for the most part, but ultimately at their mercy. Just like Cruella disparages Jasper and Horace's intelligence and subjects them to violence, Jasper in turn dismisses the very possibility that the dogs could be intelligent, and tries to murder them all.

Rewatching this as an adult, I actually found Jasper to be scarier than Cruella. Cruella is so hammy, she just comes off as ridiculous, but Jasper is a guy doing his job, with only the faintest, quickly-suppressed moral feeling standing in his way of personally killing 99 defenseless puppies. There's some really nice scene composition where he approaches the puppies with a poker, and it cuts to an upshot from the puppies' perspective looking straight at him. Later, when he swings the poker at the Colonel in the barn, the camera stays fixed on the Colonel holding his ground, emphasizing his courage against this terrifying foe.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 2:02 PM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Auntie Mame and The Hundred and One Dalmatians were published a year apart. Cruella is inspired by Tallulah Bankhead.
posted by brujita at 3:34 PM on August 9, 2019

Auntie Mame and The Hundred and One Dalmatians were published a year apart. Cruella is inspired by Tallulah Bankhead.

Yeah, I can see the Tallulah in her, which carries some of the same sorts of connotations. The movie is different than the book though, mostly in the way they changed Cruella, dropping her husband and in Roger's financial status, which, along with the way the character is portrayed, reminds me a bit of Auntie Mame, the movie of which was a big hit right about when they would have been preparing the film, so I figure that might have some influence as well.

I actually found Jasper to be scarier than Cruella. Cruella is so hammy, she just comes off as ridiculous, but Jasper is a guy doing his job, with only the faintest, quickly-suppressed moral feeling standing in his way of personally killing 99 defenseless puppies.

Jasper is a nasty one, much more the physical threat than Cruella and those scenes you mention are quite vivid. I can picture them now without having seen the movie in decades. The movie does well with the human characters in making them seem so vivid without making them seem separate from the world of intelligent dogs. A nice balance of the mundane and ridiculous, which is probably how pets, like kids, would see adults if they had a chance to say.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:29 PM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mame has joie de vivre and wants to share it with as many possible; Cruella is just evil.
posted by brujita at 12:17 AM on August 10, 2019

Oh, sure, I meant more that the hetronormative angle means putting a spin on the character that takes Mame's exuberance and turns it to selfishness instead to signal a threat to the couple and parenting. It's Cruella's energy that reminds me of Russell's Mame, not her values other than in how directly opposed they are to Mame's. The feeling for me being that Mame's single, open lifestyle can read as threat to "traditional values" which then needs correcting to maintain the social order.

Tallulah Bankhead as inspiration would read in much the same way, given her rebellious attitude and open sexuality. Either inspiration works, that's just the lifestyle they seem to be reflecting with Cruella in a conservative way. Thankfully though Cruella still manages to escape that somewhat just because the larger than life always retains some attraction contrasted to the mundane. That's part of the pleasure of a good villain.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:52 AM on August 10, 2019

I found Dalmatians to be refreshingly janky, as Disney animated films go.

Sums it up for me, thanks!

I will always love Cruella (she and Ursula are the top fun Disney villains for me) and her delightful theme song. I always enjoy Roger singing it and having the nerve to make that up in the first place.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:07 AM on August 10, 2019

I have really fond memories of this film, and most especially the opening credits. Cute, inventive, very 60s.
posted by Gordafarin at 3:45 AM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I will always love Cruella

You're in luck!
posted by Mogur at 5:56 AM on August 13, 2019


I guess that's a thing now?
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:23 PM on August 13, 2019

when it was rereleased in the early 70s we saw it the van Nuys drive in. upon seeing Pongo my then toddler brother sat bolt upright and shouted "Daisy! Daisy!(our Dalmatian)

book perdita is a liver Dalmatian who the Dearlys rescue; she helps nurse and raise pongo and Missis' litter.
posted by brujita at 6:41 AM on August 17, 2019

« Older Wu Assassins: Drunken Watermel...   |  The Letdown: Season 2... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments