Disney enters this successful decade with One Hundred and One Dalmatians released in 1961 and based on the novel of the same name thus going back to non-fairytale features and being the first film to use the so-called xerography which is the cheap process of animation they would use again in this decade.
This is one of the more interesting and even authentic Disney films thanks to the inclusion of a different genre which is adventure with a lot of action as well. The story is excellent, wonderfully thought out and filled with great attention to detail and fine characterization. It starts with what is arguably one of the best Disney openings to date with wonderful animation, excellent humor and charming voice over narration from Pongo. That whole scene leading to the park is beautiful and instantly interests you in the film. Then there is of course the introduction to Cruella de Ville’s character which is done in a memorable manner leading to the dogs communicating with other dogs in the town thus spreading the news of the abduction. This was the sequence that showcased the sense of playfulness and charming humor the most adding the necessary sweet and innocent tone to the film that would lack it for scenes to come. Then there comes the prolonged action sequence where the protagonists must return with all the puppies home. This is done for better and for worse. On the one hand, the action is done in an intriguing way, it is mostly very entertaining and suspenseful making you root for the main characters. And there is some inventiveness to be found in the execution of it as well which is always a nice thing. But on the other hand, all that action becomes quite overwhelming later on ruining the pacing in the process which is the problem that annoyingly bothers so many Disney movies. And they should have added some quiet moments with the necessary character development and even comic relief to balance it a bit. However, this is one bigger problem I found in this otherwise remarkable and very underrated movie. And the finale is wonderful with endearing song and satisfying happy reunion.
The characterization in this film is simply amazing. If there is one thing you could argue, that is the lack of personality in the puppies except of course for Lucky and Rolly who is an endearing comic relief. But they couldn’t have developed all of them due to their enormous number and that is why I didn’t find that flaw overwhelming. But the other characters are magnificent and oh so memorable. Roger is very relatable both in his design and personality which is a refreshing change in pace from their previous male leads, mostly unrealistic dashing princes. Anita is somewhat forgettable, but they are a lovely couple along with Pongo and Perdita. Nanny is very effervescent and a minor character that serves her purpose while also being well developed and charming. The other dog characters all fit the story and help the protagonists whereas Captain and Sergeant Tibbs, a genius duo of cat and dog at work, are very effective and comedic. And then there is of course Cruella De Ville who is absolutely stunning. With simply fantastic animation design, phenomenal voice work, menacing nature, some great lines, authentic personality and crazy behavior, she steals the scene whenever she is in and is, without any doubt, one of the top three best Disney villains ever created. She is a genius creation at work, an extremely memorable character and a powerful addition to Disney’s pantheon of classic villains. As for Horace and Jasper, they are hilarious as the two comedic henchmen who perfectly counteract and serve as her servants. Those two bring the necessary humor to the film which lacks it after the charming beginning.
Speaking of Cruella, she greatly contributes to the evident and very refreshing realism of the picture. Her goal is real and everything in this movie seems realistic without any magic whatsoever. The animals talk, but not with humans and it is a great approach that helps the film appeal to older audiences.
The animation is very good in my opinion. I know that everyone tends to hate on Disney’s 1960s films done with this type of animation because they find it cheap and while it is cheap, I still think it is very warm, stylistic with great art direction and splendid character design. And the color palette and a style similar to paintings is very appealing and differentiates it from their earlier and later efforts.
As for the soundtrack, it has just two songs but both are good. Dalmatian Plantation is sweet, catchy and ends the movie in a satisfying manner, but of course Cruella De Ville is the classic one with excellent lyrics which fit the movie perfectly and the situation thus doing what every song in a musical should do – drive the plot forward or explain the character instead of slowing the whole film down. The latter example applies here. The lyrics again showcase her personality as well as Roger’s and accompanies one great sequence wonderfully. It is a standout song and one of the classic and most memorable Disney songs for good reasons.