A Second Look: One Hundred and One Dalmatians
In 1961, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wolfgang Reitherman released One Hundred and One Dalmatians, based on the 1956 novel of the same name by Dodie Smith. Starring Rod Taylor, Cate Bauer, Betty Lou Gerson, Ben Wright, Bill Lee, Lisa Davis, Martha Wentworth, Frederick Worlock, J. Pat O’Malley, Thurl Ravenscroft, David Frankham, Mimi Gibson, Tudor Owen, Queenie Leonard, Marjorie Bennett, Barbara Luddy, Tom Conway, Basil Ruysdael, and Paul Frees, the film grossed $215.8 million at the box office. Nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Recording for Children and the Satellite Award for Best Youth DVD, the film won the BAFTA Film Award for Best Animated Film.
After the Dalmatian Pongo finds a wife for his human, Roger, along with a mate for himself, the canine couple have a litter of 15 puppies. Cruella De Vil wants to buy and make a coat out of them, but Roger refuses to sell them. Weeks later, two criminals named Jasper and Horace steal the litter and when Scotland Yard can’t find them, Pongo seeks help from all the dogs in London.
One of the more low-key Disney films from the early 1960s, One Hundred and One Dalmatians is quite a good film. At the outset, the plot looks to be a bit average as it looks to be a standard kidnapping story only with Dalmatian puppies instead of human children. From the beginning, it’s pretty obvious that Cruella is going to get her hands on the litter of 15 puppies and that Pongo and his mate, Perdita, are going to track them down somehow and rescue them. However, they only have 15 puppies and it’s not until the film is halfway through does the film bring in the other 84 puppies, which Pongo and Perdita immediately decide to take in. Further, as they’re making a long trek back to London through the freezing winter with Cruella, Horace and Jasper on their tails, all the dogs in the countryside are watching for them so they can assist. It’s a really great film where the first half is setting up for the true adventure in the second half on the way back from Hell Hall.
Really though, the film is carried by its characters, with Pongo and Perdita being great dual leads. Before the puppies are stolen, he’s basically seen as being the average carefree dad that always takes the side of the mom. Yet, his children getting stolen and him having to bring them back really brings out his personality. Throughout the film, he’s shown as being intelligent, tactical and stealthy, seen when he realizes that they can roll around in soot and disguise themselves. As for Perdita, she’s a good foil to Pongo, with the film establishing her as stern and more disciplinary when it comes to the children in contrast to Pongo’s carefree nature. As with Pongo though, her personality really comes out and is the heart in contrast to Pongo’s brains when bringing all the puppies back.
Now, when it comes to villains, Horace and Jasper make a really great duo as the bumbling sidekicks. Both of them are pretty stupid and would rather watch television than do Cruella’s dirty work. Horace also seems to be a little bit smarter than Jasper and correctly thinks that the dogs are intelligent and evading them through tactical means, such as covering their tracks. However, Jasper believes he’s more intelligent and won’t have Horace showing him up and since dogs can’t do that, he dismisses it and will often smack Horace across the head for being stupid. At the same time though, they do have their moments of competence, especially when stealing the puppies as Jasper is able to trick Nanny into following him upstairs to create a distraction for Horace stealing them, but when they’re getting ready to kill the puppies. Also, the only reason they didn’t kill the puppies right when Cruella asked them to was because they’re lazy, not because they sympathize. Honestly, if they were more dedicated to their jobs, Horace and Jasper could very well be criminal leaders rather than working for Cruella.
Still though, Cruella is a wonderful main villain, bringing the psychosis up to levels that villains in animated Disney films could only dream of reaching. Not only does she want puppies in order to create a fur coat, but she loses her mind when pet owners won’t sign over puppies that haven’t even been born yet. What’s more is that when she has all the puppies, she wastes no time in ordering their deaths so the authorities can’t uncover anything and when she finds out they’re gone, she goes even more insane and starts trying to ram an innocent truck driver off the road just because the puppies are in there. Fascinatingly, it’s that chase scene that’s the most memorable of Cruella’s scenes as she’s having a full on breakdown during. She drives her car in a ditch, drives out, goes through thorny brush and then tries ramming the truck off the road, not caring about anyone or anything that’s between her and the puppies.
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