15. 101 Dalmatians (1961)
The 60’s were an interesting time at the Walt Disney Studios. Disney was busy at work in the live-action film department and their television market at this time in order to recover from the financial stir caused by Sleeping Beauty that sent the company into a more cautious state with their animation productions. Going a cheaper route with the Xerox process and less of a budget, the studio managed to save their hide with the box office smash that was One Hundred and One Dalmatians (a.k.a. 101 Dalmatians). It’s also at this time in the list I like to address that despite the studio’s brand name, they tend to hit a ton of ups and downs in the box office department.
Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) wants to steal 15 puppies from Roger (Ben Wright) and Anita Radcliffe (Lisa Davis) that Pongo (Rod Taylor) and Perdita (Cate Bauer) have just brought up in the world. After denying her the right to take them and a few months pass, Cruella hires two goons, Horace (Federick Worlock) and Jasper (J. Pat O’Malley) steal the puppies with Pongo and Perdita risking life and limb to find them and save them, along with 84 other puppies. It’s a adventure of survival, comedy and moments that are quite smart for a family film.
It’s a beautifully animated movie that really takes on the art of the swining 60’s coming in. It is a more sketch based style that would be shown in other features of this time period such as The Sword in the Stone and The Jungle Book. The animation is fluid and fast-paced with the animation of Pongo being the true standout above the rest along with the painstaking Xerox process to create all the different dalmatian puppies. The designs of Cruella De Vil is a marvel by making this skinny frail specimen a larger-than-life madcap monster that is both hilarious and villainous. In fact, from a pure design standpoint, it’s a marvel of vibrant colors, rich effects and new techniques that marvel at the time. The dialogue of the film also feel sophisticated and natural. The whole introduction of Pongo and Roger’s bachelor life and finding the proper fit for Roger is one of my personal favorite film moments in the entire film. From start to finish, the film is absolutely spectacular and, dare I say it, a doggone good time.
Critic’s Quote: “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.” – Howard Thompson, February 11, 1961
Signature Moment: Despite my personal pick of the introduction scene, the “Twilight Bark” sequence shows the far range of the canine world and how important the puppies are to Pongo and Perdita.