“One Hundred and One Dalmatians” is one of the best-loved Disney classics (and the first of its animated films to take place in a contemporary setting). There is nothing more irresistible than 99 frisky spotted puppies and there has never been a more deliciously scary villain than the fur-mad Cruella De Vil. It is a great family movie because it is exciting and funny and because it is all about the importance of family and community and the love parents have for their children. And just because it is a lot of fun.
Like “Lady and the Tramp,” 101 Dalmatians is told from the perspective of dogs, this time two dalmatians, Pongo and Perdita, the cherished pets of Roger and Anita. Anita’s old friend is the aptly named Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson). Her henchmen kidnap Perdita’s puppies and eighty-four others so she can make them into a dalmatian fur coat. Pongo (Rod Taylor) and Perdita (Cate Bauer), with the help of their animal friends, undertake a daring rescue. The puppies are adorable, and the movie is delightful (with a sly poke at television and the kids who watch it).
Movieline magazine once asked actresses to name the most memorable female villain in the history of the movies — Cruella was at the top of the list. She just might be the most ruthless villain of all time and any gender. Hannibal Lecter may be “Hannibal the Cannibal” but he never tried to make darling little puppies into a fur coat.
This gorgeous new Diamond edition is a treasure. This was a transitional film between the hand-painted classical style of the fairy-tale Disney films and a looser, more modern look. It was the then-new invention of the photocopier that made this movie possible. Without that technology, the Disney artists would still be painting all those spots.
Families who enjoy this movie might also like to see the 1997 live-action version, with Glenn Close as Cruella. Close is wonderful, but the movie relies too much on slapstick and the real dogs do not have the personality and range of expression of their animated predecessors. The 2000 sequel, “102 Dalmatians,” also featuring Close, is disappointing, too much silliness and not enough sweetness. The animated original is still the best. And the book by Dodie Smith is very different, but also wonderful.