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101 DALMATIANS
Platinum Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Ben Wright, Lisa Davis, Rod Taylor
Directors:  Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  79 Minutes
Release Date:  March 4, 2008

"The humans have tried everything...now it's up to us dogs."

Film ***1/2

One of my earliest movie going memories was Disney’s 101 Dalmatians.  I wasn’t around in 1961 when it first came out, but I got to see it in re-release, and at a drive-in, no less.  I remember more than anything being captivated by the twilight bark.  The dogs signaling one to another across the cool dusky streets of London and far out into the country…well, it captured my imagination big-time.  And I don’t think I’ve ever listened to barking dogs the same way again.

This film has endured from generation to generation as one of Disney’s most popular animated classics.  Although it may be one of the lesser defined in terms of well-developed characters, there’s still so much at work here.  Mostly the comedy…this is one of the funnier offerings from Disney, with a good bit of well-placed “business” throughout the film to keep it light.  But mostly, I think this film succeeds because of the greatest of all cartoon femme fatales…Cruella DeVil. 

Though the wickedly evil female antagonist has been, and continues to be, a staple in the Disney storytelling tradition, no one…not the queen from Snow White, not Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty…has been so popular as Cruella.  She was a walking fright show, from her outrageous wigs to her ridiculously over indulgent fur coats that made her twig frame seem at least five times as big.  She was so flamboyant, so over-the-top with her wickedness that she was positively hysterical…but no so much so that she couldn’t be brought around to frightening fruition at the climax.  And really, forget the queen that wanted Snow White dead to placate her own vanity.  This woman wanted to kill puppies to make coats.  Now that’s wicked.

And as for those protagonists, what they lack in character they more than make up for in cuteness.  They are adorable and spirited (all 99 of them), and serve their dramatic purpose well.  We definitely root for them to get away from the mad Cruella.

But as I mentioned, the comedy aspects of the film are first rate.  Many of them involve little, easily overlooked bits of business, like when Cruella shifts Roger’s pipe to the side in order to stand nose to nose with him.  Or the anthropomorphic touches, like when Pongo and Roger wait anxiously in the kitchen while the puppies are being delivered in the next room, with the nanny serving as a kind of midwife to Perdie.  Or my favorite…watch the end of the commercial for Kanine Krunchies on the television screen, when Pongo turns the set off.   I’ll be darned if that spokesman doesn’t look surprised that he’s been switched off!

So, all ingredients put together make 101 Dalmatians the beloved film that it is…one which maintains its charm and ability to win kids over as they watch it with their own parents who no doubt grew up with the movie…and will no doubt continue to appeal to their own kids when they wean themselves on it. 

BONUS TRIVIA:  Cruella was actually modeled after the late comic actress Mary Wickes, whom you may remember as the crotchety old nun Mary Lazarus from Sister Act.

Video ****

Absolutely stunning...101 Dalmatians deserves a standing ovation.  This transfer is all but flawless, with incredible brightness to the coloring, superb sharpness to all images, and no noticeable nicks, scars or flaws in the picture.  In some of the scenes with the two parents and their puppies, there are even slight variations in shades of white from dog to dog. 

Audio ****

The new 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theatre Mix is outstanding...they do some of the best remasters for older films I've heard.  There's plenty of dynamic range and lots of good use of the surrounds, both for music cues and action sequences.  Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout.  The original restored mono is also available for purists.

Features ***1/2

Plenty of good extras on this double disc edition.  With the first disc, you can watch a pop-up trivia track for extra fun; there are separate ones for the family and for the fans.  Also included is a music video for "Cruella De Vil" by Disney Channel star Selena Gomez.

The second disc starts with six deleted or extended songs...very cool.  You can also watch a making-of featurette, look at the correspondence between Walt Disney and Dodie Smith, the author of the book, and look at the one-of-a-kind Cruella De Vil.  Rounding out are some games for the little ones, including a virtual puppy, plus four trailers, three radio spots, and some art galleries.

Summary:

101 Dalmatians is good, spirited, comedic fun, that remains one of Disney’s most popular animated films.  And given the outstanding quality of this Platinum Edition DVD, the movie will most assuredly continue to inspire and win fans for many more generations to come.

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