DirectorClyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman
Release Date(s)1961 (February 10, 2015)
Studio(s)Buena Vista Home Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
Originally released in 1961, Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians (or 101 Dalmatians as it is now billed) was a tremendous success for the studio. It was based upon the novel by Dodie Smith who was so pleased with the final film that she claimed it to be an improvement upon her original novel. After the recent financial disappointment of Sleeping Beauty, the studio was in need of a hit, and 101 Dalmatians was their ticket to keeping the animated torch alive.
101 Dalmatians also marked a change of management for the Disney animation team. It was a time when Walt Disney himself wasn’t able to be as involved with the creative process as much as he had been in the past. Normally he was heavily involved in the creative process behind the company’s films, but now that he was the head of a large corporation, he didn’t have the time needed to come up with new material. There was even talk of abandoning making animated films altogether. The company was branching out into new territories with live-action films, a TV series, theme parks, and merchandise. The tremendous cost of making animated films, for which they were most known, seemed like an avenue not worth pursuing as much.
Eventually, Walt Disney decided not to abandon producing animated films, instead handing over the duties of creating new material to some his best people. A major change to the look of the company’s output took place during this era. The process by which cel animation had been carried out on previous Disney films changed. The fine elegant lines and shading that were used extensively on films like Sleeping Beauty and Bambi were discarded for a cost-effective, rougher, and less elegant look. The relatively new process of Xeroxing animated cels instead of hand-painting them became a process that the animation team adapted for 101 Dalmatians. It helped cut the film’s spending costs in half, helping to make the production process more streamlined and less expensive. The process, however, was not to the liking of Walt Disney, who completely disliked the look, but came to accept it later on.
Technical processes aside, 101 Dalmatians was also one of the few Disney animated films at the time that didn’t rely heavily on musical numbers. The focus was shifted to the characters and their plight, more so than the spectacle or whimsy. The film’s story was also set in a more modern era. The timeframe that the story takes place in is never firmly nailed down. Again, it’s a film that’s less interested in the world that it inhabits and more concerned about its characters. And although Cruella De Vil’s dastardly plans involve wanting to make coats out of the Dalmatians’ hides, the story is never overtly dark or serious. It’s much lighter in tone and more heartfelt than one would expect with this kind of subject matter.
As an animal lover, I find it impossible to resist 101 Dalmatians’ charms. It’s a beautiful film and is one of the most enjoyable and light-hearted animated films from in the Disney line-up. The changes to the style and approach may have been unorthodox at the time, but they still made for a very entertaining film. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a more suspenseful and well-produced sequence than Cruella De Vil’s pursuit of the Dalmatians in the film’s final act.
Disney’s Blu-ray release of the film is another in their controversial high definition releases. In this case, the atrocities that were committed against the transfer for The Sword and the Stone won’t be found here, but die-hard purists will probably still be displeased. As somewhat of a purist, I personally don’t have a real problem with what Disney is doing with these presentations for the most part. The intention is to bring out the best in the original animation cels and leave detail as intact as possible. It’s true that they do tend to go too far sometimes, but in the case of 101 Dalmatians, this is probably the best the film has ever looked on home video. Film grain has been deleted altogether, leaving a very slight softness to the images, but never to the point of an overt loss in image quality. This would be a major problem in a live-action film, but it seems to work ok for an animated film. The color palette is left intact, which this isn’t a film with a lot of lush color to it, but what is present is reproduced beautifully and faithfully. Black levels are quite deep, and both contrast and brightness are perfect. I didn’t notice any signs of macroblocking that plagued the aforementioned release of The Sword and the Stone, nor any other problems. When it comes down to it, this is a great presentation, but may not be pleasing to all, depending on your preference. I personally don’t have a major problem with it because the final product looks terrific. It’s not perfect, of course, but considering what COULD have been done with it, I’m quite pleased with it.
On the flipside, I’m a little bit disappointed with the audio presentation. From the four options that are included (English 7.1 DTS-HD, the original theatrical mix in English mono Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS-HD High Resolution, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital), I was looking forward to the original theatrical mix, but it is presented on a lossy format. It’s great to have it included as I usually prefer the original soundtracks over the new ones, but it’s a bummer that it can’t live up to its full potential. The 7.1 track is very good, but not an altogether deeply immersive experience. Dialogue is always perfectly clear and clean, and both sound effects and score have a bit of room to breathe in certain spots. The rear speakers have some envelopment to them, but it’s mostly a light touch overall. Low end moments are also light here and there, but they are present from time to time. I didn’t notice any major problems with the track, but it just felt a little too light for a 7.1 presentation. It’s good enough, but I would have preferred having the original soundtrack in lossless quality. There are also subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish for those who might need them.
In the supplemental department, Disney has put together a pretty nice package, save for a couple of misfires. I say that because Disney seems to sometimes forget who its audiences are for some of the older titles in their catalogue, and they attempt to market them to newer and younger viewers in some terrible ways. Case in point, there’s a new video segment included on this released called Dalmatians 101: Hosted by Cameron Boyce, in which the star of the current Disney TV show Jessie lists his top five reasons why 101 Dalmatians is “THE BEST MOVIE EVERRRRR!!!” I’m sure I sound like I want this kid to get off of my lawn or something, but in my opinion, these are the kinds of things that make purists not want to pick up these releases, especially if extra content pertaining to the film itself has been sacrificed. Please Disney, don’t worry about new fans. They’ll find their way to your films organically, by watching them. These kinds of supplements are just unnecessary and pointless. Leave the top five videos to YouTube users. Anyways, moving on.
The rest of the new supplements in this release include the DisneyView option, which fills out the rest of the screen during the film with new artwork. It’s an enjoyable feature, but it’s not a necessity. There’s also a new cartoon short The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt, a featurette entitled Lucky Dogs, the Walt Disney Presents The Best Doggoned Dog in the World TV segment, a set of sneak peeks, and a paper insert with Disney Rewards and Digital HD codes.
As for previously released material, this is where the extras really shine. Under the Classic Bonus Features heading, you get the great Redefining the Line: The Making of One Hundred and One Dalmatians documentary; the Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad featurette; and the Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney segment. Under the Trailers & TV Spots subheading, you’ll find material from each release of the film, including from 1961 (2 trailers and a TV spot), 1969 (1 trailer and 3 TV spots), 1979 (1 trailer and 3 TV spots also), and 1985 (1 trailer). You’ll also find a set of radio spots, as well, including 3 from 1961, 6 from 1969, and 4 from 1979. Under the Music & More subheading, you’ll find a “Cruella De Vil” music video by Selena Gomez and the “March of the One Hundred and One” deleted song sequence. Under the subheading Abandoned Songs, you’ll find “Cheerio, Goodbye, Toodle-oo, Hip Hip!” and “Don’t Buy a Parrot From a Sailor;” and under the Demo Recordings and Alternate Versions sub-heading, you’ll find “Dalmatian Plantation,” “Cruella De Vil,” and “Kanine Krunchies”.
On the DVD that’s been included, you’ll find multiple audio options including English 5.1 Dolby Digital; English mono Dolby Digital; and French, Spanish, and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital. For subtitles, you’ll find them in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. As for extras, there’s the standard Disney DVD FastPlay option; a set of sneak peeks; and three extras ported over from the Blu-ray: the Dalmatians 101: Hosted by Cameron Boyce segment, the “Cruella De Vil” music video by Selena Gomez, and the Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad featurette. The only missing extras from the previous Platinum Edition DVD release are the Pop-Up Trivia Facts subtitle track and the two kids’ games. And the Limited Issue DVD release contained no extras, so you’re missing nothing there.
All in all, Disney has put together a mostly satisfying Blu-ray package for 101 Dalmatians. It’s a film I treasure dearly and seeing it in such lovely quality with nearly all of the previous extras ported over is wonderful. If you have kids, this is definitely one you’ll want to pick up and share with them. It was a joy to me as a kid, and it’s still a joy to me as an adult. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons