Director: Wolfgang Reitherman, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske
Cast: Rod Taylor, Cate Bauer, Betty Lou Gerson, J. Pat O’Malley, Frederick Worlock, Ben Wright, Lisa Davis, David Frankham
Plot: A British family welcome fifteen baby dalmatians in the world, only for their cruel friend, Cruella DeVil (Gerson) to dog-nap them for their fur.
Disney always have been very good at writing villains. There’s a reason most pantomimes are based on Disney tales (Aladdin, Peter Pan, Cinderella), and that is because who writes a boo-hissable villain as well as Walt Disney? We have had some great antagonists as we have dived through the Disney archives from the unforgettable Maleficent to Cinderella’s evil Stepmother. But Cruella De Vil could be the scariest of them all. From the moment she walks onto our screens, accompanied by her own iconic song, she is a force to be reckoned with. She fills the room with her shrieking voice, tobacco smoke and frame. But take a look closer and her size is totally superficial, a gigantic fur coat making up the majority of her frame. Her actual size is a stick thin, skeletal figure, easily as monstrous as the hag in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. But the true reason she sticks in the mind is not the visuals, but the fact she is the most realistic of the villains we have had so far. With the fantasy adventures like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, the villains were fairy tale characters, worlds away from our comfort zone, so we only feared them on a cinematic level. De Vil’s cruelty seeps under your skin, because One Hundred and One Dalmatians, for a film centred around anthropomorphic, speaking dogs, has a surprisingly real crime at the centre of it. De Vil’s scheme revolves around stealing helpless puppies and skinning them to make a rare spotted coat. While her character is exaggerated to a Disney extreme, a cackling monster of a woman, her actions are based on a very real fear, creeping on the back of our mind.
Which brings us to the point of the story here. This movie is about a quaint British family, living in peaceful ignorance. The opening of this film is a perfectly pleasant affair, as two couples are matched up by their dogs, poking fun at the fact that the animals are more in control of their lives than the humans. The human couple and their two Dalmatians, falling in love themselves, move in with each other and before we know it, fifteen puppies have been born into the world. One scene perfectly summarises the heart-warming fuzziness that can be found in the early moments of this film and that is the scene where the parent Dalmatians supervise their pups watching a movie. If you don’t feel your heart melting during this film, then you are made of stone. However, this is why De Vil is such an important character for the film. Because this movie is about teaching both children and adults that there are bad people out there in the wider world. The dogs live in a world safe, not believing that there are horrible people out there that could callously steal their children and kill them for something as superficial as their fur coats, without a moment of remorse. However, as the villain of this story proves beyond the shadow of a doubt, the sad fact is that there are people out there who want to take advantage of you and do you harm. One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a cautionary tale of being careful of your surroundings. But at the same time, this is a movie that has plenty of characters who also do the total opposite. Across the narrative, Pongo and Perdita run into several characters who help them out of the kindness of their heart. A scene in a farmhouse is touching simply because a group of strangers band together to shelter these downtrodden animals for an evening. It is also easy to see that the animals are universally good characters and all of the nasty characters are humans. This is a film that is partially arguing that the human race are largely to blame for needless acts of cruelty. It is easy to watch this film and wish you were one of the puppies rather than a human character stuck on the sidelines. However, above all else, this is a fun bout of entertainment that animal lovers will cherish. Despite the subject matter, it doesn’t get quite as despairing as Lady and the Tramp or Bambi did, making this the first animal led Disney film that you can simply sink into and enjoy. A resounding triumph from Walt.
Final Verdict: Who doesn’t love this film, an adorable adventure movie that has you hooked from start to finish.