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  One Hundred and One Dalmatians Puppy PowerBuy this film here.
Year: 1961
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, etc
Stars: Rod Taylor, J. Pat O'Malley, Betty Lou Gerson, Martha Wentworth, Ben Wright, Cate Bauer, David Frankham, Frederick Warlock, Lisa Davis, Tom Conway, Tudor Owen, George Pelling, Ramsay Hill, Queenie Leonard, Thurl Ravenscroft, Bill Lee, Mary Wickes
Genre: Animated, Adventure
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: What to do when your pet is so immersed in his work that he never goes out to meet a nice lady? This is the dilemma troubling dalmatian Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor) as he gazes, bored, out of the window of their London flat, while his pet Roger (Ben Wright) slaves away being a songwriter who has yet to make a hit. However, when Pongo notices a young woman walk by with a dalmatian he realises they would both be perfect friends for he and Roger, and engineers it so that they meet up in the park. All goes well, and soon Roger and Anita (Lisa Davis) are married, with Pongo and his new mate, Perdita (Cate Bauer) expecting puppies. But someone is about to interrupt this idyll...

And we know who that someone is, don't we? One of Disney's greatest villains, Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), is also one of the most entertaining, and the newer, cost-cutting style that the studio were using luckily fit the angular, sketchy rendering that they were forced to implement. This was based on Dodie Smith's most celebrated work, a children's novel designed to reflect her love of her pet dalmatians, and for once the Disney movie making machine stuck pretty close to the source, with a few tweaks here and there to streamline the original plot.

While Cruella, superbly animated by Marc Davis, steals the show as far as the human characters go, the dogs are winningly portrayed to match her wickedness with a dose of upstanding British decency. What Cruella has in mind is to buy the puppies and make their skins into a coat for herself, but when Roger refuses to sell, she has to revert to more underhand means to get her way. It's refreshing that a film made in 1961 should take such a strong anti-fur stance, and it may have been there in the book but adapting writer Bill Peet does nothing to tone down the heinous nature of Cruella's scheming.

One night when Roger and Anita are out walking Pongo and Perdita, the villainess makes her move and sends her lackeys, Jasper and Horace, round to kidnap - or dognap - the puppies, all fifteen of them, and take them out to her rundown mansion in the Suffolk countryside to await execution. But do not despair, as Pongo has a notion of how to get them back, and uses the Twilight Bark, that is a network of dogs across the land to send a message that they are searching for Pongo's offspring. This works, and soon the two puppy parents are setting out into the night to track down the endangered dalmatians.

As well as the anti-fur aspect, the most important theme of the film is that of community, and it is the network of man's best friends that proves to be the saviour of the story. Oh, and a cat and a horse as well. Along with the adventure and sense of a society drawing together to overcome the evil of Cruella, One Hundred and One Dalmatians is notable for being one of the few Disney features to have its family as a perfectly healthy one, so none of your usual dysfunction you get with this company's tales. If it were not for the ingenuity and love of Pongo and Perdita this would not have the happy ending it does, so while the Dodie Smith book remains the finest way to enjoy this, the animation is the next best thing, and infinitely preferable to the horrendously misjudged live action version of the nineties. Wouldn't it be nice if they had adapted the weird, science-fictional sequel The Twilight Barking as well? Music by George Bruns.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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