If your child has ambitions to add a canine to the household but you’re allergic to the idea of getting up at 6:30 to walk a pet of any stripe — or dot — approach this movie with extreme caution. Before you know what’s come over you, you’ll be halfway to the pet store.
I remember falling in love with 101 Dalmatians when it first came out in 1961, and it was fun to see my daughter, who is 4, do the same.
The canine heroes and heroines of 101 Dalmatians (adapted by Disney from the wonderful novel of the same title by British writer Dodie Smith) are not only adorable, they’re witty, clever, courageous, and — need I tell you more? — dogged. Pongo, the story’s suave dalmatian narrator, lives with his human pet, an absentminded composer named Roger Radcliff. Dissatisfied with the skimpy domestic comforts offered by a bachelor existence, Pongo engineers a meeting with Perdita, an attractive female dalmatian, and her human pet, Anita. Romance blooms. Marriage follows for both humans and dogs. The four of them move into a modest little house in London’s Regent’s Park, ”just right,” Pongo tells us, ”for two couples starting out.” Puppies are not long in coming — 15 of them.
Into this scene of domestic bliss intrudes one of the most dauntlessly evil villainesses in Disney’s impressive repertoire of no-goods: Cruella De Vil. (Indeed, Cruella is so forbidding that she may frighten some young viewers.) She tries to buy the puppies, but when Roger and Anita won’t sell, she hires two criminals to steal them. Cruella plans to have the dogs made into fur coats-a nice (she thinks) change from the white mink she habitually wears.
When all human efforts to recover the purloined doggies fail, Pongo turns to the ”Twilight Bark” (an inter-canine communications system) for help. A wonderful old sheepdog, named the Colonel, finds the little dalmatians in no time at all, hidden along with 84 other dalmatian puppies in the crumbling De Vil family manse far from London.
Pongo and Perdita set out at once on a long journey through the English countryside to recover their offspring. They brave cold, hunger, exhaustion, and a slew of other hazards.
The score for the movie, written by George Bruns (The Aristocats), is colorful and jazzy, but it is the songs, by various artists, that one remembers. My favorite is ”Cruella De Vil,” words and music by Mel Leven. The movie’s design is memorable, too: 101 Dalmatians pioneered a sleeker, more sophisticated look for Disney, abetted by an advance in animation that brought the finished film closer to the artists’ original sketches.
The three decades that have transpired since Disney initially brought out 101 Dalmatians have added an interesting twist to the film. Cruella De Vil was plenty nasty when she first hit the screen, but, given the revisions in what is considered socially acceptable since then, she’s a lot nastier now. She smokes like a chimney. She lives for fur. What’s more, she’s an upper-class snob who pushes her social inferiors around and stops at nothing to get what she wants — even if it means snuffing out little doggies. She’s the ideal villainess for the ’90s.
My daughter was set on getting a Scottie before seeing 101 Dalmatians, but on the way out of the movie she told me she thinks spotty dogs are ”funner.” We’ve negotiated down to 47 dalmatians. A