101 Dalmatians (Diamond Edition) Review
One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the classic 1961 Disney film, is perhaps a bit slight, all things considered. Its running time is short and sweet. The structure is pretty basic. Nothing really screams ambition or artistic furthering of the medium. But I think that's perfectly okay. It has a certain charm that transcends the inherent cute animal and horrible villain qualities of the core. Plus it's completely devoid of princesses and magical kingdoms.
Adults re-watching the classic Disney animated features are almost bound to pick up on just how often the princess fantasy is repeated. For some it surely won't matter, and children are more than encouraged to appreciate it all by any means necessary, but the deviations from that theme are welcomed with open arms. Then when the musical numbers are also kept to a minimum, it's cause for a full-blown celebration. So give me Pinocchio and Bambi. Let me have Alice in Wonderland and One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
Easily the best scene in the movie has male dalmatian Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor), his mate Perdita, and their fifteen(!) puppies sitting in front of the black and white television set watching a western. It's evocative of the time period while also completely giving off a sense of growing up and the familial bonds that attach themselves in the process. There's just such a sweetness in these moments, from chubby little Rolly whining about being hungry to the mischief and reactions of Lucky and excitement of Patch. The few minutes that pass here are enough to completely establish close-knit relationships and represent values we so often want to attain. And we also may have to remind ourselves that it's a family of dogs onscreen and they're animated, which goes a long way in explaining why the film and this particular scene still make such an impact.
Prior to that section, One Hundred and One Dalmatians kind of resembles an animated sixties rom-com, like the sort that starred Doris Day and maybe Rock Hudson. From the vibrant opening titles to the meet-cute orchestrated by Pongo, the first act is pretty firmly entrenched in the realm of romantic comedy. It shifts in tone somewhat significantly from that point forward, for better or worse, but the initial section is delightfully light and breezy. It's enough to make us wonder what would have happened minus the usual villain and conflict necessary from a Disney flick. Why not an animated pure romantic comedy from the folks at Disney? Perhaps the formula being used (even now) could be altered.
Regardless, we all know how this story basically ends. A live-action version starring Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil was so successful that it begat a sequel and then an animated sequel to the original followed. The whole ordeal sort of changed the perception of Disney's 1961 feature and suddenly we ended up with 101 different dalmatian toys available in McDonald's Happy Meals. The charm, however, persists in what directors Clyde Geronimi, Wolfgang Reitherman and Hamilton Luske combined to give the original. Its contemporary English setting and wondrous background art makes the film look like nothing ever before or since in the Disney canon. It feels very much like an actual movie that just so happened to have been animated. The third act suspense element is still fairly prominent and deeply cinematic. Delights indeed abound.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment brings One Hundred and One Dalmatians to Blu-ray via the fancy Diamond Edition moniker. It gets a nifty slip cover and, for this release under review, a combination of DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Copy code. Buy now or forever hold your peace.
The Disney clean-up looks impressive here, if maybe not as absolutely spectacular as we've seen for other films. It's presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. As this was the first Disney feature to use Xerox copiers rather than having every individual frame completely hand-drawn, the lines are also bound to look somewhat unusual in comparison to the earlier efforts. The end product is nonetheless still pretty great in motion, and each new technological iteration allows for the best image quality available to date. This is no exception.
Audio is clean and clear. We're given a 7.1 English DTS-HD master audio option but also thankfully offered a restored version of the original theatrical mono mix. The downside of the latter is that it's not lossless, coming via a Dolby Digital track. With the 7.1, the added body and depth give the film some new dimension, and it sounds generally about as faithful as it can to the casual listener. There are also Spanish and French dubs in, respectively, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HDHR 5.1. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.
DIsneyView is an option upon playback, allowing for the sides of the 1.33:1 image to be filled with changing backgrounds. I've liked these in the past, such as on Pinocchio, but here I found it distracting enough to disable within a few minutes of the start.
A collection of new special features for this release includes a supposed continuation of what the dalmatians were watching on television with "The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt" (1:46). It's very short and fairly inconsequential. Better is the featurette "Lucky Dogs" (9:08), about some of the animators involved in the film. Worse is "Dalmatians 101" (5:20), a fluffy collection of trivia hosted by an obnoxious Disney Channel star.
A 1961 episode of The Wonderful World of Disney called "The Best Doggoned Dog in the World" (51:05) is a neat inclusion. Like the other newly done extras it's presented in HD.
More supplements can be found as Classic Bonus Features on the disc. This is material from earlier DVD editions (thankfully) ported over for this release. There's a lengthy making-of documentary that runs well over half an hour. It's joined by several music-related bits, including a video for Selena Gomez's take on the classic "Cruella De Vil" and three songs not used in the final film.
"Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad" (7:10) and "Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney" (12:47) round out the extras alongside several radio and television promos for the film.