101 Dalmatians (1961)

I’m so glad that my faith can finally be restored in Disney movies.

After a slew of films that have been more underwhelming than anything, I’m happy to report that 101 Dalmatians has lived up to my memories, and in many ways has even surpassed them.

101 Dalmatians tells the story of a bachelor, Pongo, and his human pet, Roger.  Pongo decides it’s up to him to find Roger (and himself) a mate.  Staring out the window, Pongo considers a variety of women for Roger, finding each to not quite meet what he’s looking for.

This scene has always stood out to me. As a child, I always loved the visual of people who look just like their pets, and this remains one of my favorite side scenes in a Disney film.

After rejecting these options, Pongo finally spots (pun intended) a lovely girl dalmatian, and is happy to see that her pet is quite lovely as well.

Dragging his pet into the park and arranging a meeting, Pongo successfully unites the two humans, who clearly hit it off, as they’re married in the very next scene (hopefully not on the same day, but who knows?)

We later see the two couples enjoying wedded bliss, with Roger writing a new tune as we learn that Pongo’s mate, Perdy, is pregnant with puppies.

Enter one of, if not the most, hated villains of all time.  Cruella De Vil.

Swathed in furs and reeking of cigarette smoke, Cruella bursts into their house with no preamble.  A throwaway line about Anita and Cruella being old schoolmates is made, but no other explanation is given as to why anyone puts up with this horrid woman.  She’s desperate for the puppies, but luckily no one’s willing to part with them.

That’s not going to stop Cruella though. She arranges to have the newborns puppy-napped, and here’s where the film really takes off.

Pongo and Perdy are heartbroken, and their humans have exhausted all options in looking for the pups.  Taking it upon themselves, the parents send out a distress signal through the dogs of London, and eventually get word back that the puppies have been found.  The dalmatian duo immediately leaves their comfortable home in search of their children.

The pups are being kept in an old mansion, but they’ve multiplied in number.  There are a total of 99 dalmatian puppies being held, most bought legally (so why Cruella had to steal fifteen from Roger and Anita when she already paid for that many is beyond me.)  As Pongo and Perdy make their way to the mansion, a local farm cat named Major Tibbs stages a breakout to save the puppies from being skinned (thankfully the film never gets overly gruesome with the details, because ohmygod puppies no.)

Tibbs sneaks the puppies out and eventually they’re reunited with their parents.  What ensues is the 101 dogs attempting to outwit their kidnappers and make their way back to London.  They use a few rather ingenious methods to avoid them, including rolling around in soot to make themselves look like Labradors.

The scenes are adorable, and while each small vignette is cute, it still ties into an overarching story.  This is a fine balance that Disney had some difficulty with in previous movies, creating a larger story while still keeping each individual scene relevant.

Ultimately the dogs make it back to their owners, who decide to keep all of the dalmatians on “a dalmatian plantation.”  It’s a sweet and cute ending to a thoroughly fun movie.

There’s just so much to love about this film.  The music, for one, is fantastic.  The jazzy feel, not just of the iconic “Cruella De Vil” but of all the music, fits the movie perfectly, and is a nice departure from the typical old-world style music of other films.

There’s a fine blend between main characters and supporting characters.  Cruella is truly villainous, while her bumbling lackeys add a level of comedy while still remaining completely unlikable.  The host of animals who aid the dalmatians are fun, each with their own distinct personalities, despite only being on screen for a few seconds at a time.  It helps create a more fully realized world within the movie, something Disney often can’t quite manage. I was happy to see that this movie’s focus was so finely tuned, making a story that was engaging from start to finish.

Besides, how can you not love a movie that features Rolly, the ever-hungry pup who, even in the midst of a life and death situation, can’t help but think of his stomach?

Rolly’s my spirit animal.

I considered writing a list of “101 Reasons I Love This Movie” but decided that might be just a little too ambitious.  There’s certainly dozens of reasons to watch this film though, and it’s definitely one I would gladly watch again.



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