One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)

Rated: G
Length:  79 min.
Age: 4 and up                            Commonsense Media sez:  5+

Scary factor: Cruella is really creepy.

Violence: buffoonish and not intense, nobody is seriously hurt

Intense scenes: anticipatory suspense, mostly; but some reckless driving and a car crash at the end

Language: Cruella frequently calls Horace and Jasper “Idiots!”

Sexual Innuendo: Just a comment from Roger re. the birth of fifteen puppies, he says to Pongo “You old rascal!” Sentiment is repeated at the end with the appearance of 84 extra puppies.

Also: there’s smoking (both Roger and Cruella) and the thugs take swigs from a wine bottle.

Interests: dogs, puppies, animals, pets

Next: read the book The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith; MOVIES: Lady and the Tramp, The Aristocats (similar story, but with cats, and no Cruella!)

A dalmatian named Pongo intrigues to get his ‘pet’ (human owner) to meet Anita, a lady who owns a beautiful female dalmatian named Purdy. Both pairs, human and dog, fall in love and marry. When fifteen puppies are born to Pongo and Purdy, Anita’s old school friend Cruella deVille bursts in on the scene, eager to buy them all. Roger stands up to her, saying they’re not for sale, so she enlists two thugs, Horace and Jasper, to kidnap the puppies. Pongo sends out the news via the ‘twilight bark’, the method by which dogs everywhere share gossip. Everywhere dogs scan the countryside until the puppies are spotted at an old, rundown country house. With the help of many animals along the way, Pongo and Purdy rescue their little ones … and many, many more. Cruella was stockpiling Dalmatian puppies with the intent of making herself a spotted fur coat. The entire crowd – one hundred and one of them – evade Cruella, Jasper and Horace, and make their way back to London for a jubilant homecoming. There, Roger and Anita agree to keep all the puppies.

This is a fairly gentle tale, good for young children. The pace is leisurely, as movies tended to be back in the day. Kids will love all those puppies, of course. And the ‘twilight bark’ is particularly charming as we see all kinds of dogs passing the word along across London and far into the countryside. It’s a lovely example of a community selflessly working together to a common good.

In terms of scariness, Cruella de Ville is the only cause for concern in this film. Her appearance is cadaverously ghoulish, and her behaviour is maniacal. (Lots of screaming, shouting, and crazy evil laughter.) She may freak out some viewers, even though her actions are mostly limited to being loud and bullying Horace and Jasper. For their part the two thugs are your typical bumblers, and not very frightening at all.

Fight sequences are cartoony and not very intense – ie. Jasper falling into the fireplace and jumping around with his pants on fire, or a horse giving Horace and Jasper a good swift kick in the behind, sending them flying. There are moments of high suspense as the dogs evade Cruella on their cross-country trip. The most intense part of the climax occurs as Cruella swerves her car into the truck with the dogs inside as it totters on the edge of a steep embankment. The scene ends with a car crash, though only the bad’uns are involved and even they emerge from the wreckage unscathed.

On the production side, it’s interesting to note that the fully painted, smooth look of previous movies (most recently Sleeping Beauty) was abandoned in this movie for a much cheaper black outline look to the animation. Instead of having artists manually transfer the animators’ scratchy pencil drawings onto cells, smoothing them out as they did so, the studio turned to Xerography: the animators’ pencil drawings were simply photocopied onto the cells. The look is harsher, rougher, and apparently Walt Disney was none too fond of it. However even Walt (or especially Walt) couldn’t argue with the numbers:  Sleeping Beauty, while beautiful, had been a financial flop, while One Hundred and One Dalmatians was the top grossing film in the US in 1961. Xerography was here to stay.

In conclusion… This is a movie of its time: not overly scary or violent, charming in detail, and with a leisurely pace. None of the frantic editing and vertiginous camera angles we get nowadays. Cruella is the scariest thing in it.


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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