That Duckfan's Eponymous Animation Review Series Oct 21, 2020 0:34:45 GMT
Post by That Duckfan on Oct 21, 2020 0:34:45 GMT
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
Directors Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton S. Luske, Clyde Geronimi
Starring Rod Taylor, Cate Bauer, Ben Wright, Lisa Davis, Betty Lou Gerson, Fred Worlock, J. Pat O'Malley, Martha Wentworth, and 99 Dalmatian puppies
Another decade, another feature. One Hundred and One Dalmatians breaks new ground, but also looks back to the past. In some ways, mirrors its 1950s predecessor, Cinderella. Both films tread in the footsteps of past successes in order to break ground for a new genre of Disney films. From the first notes in the soundtrack, it's clear that Dalmatians takes a page from Lady and the Tramp, bringing us Disney's second canine feature. And in doing so, it sets up some of the architecture that will become essential to one of Disney's less famous genres: the life of pets.
The life of pets genre has become such a staple of animation that we rarely even categorize it as such. It's Disney's off-season genre, thriving in the 1970s, 1980s, and the 2000s. Examples include The Aristocats, Oliver and Company, Home on the Range, and Bolt. Shades of it remain in the form of animal sidekicks and transformation movies such as Brother Bear and The Princess and the Frog, but the most successful recent examples come from Pixar: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille.
Every genre has its problems, and some of them start to show in One Hundred and One Dalmatians. What to do with the humans, for instance. This too, feels like a very Cinderella-esque problem. The humans in Lady and the Tramp were largely peripheral, but Roger and Anita are actually two very interesting characters who play no role in the story from the moment the
In contrast, the second and third acts paint with a much broader brush. 99 puppies is a cartoonishly large amount, and the villains are portrayed in kind. Horace and Jasper are two stooges who almost seem to have wondered into the wrong film by mistake. They're incompetent to a fault, and not nearly as interesting as their screentime would have us believe. That a socialite like Cruella would ever deal with common thugs like these two directly seems unlikely. I also think she could've used a musical dream sequence to drive home her obsession with furs and Dalmatian spots. In fact, this film is lacking in songs in general, apart from the delightful "Cruella de Vil". Perhaps that's why the third act feels like it goes on forever.
To be fair, this is another film I arrive at backwards. I grew up with the 1997 animated series, which features four of the pups as distinct protagonists and is more bright and energetic (as you'd expect from a '90s cartoon). The first time I watched One Hundred and One Dalmatians, it looked ancient. It has some undeniable pacing problems, but the laidback 1960s atmosphere at the beginning of the film is something I can much more appreciate now. It's a very modern picture, from the music to the visual designs and the Xerox process. It really feels like a contemporary children's book illustration, which is an essential quality for any Disney fare.
I'm having a bit more difficulty with the cultural references in the story. As usual, more than half the cast are American, some of whom attempt a British accent. The results are mixed, as always. But other elements are so distinctly American that they feel out of place, such as a parodies of What's My Line, Lassie, and the associated commercials of that time. Britain did have its own version of What's My Line at the time, but it aired on BBC-TV, a non-commercial channel. The New Yorker influence is another. It's also hard to imagine an unsuccessful bachelor music writer living in a flat across Regent's Park, as exclusive then as it is now. As for Horace and Jasper, they seem to take less inspiration from Ealing comedies and more from Abbott and Costello. None of this is really a problem, but it impedes my viewing. It's dated, from a time when Hollywood wasn't swimming in British actors.
Overall, One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a step into an interesting direction, but it misses some crucial character beats and lacks incident in the third act. It's not a bad film, but a subplot focused on Roger and Anita would have made for a more engaging alternative.