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Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wolfgang Reitherman’s 101 Dalmatians is another of my personal favourite Disney animated features. It and its similarly jazzy sister flick, The Jungle Book, got the most play in my household while I was growing up. Part of its charm is derived from the failure of its predecessor, Sleeping Beauty – an immaculately crafted and outrageously expensive picture that put Disney in dire financial straits. With the animation department depleted due to budget cuts, the (then) new Xerox printing process was instituted, allowing the artists to skip inking. The process was considered problematic by some, because it captured some of the pencil lines that would’ve normally been erased prior being transferred to acetate cells and left outlines fuzzy. But it also cut free one hand from the creative pot and maintained the purist version of the animators’ efforts. The perfect elegance of Sleeping Beauty (which is fantastic) was replaced with naturalistic sketches that beam personality.

 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD
101 Dalmatians is built upon one of the studio’s better scripts, too. As the experts on the DVD extras will tell you (over and over), it was the first modern-set, feature-length animated film (assuming we aren’t counting all of the shorts in the anthology movies that the studio released in the ‘40s) and it was constructed in a more traditional three act structure, unlike many of the studio’s cartoons, which were episodically built around songs. Everyone, including the experts and historians they pile into the behind-the-scenes features, always refers to 101 Dalmatians as one of the studio’s most light-hearted and buoyant movies. They’re probably referring to the bouncy tone that jiggles its way through the first act, but there’s a really dark and seedy undercurrent throughout the film. Besides the wickedness of Cruella De Vil’s plans to murder and skin 99 puppies and the more banal evil of her thugs, the bulk of the third act is devoted to the bleak trip across the frozen Essex countryside and the genuinely suspenseful pre-climax where the puppies sneak onto a moving truck. It’s all perfectly kid-friendly, of course, and I don’t mention it as a negative – I actually consider the tonal texture one of the film’s greatest strengths.

 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD

Video


It appears that Disney was satisfied with the remastered transfer they used for their Platinum Edition DVD release, because they haven’t made any obvious changes to colour temperature or contrast ranges for this Diamond Edition Blu-ray. Even the film artefacts appear largely identical between the two releases. In fact, if you view the comparison screen caps I’ve prepared on this page without enlarging them, you might not be able to tell which one is which. This 1080p release’s improvements pertain almost exclusively to upgrades in clarity, detail tightness, and, most importantly, digital compression artefacts. If you look at the zoomed, full-sized versions of my caps, you will notice some fuzzy transitions, smeared black outlines, blocking effects in the brighter colours, and relatively thick edge haloes on the standard definition release that have been corrected with the HD boost. And, since there is no obvious uptake in DNR smoothing on the 1080p transfer, I can affirm without doubt that the Blu-ray is the better release. 101 Dalmatians is one of the studio’s rawer and more inherently dirty-looking animated films. The Xerox process captured all of the animators’ pencil marks – the ones that were normally erased when the frames were hand-traced with ink onto acetate for painting – and thickened the sketchy qualities with heavy black lines (that are occasionally broken). The background illustrations were purposefully loose and impressionistic. This creates a blocky structure and washy paint schems that appear a bit like compression effects.

I assume that the 1.33:1 aspect ratio has been the cause of some debate over the years. During its theatrical release and subsequent re-releases, 101 Dalmatians was supposedly cropped somewhere between 1.66:1 and 1.77:1. Since then, open matte full-frame has been the preferred ratio. On the one hand of the argument, there is quite a bit of head and foot space throughout the film and re-framing doesn’t squeeze out any of the vital information. On the other hand, most of the compositions lend themselves to the square shape.

 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD

Audio


101 Dalmatians was originally mixed for 3-Channel stereo theatrical presentations. The original tracks lent themselves well to the initial 5.1 remix that accompanied the Platinum Edition release and have been slightly altered for this Blu-ray’s new uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 version. Once again, the essence of the track is a solid center channel that features most of the sound. The original effects and dialogue tracks show signs of age, including a bit of fuzz and some occasionally muffled/inconsistent volume levels – for instance, the recordings of actual dogs barking are significantly softer and more distant than the sounds of voice actors. George Bruns’ jazzy musical score gets the biggest redistribution, especially during the opening credits, where musical cues match the abstract shapes and lines that zip and splat over the screen. The music often fills in for environmental sounds during the action sequences, excluding the rev and bubbly pop of speeding vehicles, and has plenty of aural depth. The two singing sequences (it was considered very modern to only include two songs at the time) follow suit and feature richer vocal effects than the spoken dialogue. The disc also includes the original mono track, which was distributed to theaters without stereo capabilities in 1961. It is presented in compressed Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD

Extras


  • The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt (1:50, HD) – A new animated short
  • Walt Disney Presents The Best Doggoned Dog in the World (51:10, HD) – A 1961 episode of the Disney-hosted TV show with a dog theme.
  • Lucky Dogs (9:10, HD) – Interviews with Disney cast & crew that was working at the studio in the ‘60s when Sleeping Beauty flopped.
  • DisneyView Option – An option to have the black strips on the right and left of the screen filled with alternating, Dalmatian-themed images.
  • 411 on the 101 (5:20, HD) – A featurette hosted by Cameron Boyce
  • Classic Platinum Edition DVD Extras:
    • Redefining the Line: The Making of 101 Dalmatians (33:50, SD)
    • Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad (7:10, SD)
    • Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney (12:50, SD)
    • Trailers; radio & TV spots
    • Music & More: [list]
    • ’Cruella De Vil’ music video by Selena Gomez (3:30, SD)
    • ’March for the One Hundred and One’ deleted song sequence (2:00, SD)
    • ’Cheerio, Good-Bye, Toodle-Oo, Hip Hip!’ abandoned song concept (2:30, SD)
    • ’Don't Buy a Parrot from a Sailor’ abandoned song (2:40, SD)
    • ’Dalmatian Plantation’ extended version and temp versions (2:20 each, SD)
    • ’Cruella De Vil’ demo recordings and alternate takes (all SD)
    • ’Kanine Krunchies Jingle’ alternate takes (5:20, SD)


 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD

Overall


With this release, it appears that Aladdin will be Disney’s final ‘classic’ animated film to hit Blu-ray. I’d say they’ve had a pretty good track record, overall. 101 Dalmatians is another welcome addition. Though its sketchy, rough qualities don’t always lend themselves to HD video, but the upgrade over the already nice-looking DVD is apparent in the lack of compression artefacts. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack is nicely mixed, without changing the intentions of the original tracks and the extras are extensive (if not a bit repetitive).

 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD

 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD

 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD

 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD

 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD

 Diamond Edition Blu-ray
 Platinum Edition DVD

* Note: The above images are taken from the Platinum Edition DVD and Diamond Edition Blu-ray releases and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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