101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition (US - DVD R1)
Gabe buys 101 newspapers every day to protect his floors from puppies...
The classic story of dog meets dog, dog’s owner meets dog’s owner, both parties fall in love and babies are made. But when Pongo and Perdita’s fifteen puppies are dognapped by fur obsessed heiress Cruella DeVil and her cockney thugs the entire British dog population is immobilized.
It would be very difficult to make a definitive list of my favourite Disney animated films. The Jungle Book makes me want to dance, Dumbo and Bambi always manage to melt my heart, and the delightful nightmare of Alice in Wonderland has been indelibly etched on my mind. Even in such prestigious company 101 Dalmatians is a hard one to beat for sheer love of animated entertainment and classic storytelling that appeals to old and young alike.
The film isn’t merely a greatest hits package of late ‘50s and early ‘60s style – it’s a virtual time capsule. The illustration is impressionistic in the way ‘50s-‘60s pop art would later be defined. On a flatly visceral level 101 Dalmatians is one of my personal favourites simple through the presence of these very specific long lines, sharp angles, and slightly dulled colour pallet. I’ve been “reprising” (i.e.: ripping off) the colouring outside of the illustrated line technique myself for years. The contemporary style is epitomized in the score as well, which is infused with jazz, but not so contemporary that it dates the film in a negative way. It should be noted that this was the studio’s first non-period animated film, a fact that may escape viewers almost 50 years later.
Though obviously not as ‘classically tuned’ as the studio’s previous animated release, Sleeping Beauty (which may be the prettiest of the Disney films), 101 Dalmatians is second to maybe Jungle Book in the single animator purity of its animation. It is an animator’s film top to bottom. Thanks to the (then) new Xerox printing process producers were able to minimize the artistic hands in the pot, thus maintaining each solitary animator’s vision as much as possible. This led to some sketchy (some might even say ‘sloppy’) edges and character frames, but most fans likely see this obvious craftsmanship as a quaint plus.
101 Dalmatians was also one of the studio’s better scripts, and one of the first and few to not be based on a public domain classic fairy tale. The story was so good the studio saw fit to make a belated sequel, a live action re-make staring Glen Close, and a live action sequel. The sorted tale of an evil, fur-obsessed witch and her attempt at murdering 99 puppies for their spotted coats has become almost as large a part of the world’s literary zeitgeist as something like ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ or ‘Sleeping Beauty’, which is probably something Disney won’t achieve again, at least not to this degree (though credit should be paid where it’s due, the film is based on Dodie Smith’s original children’s book).
Unfortunately I don’t own any of the previous releases of 101 Dalmatians on DVD, so I’m unable to justly compare this new digital restoration. This disc is presented in the film’s original 1.33:1 aspect ratio instead of being unnaturally squished or reframed, which should make the purists happy. The image’s overall clarity can be fairly stated as sharp, to the point that we can actually see the Xeroxed pencil marks that weren’t completely erased, though unlike the recent re-release of The Aristocats the sketchiness isn’t wrought with edge noise, and edge enhancement is minimal. Most of the transfer’s colours are cleanly and brightly represented, but deep reds are occasionally unevenly grainy.
The box art champions the disc’s new 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater mix, but for the most part this is a well maintained mono mix. The surround channels are almost exclusively devoted to the brassy score, which does sound undeniably clean. It’s interesting to note that there are only really one and a half songs in 101 Dalmatians, which was rare for the studio at the time. The dialogue and sound effects are delegated to the center channel where they’re clear but occasionally stumble over each other a bit. Certain effects and voices don’t match in sound quality or volume, though there’s never a point of obvious track damage. The LFE channel has been rather overtly overhauled, and holds quite a bit of unexpected punch throughout the feature.
Disc one of this new two-disc set is pretty sparse on extras (in reality they could’ve easily fit all the collection’s extras onto this disc). There’s a pile of Disney DVD and Blu-Ray release trailers, a semi-informational pop-up trivia option, and a music video (some child named Selena Gomez singing a rocked up version of Cruella DeVil’s theme).
Disc two is split into three menu selection. The ‘Backstage Disney’ option is housed under the ‘For Humans’ section, and housed within that are three featurettes, a collection of trailers, TV spots, radio spots and art galleries.
‘Redefining the Line’ is a 34 minute featurette concerning the making of the film. The majority of focus is on the things that made 101 Dalmatians different from any other Disney cartoon up to that point. The big steps were the then contemporary setting and the use of the Xerox process. The ink and paint department became obsolete, which many Disney purists see as a step back in the artistic process, but it shrunk the budgets and led to more animator friendly process. The sketch look of the Disney animation of the era can be blamed on this process, though I actually like the look.
‘Cruella DeVil: Drawn to Be Bad’ is a seven minute character specific featurette exploring the film’s most popular character. DeVil is actually an amalgamation of the original story’s character, Bill Peet’s storyboard work, the animator’s willingness to push the character design beyond the brink, an outstanding voice actress, and an outstanding physical actress that was used for live action reference. The featurette’s many interviewees toss around phrases like ‘tour de force’ rather liberally, but we really can’t blame them.
‘Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney’ is a twelve and a half minute featurette focused on Disney’s courting of author Dodie Smith. Mixing a series of behind the scenes footage, early animation, and stand in actors the featurette reenacts the letter correspondence between Disney and Smith. The letters are all warm, but the overall fluffy piece doesn’t glaze over some of the partnership’s minor bumps. I’d prefer that all three of these featurettes had been cut together and even elongated into a longer, definitive documentary. Maybe in ten years, when Blu-Ray is on its last leg we’ll see another release.
There are seven separate art galleries, encompassing the entire production. The gallery categories are visual development (my favourite), character design, layout backgrounds and overlays, storyboard art, live-action reference, animation art, and production photos. The trailers and TV spots are plentiful (totaling twelve with re-releases, plus three radio spots), and are all still in decent shape.
Under the ‘Music and More’ menu heading are a deleted song, two abandoned songs, and a large collection of temps, demos, and alternate takes.
The deleted song, called ‘March of the One Hundred and One’ was set to occur when the Dalmatians first escape into the truck, and was going to be interrupted when DeVil reappeared on the road beside them. The song is recreated with Peet’s storyboards and what sounds like a completed version of the song. The first abandoned song, ‘Cheerio, Goodbye, Toodle-oo, Hip Hip’ was going to end the film, but was replaced by ‘Dalmatian Plantation’. The second abandoned song, ‘Don’t Buy a Parrot From a Sailor’, was to be sung by Cuella’s henchmen after capturing the puppies. Both abandoned songs are presented as temp tracks with random storyboard images and brief interview introductions. The deletion and abandoning of these songs was a good call by my ears. These are followed by the promo and temp versions of the long version of ‘Dalmatian Plantation’.
Next is an almost twenty minute section devoted to the film’s musical piece de resistance – ‘Cruella DeVil’. Disney’s chief song writer Mel Leven made an early attempt at the song, called the ‘Spooky Version’, which was much less jazz influenced, and much less unstoppably catchy. This was followed by a bluesier version of the final song that still didn’t quite do it. The disc then includes alternate version of the final film track, one recorded by voice actor Ben Wright (who voiced the character of Roger when speaking), and one with singer Bill Lee filling in, both presented as rough takes with errors and all. This is then followed by a rag time version, minus lyrics, and three alternate takes of the radio version of the song. In the end you won’t be able to even burn the song out of your mind. The section ends with a million different temp versions of the Kanine Krunchies theme song that plays on the television in the film.
This brings us to the ‘For the Dogs’ section of the disc, which houses the kid’s games and activities. These include a Virtual Dalmatian DVD-ROM, a Virtual Dalmatian ‘Set-Top Sampler’ (basically another DVD Tomagachi), a ‘Puppy Profile’ virtual questionnaire, and language game for little kids learning to read. The narrator on the last one speaks so slowly I thought she was suffering a stroke.
I’m not sure whether this is worth the double dip for folks that already own previous releases, but anyone that doesn’t already own a copy of this particular classic might want to partake. It looks good, it sounds good, and the extras are slightly above average. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got 101 little ‘presents’ to clean up.
Review by Gabriel Powers
All ages admitted
Release Date: 4th March 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Pop-Up Facts, Music Video, Deleted songs, Song Demos, Virtual Dalmatian Game, Language Game, 'Redefining the Line', 'Cruella DeVil: Drawn to be Bad'
Easter Egg: No
Director: Rod Taylor, Betty Lou Gerson, Cate Bauer, Lisa Daniels, Ben Wright
Cast: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman
Length: 79 minutes
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