The movie is based on a book, which I had forgotten, but that’s on par for most of Disney’s first movies. I am not a pet person in general and not a dog fan (I like the bunnies that visit my backyard; they’re cute, but I don’t have to take care of them), yet I like this movie. The dogs act so much like humans and are far kinder than half of the humans. As a child, I found it particularly amusing that the dogs often resembled their owners. It’s adorable that they refer to their human owners as “pets” and Pongo is incredibly self-aware to realize that the bachelor life is not all it’s cracked up to be. He’s smarter than most humans and manages to successfully pair his pet Roger up with Anita, and gaining her Dalmatian Perdita as his mate.
As dogs are prone to, Pongo and Perdita are due to have a litter of puppies an indeterminable amount of time later. Anita’s “devoted schoolmate” Cruella de Vil stops by demanding to see the puppies, for some reason. Once again proving that animals are smarter than humans (hmm, sounds like Snow White), Perdita is far more fearful of Cruella than her owners. Cruella stops by again once the puppies are born and offers to pay for them, but Roger smartly refuses, causing Cruella to vow to get even. (Again, not entirely sure why; obviously once one is familiar with the story, we understand, but it’s not explained within the timeline. Her true desire is hinted with her comment that she “lives for furs,” but that tends to go over children’s heads).
The next scene is a parent’s nightmare; men break into the house, distract Nanny, and kidnap all the puppies while the two couples are out for a walk. Pongo and Perdy take matters into their own…paws when the human avenues are getting nowhere. They send a message out through the dog chain in London, finally reaching a farm in the country where Captain (a horse), Sergeant Tibbs (a cat), and Colonel (a dog) reside. The trio had noticed activity at Hell Hall, the old De Vil place and decide to investigate. Sergeant infiltrates and discovers not only the fifteen missing London puppies, but an additional 84 Dalmatian puppies. They send word back to Pongo and Perdy who immediately head off to rescue their offspring.
Again, as a child, I didn’t fully grasp what skinning puppies meant, aside from bad. Most of the time, Cruella simply refers to it as “the job.” Sergeant Tibbs knows he must get the puppies out, the sooner, the better. Pongo and Perdy arrive just in time to turn the tide and they begin their trek back to London. (There’s a memorable scene where Captain kicks Horace and Jasper into the hay – I cheer). At one point, they take shelter in an old dairy barn where the maternal cows coo over the puppies. Their next stop the following day is a village where they hope to hop a ride back on a truck, but Cruella, Horace, and Jasper are hot on their trail. The puppies give them the idea to disguise themselves as black labs by rolling in the soot. It works, until melting snow reveals their true coloring. Cruella drives like a maniac, attempting to knock an innocent man off the road (I will agree in this case with the truck driver’s derision of female drivers); all for a fur coat. She eventually collides with Horace and Jasper and the Dalmatians safely return home. Roger’s big hit; the only song of the movie really, “Cruella de Vil” will allow them to move to a “Dalmatian plantation” so they can take care of all 101 Dalmatians.
The late nineties had a brief animated series based on the movie, that I don’t think I ever watched, and an animated sequel in 2003 (I will save my rant on Disney sequels for later; my bare memory of the movie is that it did not live up to the original). There was a live-action remake of the movie in 1996 with Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil. That version explained that Anita worked for Cruella as a fashion designer, clearing up Cruella’s interest early on in the puppies. Roger was a video game designer instead of a musician and I clearly recall Cruella caught by the police, covered in molasses. There was a follow-up to that movie, 102 Dalmatians, that included Ioan Gruffud (Mr. Fantasic, or Horatio Hornblower, depending on your taste) and her final result was being baked into a cake.
Overall, an enjoyable film; I’d watch it if it was on television and it’s a welcome break from fairy tales and princesses. It’s a good mix of action and adventure and family for kids. My heart races a little when Cruella is searching for the puppies and they’re loading onto the truck. This movie and Mary Poppins gave me my first taste of London (though I haven’t been yet). The remakes are…alright; I enjoy the hijinks.
Questions? Comments? Are you a dog person? Cat person? Bird person?
Next Time: The Sword in the Stone