After their insanely huge last project, Disney followed with a decidedly smaller picture 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians.' It has more in the vein of the film before it 'Lady and the Tramp,' but seems to be even more down-to-earth. It's a sweet, entertaining romp, even from the get-go with its incredibly lively opening title cards, with spots, spots, spots galore!
Dalmatian Pongo and his songwriter "pet" Roger end up enraptured with a lady and her dog, Anita and Perdita respectively. They're married and live happily, with Perdita expecting puppies. Unfortunately Anita's old classmate the vile Cruella di Ville wants her hands on them as soon as possible, knowing they would rather take the money. When the fifteen puppies are born though, Roger refuses to sell them. So Cruella has her two goons take them, and throw them in with the rest, ninety-nine in total, which he intends to skin and use for her coats. Pongo and Perdita inform the dogs across the area through their barking, and eventually locate the puppies, and what follows is an endurance to get back home, as Cruella and her henchmen go after them.
What's immediately noticeable is the film's look, which is decidedly more scratchy. This is the first film to use xerography, that a Xerox camera can be used to transfer drawings directly to cels, eliminating the inking process, and saving a lot of time. This was especially true in the case of this story; can you image having to draw AND ink each and every one of those dalmatians' spots? This look would continue throughout a decade or so, constantly gaining improvements. I personally like the look a lot, it's charming in that the sketchiness makes the characters more illustrative, and the backgrounds are also really great, dour in their surroundings, but still beautiful. In fact, visually, I'd say this is one of Disney's strongest pictures yet.
The story's real sweet, with the two parents' endeavors to retrieve their puppies. The human owners are fine characters as well; Roger gets a highlight as he finds lyrics to his song out of his detestation of Cruella, and persists to play it with various instruments during her visit. As for Cruella, she is a classic villain of course, but truly deserves her title. She's stark raving mad on a mission, and persists with such reckless abandon that she's an absolute thrill to watch in action. I mean, any woman who wants a hundred puppies killed with no remorse has got to be a total monster. She's also got the pimpest ride of any villain I've ever seen. Class act all the way. The chain of dogs and animals who assist the dalmatians on the way are also fine in their roles.
I also enjoyed Disney's self-referentials, like placing dogs from 'Lady and the Tramp' (or at least similar looking dogs of the same breed) in a montage, as well as having the puppies be watching what seem to be a Silly Symphonies-style short on the TV. It's just fun to seem some sense of interconnection, like these characters could run into each other randomly, but lead completely different, expansive stories. I guess.
Verdict? Another one of my new favorites. I really do love the xerographic look (at least for now), the characters are engaging, the artistry is top notch... it's just a damn great film, and a true classic. Praise, praise, praise...