My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
One Hundred And One Dalmatians (1961; based on the book The Hundred And One Dalmations by Dodie Smith)
The Plot: A wicked London heiress kidnaps a litter of dalmatian puppies for nefarious purposes, and the puppies' parents launch a rescue attempt to find them.
The Songs: "Cruella De Vil," "Kanine Krunchies Jingle," "Dalmatian Plantation"
A Little History: The high production costs for Sleeping Beauty forced the Disney studio to make cuts to its animation department, from 500 to fewer than 100 staff members. Ub Iwerks, head of special processes, had experimented with Xerox photography on Sleeping Beauty but decided to bring the technique front-and-center for Dalmatians, to save on time and money (see below). Constellation patterns were used as reference for the spots on each dalmatian (there are 6,469,952 spots in total – 72 for Pongo, 68 for Perdita, and 32 for each individual puppy). Though songwriter Mel Levin had composed several songs for the film, only three are featured in the final cut, and only one ("Cruella De Vil") is heard in its entirety. Several characters from Lady And The Tramp – including Jacques, Peg and Lady herself – make inexplicable cameo appearances during the "Twilight Bark" sequence. During its initial release, the film grossed $6.4 million in U.S. box office receipts – one of Disney's biggest hits of the decade.
How It Broke New Ground: The first animated feature to use Xerography, a dry photocopying technique that made it possible to transfer the animators' drawings directly to cels, thus eliminating the need for hand inking. This had both a positive and negative effect. Animation legend Chuck Jones explains the positive: "For example... they had a hundred and one dogs, and in a couple of shots there were acres and aces [sic] of puppies. There the Xerox helped them tremendously, because they animated eight or nine cycles of action, of dogs running in different ways, then made them larger or smaller, using Xerox, knowing that if there are a hundred and one dogs, and if there are eight or nine distinct cycles, and they're placed at random in this rabble of dogs, no one will know that they all haven't been animated individually." On the other hand, Xeroxing also gave the characters a scratchy, hard-outlined look, since hand inking had been used to clean up the animators' original sketches. Walt Disney himself did not approve of this process; nevertheless, it would become standard practice at the studio for the next sixteen years, until The Rescuers in 1977.
How It Holds Up Today: I take Walt's side on this one, unfortunately: the Xerox photography may have saved the studio a few dollars, but it's haphazard and lazy and looks it, too. Most frames look murky and sloppy – see Cruella's third-act attempt to drive up a snow-capped embankment for evidence of this. You can also tell from the jazzed-up opening titles that they tried for a looser, more contemporary feel (closer in spirit to, say, Warner Bros' popular Looney Tunes cartoons of the time), minus any of the ambition and scope that went into Sleeping Beauty just two years before. And that's a shame, because Disney's best films have always managed to tell a good story and push the limits of the medium at the same time. The story's likable enough, and the characters seem designed for maximum cuteness (a few puppies can barely pronounce their "r"s, and one of them, bless him, even sticks his tongue out during a fight). Yet for all its technical "innovations," One Hundred And One Dalmatians marks the start of something more distressing - the moment a "Disney Film" stopped being an electrifying pop-culture event, and became a product instead.
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty. Please comment! Let me know what you think!