It’s time for Nat’s Hyperboles TM again! 101 Dalmatians is, for me, a perfect piece of storytelling. Perfect, here, meaning both that I can find no flaws in it, but also that it excels in every aspect of the film. From the jazzy opening credits that are animated around the iconic spots of the eponymous breed to the song about a Dalmatian plantation at the end, Disney’s 17th film is an absolute delight. I won’t, however, throw around words like ‘perfect’ without justifying my claim, so I’ve outlined seven reasons why I think this is about as good as storytelling gets.
It Gives Time To Characters
Some of the sweetest moments in Disney films are those that do not progress the story at all. Take the scene in Snow White where Snow dances with the dwarfs to a riotous accompaniment of pipe organs and accordions – it’s a fun scene with no real purpose beyond enjoying the characters. Bambi has loads of this, as the young deer explores the wood in springtime. These moments are great because it shows the priority of characters ahead of story, and because of it the story is improved. 101 Dalmatians gives lots of time for its characters to breathe, such as when the group of puppies sit round to watch TV together – their reactions to the unfolding drama give quick indicators of each of their personalities (hungry, curious, cocky) and makes them immediately sympathetic (although they are puppies, it would be impossible for them to be unsympathetic). The strongest moment, however, is when Roger and Anita meet in the park. There’s no reason to show this, as we could just meet them already married, but instead we are treated to a wonderfully romantic (in a very British, restrained way) moment that makes the humans as important as the dogs. In short, it’s adorable.
It Lets The Visuals Tell The Story, Too
Take a look at the opening establishing shot of London, shown below. There’s a carefree, sketchy style to it that continues throughout the film. The edges are rough and clearly hand drawn, a far cry from the stunningly crisp, detailed aesthetic of Sleeping Beauty. It’s a look that perfectly matches the tone of the film: jazzy; light-hearted; beautiful, and one that Disney would return to with The Aristocats, which is tonally quite a similar film. Each background has a similar style, lacking in the smaller details (brickwork, colour variation etc) yet capturing a spirit that is full of character and life. On a personal note, I love the British setting, too. It gives the film a unique atmosphere, separating it from the previous sixteen films.
The artistry of the sketchbook lines and rough edges reminded me of modern animator Sylvain Chomet, the genius behind Belleville Rendezvous and The Illusionist. He specialises in beautifully rendered landscapes with a very similar look, which makes me wonder if he would cite this film as an inspiration.
It Has Real Peril
Cruella De Vil is not a witch, an evil stepmother or a pirate, she’s just a rich, greedy woman who likes wearing dead animals. There’s something especially terrifying about that, particularly her manic determination to kill around 100 puppies. Puppies are probably the cutest things in the world (shut up, kitten lovers), and this is a woman who wants them dead just for the sake of some spotty coats. She’s animated brilliantly, all angles and points an wild, angry eyes. She seems to be another influence on Chomet, who likes his characters at spindly or portly extremes. By the end of the film, where her desire for fur has driven her completely mad with greed, she’s a crazed, devilish figure with a car that seems as possessed and violent as she is. The puppies are such sympathetic, likeable characters that every new danger the encounter feels even more fraught and tense. The slow chugging of Cruella’s car as she searches the town for her missing dogs is enough to make the heart race; her ultimate defeat at the bottom of a ravine is a fist-punchingly triumphant moment for the viewer.
It Has Moments of Real Emotion
Puppies being stolen is always going to be upsetting anyway, but this has some really heart wrenching moments. Take, for instance, the scene when we first meet Cruella and get an idea of her malicious intentions. Pongo goes to reassure his wife, but Perdita is still scared of what the woman might be up to and says to Pongo ‘I wish we weren’t having any at all’ – that’s a really upsetting sentiment and is delivered with heartbreaking sincerity. The audience experiences constantly fluctuating highs and lows throughout the film, such as the death and resurrection of the newborn puppy Lucky. ’15! … No, it’s only 14… we lost one.’ The highlight is the Twilight Bark, a scene when dogs all over the city of London pass on the message that fifteen puppies have gone missing – a moment that is immensely stirring as all the dogs of different shapes and sizes work together for the common good. The best thing about all this emotion is that very little of it feels forced or manipulated, it’s just genuinely affecting.
It’s A Whole Lot Of Fun
At the beginning of the film Pongo is looking out of the window for a prospective mate for his pet human, Roger. He watches several dog walkers go by and each dog mimics their owner in the way they walk and how their hair looks. It’s a great gag, and immediately establishes the light hearted, gentle tone of the film, and gives personality to both dogs and humans. The rest of the film is one big adventure, filled with humour (largely thanks to the clueless minions that steal the puppies) and danger. There are car chases, thrilling escapes and one of the great romantic meetings in cinema. It has everything you could want from a story.
It Shows the Value of Breastfeeding
I watched this film with my friends Lydia and Emma. Lydia was determined to say something insightful so she could get mentioned in the review, and so kept chipping in with comments about how great the film was. Her most original comment came when all the dogs were being sheltered by the cows, who let the puppies drink their milk. Lydia mentioned that one reason to enjoy 101 Dalmatians was that it encourages breastfeeding; yet another level to a film that already has a lot going for it. It’s worth mentioning that Lydia is a midwife.