Disney literally went to the dogs again, big time, for “One Hundred and One Dalmatians.” The 1961 film is full of the awwwwww factor with all those puppies and introduces Cruella de Vil, a classic villainess who’s not supernatural – just evil. It’s right there in her surname.
She’s part mean girl/ part Tallulah Bankhead (Actress Betty Lou Gerson, who gives memorable voice to de Vil, and Bankhead were both Alabama gals). The hair, the cigarette holder, the furs, all drawn by Disney Legend Marc Davis. Even Cruella’s car looks sinister.
And she has a wicked-good theme song in “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” the latest in our Disney Plus reviews, which are published in the order the films were released in theaters.
The basics: Songwriter Roger and wife Anita live in London with Pongo (Dalmatian No. 1, if you will) and his puppy-momma Perdita. They are visited by Anita’s old friend Cruella, an overbearing sort who rubs everyone the wrong way, and she has her eye on Perdita’s pups. After the 15 little ones arrive, they are dognapped, and Cruella is a suspect.
Through an elaborate howling system, sort of a Canine Amber Alert, Pongo and Perdita locate their offspring along with 84 other Dalmatians taken from pet shops. (You do the math.) The unspeakable scheme of de Vil and two henchmen: Use the puppies’ coats to fashion a fur coat for Cruella. The dogs’ escape includes a snowstorm, encounter with cows and other helpful animals, sneaking around incognito and a high-speed chase.
The legacy: Its strong box office was good news for Disney animation after a disappointing take for “Beauty.” The dog picture was surrounded by live-action Disney flicks in late ‘60 and ‘61, including “Swiss Family Robinson,” “The Absent-Minded Professor” and “The Parent Trap.”
The flashback: The prospect of dozens of puppies was titillating to little me, but the Cruella song has stuck through the decades. Music isn’t integral to this movie – there are just two other minor pieces – but the jazzy Cruella number that Roger composes early on plays a key role later. Words in the lyrics include evil, inhuman beast, an icy stare, sudden chill, spider waiting for the kill, and they paint quite the picture. “She ought to be locked up and never released,” Roger warbles. (Its music and words were by Mel Leven.)
Adult art of animation appreciation: Bright backgrounds, sort of like a colorized New Yorker magazine cartoon, make the black and white pups pop out. Likewise for the nasty green smoke that precedes Cruella.
Parental guidance/kid stuff: The kidnappers’ threat to “pop them off” and skin them is a thinly veiled threat that kids will spot. The scenes where the dogs sneak back to London are tense.
There are a handful of separate tobacco-based moments (pipe, cigar, cigarette).
What brought me back to reality: “I live for furs. I worship furs. After all, is there a woman in this wretched world that doesn’t?” says Cruella, in an outdated moment.
Burning question: Are those hidden Mickeys among the spots?
Meanwhile, back in Orlando: “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” had its Florida debut at the Beacham theater in downtown Orlando. On opening night, according to a story in the Sentinel, 1,051 people attended opening night, including Orlando Mayor Robert Carr. (Yes, that Bob Carr.) Later, the film played at the Vogue, which was on the corner of Colonial Drive and Mills Avenue.
The theme park angles: For such a beloved film, there’s merely a sprinkle of “Dalmatians” in the parks beyond merchandise for sale. Visitors can see Cruella as a face character from time to time, particularly around Halloween. She’s also incorporated into the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom interactive game.