Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

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The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
2 Stars
High-Def Extras
3.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

101 Dalmatians: Diamond Edition

Street Date:
February 10th, 2015
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
February 9th, 2015
Movie Release Year:
1961
Studio:
Disney/Buena Vista
Length:
79 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated G
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Perhaps the reason '101 Dalmatians' usually slips my mind is because it's sandwiched between Disney animated classics like 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'The Sword in the Stone.' Add the fact that the most memorable character from the movie is its villain Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), and you might understand why '101 Dalmatians' doesn't come up more often when discussing the best of Disney's animated features. That's not to say I don't like the movie, I do. It's simply not one that I think about very often.

What we might often forget is that '101 Dalmatians' came at a time of great uneasiness in Disney animation. The studio was floundering. Even though 'Sleeping Beauty' would go on to be remembered as one of Disney's venerable classics, the reality was that its production outweighed its box office receipts at the time. In order to complete another animated movie, Disney animation had to slash costs dramatically. Using a new Xerox photography method to transfer the animation straight to the cel, Disney was to cut the costs necessary to keep making the movie. This new process eliminated the need for inking every cel. With the inking process done away with, '101 Dalmatians' retains a very rough, uniquely animated feel. Rough pencil lines are visible throughout the movie, as remnants of the new Xeroxing process.

While it's not the most memorable movie in the Disney archive '101 Dalmatians' might indeed may be one of the most important. Even though Disney had to layoff animators, the new technology made it possible for the studio to continue making films at half the price. Essentially, saving Disney animation from possibly having to close their doors for good.

The story is rather simple though. Pongo (Rod Taylor) a Dalmatian, and his "pet" human Roger (Ben Wright), are the best of pals. Pongo is lonely though, and notices Roger is too. In an effort to jumpstart Roger's love life, Pongo stalks a woman and her Dalmatian. The woman, Anita (Lisa Davis) and her dog Perdita (Cate Bauer) are instantly smitten with the two, after an awkward altercation in a nearby park. 

With a 79-minute movie there's no time to waste on exposition. That's one of the things I love about these old Disney movies. We move from beat to beat, without much fluff in between. There's no time for fluff.

The most notable character is, of course, Cruella. When you go to Disneyland you're not going to see Roger and Anita walking around. You will, however, encounter Cruella if you're (un)lucky enough. Like Madame Medusa from 'The Rescuers,' Cruella steals the show. Running over the long list of Disney's female villains, Cruella is probably one of the most dastardly and frightening. If you really think about her endgame, it makes you shudder. She's bought up all the Dalmatians in the city, stolen 15 puppies from Anita and Roger, and is hell bent on skinning them and making a few fur coats. That's it. That's what she lives for. I can't think of another villain in the Disney anthology that possesses such a simple sickening purpose. Thankfully, we never see the dogs get skinned, but just the thought of someone wanting to do that sends shivers down the spine. Remember, how we were all OK with John Wick killing dozens of people because they killed his puppy? Cruella's plan is, 99-times worse!

Besides its important historical context, and its villain, '101 Dalmatians' will always be overshadowed by many of Disney's more marketable films. That doesn't mean that it should be overlooked though. If just for the Twilight Bark, and the delightful shenanigans of Colonel (J. Pat O'Malley).

Even though it isn't the first movie I think of when we decide to revisit a Disney animated feature, I'm always glad when I do.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Disney's Diamond Edition of '101 Dalmatians' comes complete with a DVD and a 50GB Blu-ray. There is also a code for a Digital Copy of the film. There is a code for Disney Movie Rewards, and a nicely embossed slipcover included.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The first thing you'll likely notice about Disney's 1080p transfer of '101 Dalmatians' is that the image retains the roughness of the new-style animation. Sketch lines are often visible as the animation moves, creating a much rougher look. Almost mirroring the coarser appearance of many of Don Bluth's earlier animated films.

While it does appear that some sort of noise reduction has been administered it doesn't look to be anywhere near as bad as 'The Sword in the Stone.' Instead some of the original grain has been scrubbed away. With the harsher animation techniques, this doesn't sound as bad as it initially does. Yes, I wish Disney would leave well enough alone when it comes to cleaning up "noise," but the presentation as a whole doesn't lose out too much. We've still got a very true-to-form animated film, complete with visible sketch lines, and other oddities that you wouldn't be used to seeing in Disney films pre-1961.

The color of the movie has always been a muted affair, mostly because so much of the film takes place during the winter. Stark white country snowfields are the main visual here. The whiteness is only punctuated by the bounding black dots of 99 Dalmatian pups.

Black areas look as inky as one might expect them to be. All in all, this is a very clean transfer considering everything. Artifacts like banding and aliasing are non-existent. 

The Audio: Rating the Sound

I was really impressed with Disney's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix. Yes, the original mono mix is there is Dolby Digital form, but Disney has done a great job expanding the film's limited soundfield into something that sounds completely new.

The most notable surround sound effect is when we enter a room full of barking puppies, or the echoing of the Twilight Bark. The sound design does a great job of placing certain barks in the rear and side speakers making you feel like you're one of those people in London trying to get your dog to shut up. Cruella's famous hotrod of a car rips through the sound stage, transferring from one channel to another with pristine directionality. The rev of its engine provides a ton of forceful rumbling bass. There aren't too many older Disney titles that offer so much in the way of low-end sonics. This is one of those films for sure.

The dialogue is nicely placed up front, and is always easy to hear. Rear speakers capture some wonderful activity, especially when the screen is filled with dogs. I don't know what I was expecting before I put this in, but Disney's lossless mix certainly exceeded whatever expectations I might have had.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

  • Redefining the Line: The Making of '101 Dalmatians' (SD, 34 min.) – Ported over from a past DVD release of '101 Dalmatians' is a group of featurettes, which discusses, at length, the story behind the animation process of the film.
  • Music Video (HD, 3 min.) – "Cruella De Vil" sung by Selena Gomez.
  • Deleted Song (SD, 2 min.) – A deleted song called "March of the One Hundred and One."
  • Abandoned Songs (SD, 5 min.) – Two more unused songs: "Cheerio, Goodbye, Toodle-oo, Hip Hip!" and "Don't Buy a Parrot from a Sailor."
  • Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad (SD, 7 min.) – A look at the animation of the movie's most memorable character, and one of Disney's most revered villains.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

  • Lucky Dogs (HD, 9 min.) – Here artists and Disney alumni Carmen Sanderson, Burny Mattinson, Rolly Crump, Lisa Davis, and Floyd Norman discuss the dark times at Disney, which were mentioned in the review. They talk frankly about the layoffs and what the studio was going through at the same time they were trying to produce '101 Dalmatians.'
  • Dalmatians 101 (HD, 5 min.) – A look at five curious facts about the film.
  • 'The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt' (HD, 2 min.) – A animated short about the TV dog Thunderbolt, seen during the beginning of the movie when the puppies are watching television.
  • 'The Best Doggoned Dog in the World' (HD, 51 min.) – This is pretty awesome! Here you'll find the 10th episode of 'The Wonderful World of Disney' from its fourth season. Not much here to do with Dalmatians, but there is some great stuff about 'Old Yeller.'
  • DisneyView (HD) – You can watch this movie in Disney view. This feature fills out the screen with supplementary animated borders for those of you that don't like looking at a 4:3 ratio.

Final Thoughts

'101 Dalmatians' is of extreme historical significance for Disneyphiles. It may not be the most popular Disney movie out there, but it's most certainly one of the most important. The innovations that went into the animation of this film paved the way for Disney Animation Studios to keep making movies. Not to mention, in the process they created one of Disney's greatest villains. The video presentation looks solid, and the audio presentation exceeds expectations. With a good helping of Blu-ray extras, '101 Dalmatians' is highly recommended.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/TBA

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.33:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0
  • French DTS-HD HR 5.1
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH, French, Spanish

Supplements

  • All New Short – The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt
  • Walt Disney Presents “The Best Doggoned Dog in the World” (1961 Version)
  • Lucky Dogs
  • DisneyView
  • Dalmatians 101: Hosted by Cameron Boyce (Disney Channel’s “The Descendants”)
  • Plus a Selection of Classic Bonus Features

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