Film Review: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)

*All reviews contain spoilers*

Disclaimer: This blog is purely recreational and not for profit. Any material, including images and/or video footage, is property of their respective companies, unless stated otherwise. The author claims no ownership of this material. The opinions expressed therein reflect those of the author and are not to be viewed as factual documentation. All screencaps are from

Cast – (This film is positively swimming with characters, so I’ve added a few small notes to distinguish some of the less obvious ones – also, a note: according to IMDB, Lisa Daniels only provided about a third of Perdita’s voice work in the film. Halfway through the movie’s lengthy production, she got married and moved to New York City, so Cate Bauer completed the vocal performance.)

Sandra Abbott – Penny

Cate Bauer – Perdita (partial)

Barbara Beaird – Rolly

Marjorie Bennett – Duchess (the cow)

Lucille Bliss – “Kanine Krunchies” singer

Jeanne Bruns – Radio singer (singing Roger’s song)

Tom Conway – Quizmaster and Collie

Lisa Daniels – Perdita (partial)

Lisa Davis – Anita

David Frankham – Sergeant Tibbs

Paul Frees – Dirty Dawson

Betty Lou Gerson – Cruella De Vil and Miss Birdwell

Mimi Gibson – Lucky

Ramsay Hill – Television announcer and Labrador

Bill Lee – Roger (singing voice)

Queenie Leonard – Princess (the cow)

Barbara Luddy – Rover

Mickey Maga – Patch

J. Pat O’Malley – Colonel and Jasper

Dal McKennon – Barking dogs

Tudor Owen – Towser

George Pelling – Danny

Thurl Ravenscroft – Captain

Basil Ruysdael – Truck driver

Rickie Sorensen – Spotty

Rod Taylor – Pongo

Martha Wentworth – Nanny, Queenie (the cow) and Lucy (the goose)

Paul Wexler – Car mechanic

Frederick Worlock – Horace and Inspector Craven

Ben Wright – Roger (speaking voice)

Additional Voices: Don Barclay, Sylvia Marriott, Clarence Nash, Max Smith and Bob Stevens

Sources of InspirationThe Hundred and One Dalmatians, a British novel by Dodie Smith, 1956

Release Dates

January 25th, 1961 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, USA (premiere and general release)

Run-time – 79 minutes

Directors – Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske and Wolfgang Reitherman

Composers – George Bruns

Worldwide Gross – $215 million

Accolades – 1 win and 2 nominations

1961 in History

The residents of Valdivia, Chile, continue to recover from the previous year’s devastating earthquake in May, 1960; this was the largest recorded earthquake in history

US-Cuba relations are severed; they won’t be restored until 2015

The Portuguese Colonial War begins in Angola

The Beatles hold their first performances at The Cavern Club, beginning their UK popularity

The Southern Hemisphere’s largest tram network, in Sydney, Australia, ceases operation

John F. Kennedy is appointed the new President of the USA and announces in May his goal to get a man on the moon before the end of the decade

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbits the Earth once, becoming the first human in space; months later, Alan Shepard becomes the first American to reach it

The failure of the USA’s Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba sets things up for the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962

Sierra Leone gains independence from the UK, as does Tanganyika, which goes on to become Tanzania in 1964

Ethiopia is devastated by the country’s largest earthquake of the twentieth century

The Antarctic Treaty, first signed in 1959, officially comes into effect

The first Six Flags theme park (although not the oldest) opens in Texas

The UK applies to join the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the EU… and in 2016, they vote to leave it

Construction of the Berlin Wall begins, dividing the city and the country for decades to come

The Eritrean War of Independence officially begins; it runs for almost thirty years

A surprise volcanic eruption on the island of Tristan da Cunha forces the evacuation of its populace to the UK (it is a British territory to this day), where they remain until 1963

The Soviet Union detonates the “Tsar Bomba,” a 58-megaton yield hydrogen bomb, over Novaya Zemlya; it remains the largest ever man-made explosion

American’s involvement in the Vietnam War officially begins with the arrival of the first US helicopters in Saigon

The Portuguese surrender Goa to India, after four hundred years of colonial rule

Births of Eddie Murphy, George Clooney, Michael J. Fox, Boy George, Princess Diana, Laurence Fishburne, Barack Obama, Stephen Hillenburg, Peter Jackson and Meg Ryan


Hey Disney welcome to the sixties! Whoa-oh oh-oh oh-oh-whoaaa… (Sorry, Hairspray moment there). The dawn of the new decade saw the release of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which marked a turning point in the studio’s art style and also in its box office fortunes. After the expensive failure of Sleeping Beauty two years earlier, there was actually some talk of closing down the Disney animation department; Walt was no doubt getting sick of all his passion projects crashing and burning and it’s no wonder he was disheartened by this most recent failure. Still, they decided they just couldn’t pull the plug on animation, thank goodness, because it was what the entire studio had been built on and just meant too much to them.

Walt read the original Dodie Smith novel in 1957 and it immediately grabbed his attention, so he acquired the rights to it. Smith was only too happy to sell them to him, as she had secretly hoped that Disney would adapt her story as she was writing it. Walt assigned Bill Peet to create the film’s version of the story, the first time that a Disney film’s story was written by just one person. Walt liked Peet’s original draft so much that he had little involvement in the making of the film overall, which by this time had become standard practice, although he did still attend story meetings. Peet sent Smith some drawings of the characters and she responded with delight, saying that his designs had actually improved upon the book’s illustrations.

Quite an auspicious start for such a modest, unassuming sort of film – so let’s take a look at it and see why audiences responded so favourably.


Characters and Vocal Performances

We are first introduced to Pongo, the male Dalmatian who narrates the opening scenes. Similarly to Lady and the Tramp (1955), he is presented as an intelligent and somewhat anthropomorphised dog who is looking out for his “pet,” the human Roger. Unlike that film, however, the dogs here are much more keenly aware of their master’s habits, to the point that Pongo is able to manipulate Roger into going out to the park by cleverly changing the hands of the clock. He clearly cares a lot about Roger and in his first scene begins playing the matchmaker on his behalf, kicking the film off on a comic note as he “people-watches” out the window to try and find a potential partner for him.

After dismissing several women, he spots Anita (and Perdita of course) and manages to get Roger out to the park to meet them. He carefully observes and influences the situation until eventually he’s got them all tangled up together in his leash – mission accomplished. He also demonstrates a great deal of affection for his mate, Perdita, comforting her in the face of Cruella’s wickedness and using his own optimism to try and buoy her up when things look bleak.

He stays by her side throughout their whole ordeal after the kidnapping; it’s his idea to use the “gossip chain” of the Twilight Bark to get the word out, and once the puppies are located he joins Perdita in the race to get there in time, thwarting Horace and Jasper numerous times as they try to get them all home. He seems to have more faith in human goodness than Perdita, as it is his idea to bring back the extra eighty-four puppies, saying that he believes Roger and Anita won’t turn them away. It’s a shame the film doesn’t keep its focus on him in the latter stages, where it becomes more about the puppies – Pongo is essentially the main character, and he proves himself to be a capable and resourceful protagonist in his early scenes in particular.

Pongo headshot

Perdita is likeable enough, although her character is not given as much attention as Pongo’s. She is a fusion of two separate dogs from the original novel – Pongo’s mate, who was named Missus, and their wet-nurse Perdita (who in this film has been replaced by the human Nanny). Perdita comes across as a bit of an introvert to Pongo’s extrovert, saying less and demonstrating a quieter, gentler disposition.

However, when her maternal instincts kick in, she can be terrifying – her reaction to Horace and Jasper trying to club her beloved puppies to death is pure fury. She and Pongo demonstrate remarkable resilience in their trek across southern England to find their kids, travelling over sixty miles from Regent’s Park to Suffolk in an icy winter, with early hints of Finding Nemo (2003) and Homeward Bound (1963 and 1993). Perdita is also a bit of a pessimist with a tendency to look on the black side, so Pongo’s brighter outlook compliments hers nicely.

Perdita headshot

The human counterparts to our canine leads are Roger and Anita, a young couple who owe their relationship to the efforts of Pongo (unbeknownst to them of course). Roger is a tall, blond musician with a shy and playful nature, who is, according to Pongo, “married to his work.” He is exceedingly British in both voice and manner, which I love – his signature trait is a continual puffing on his pipe, an act often interrupted by a sudden yank of the leash from Pongo. His “romantic” encounter with Anita in the park is wonderfully done, with lots of British bashfulness as they both avoid each other’s eyes at first; after they’ve fallen into a pond, there’s lots of apologising and offering of hankies until they end up in fits of laughter at the bedraggled sight of one another.

Later, when Cruella comes to visit, Roger makes his lack of respect for her crystal clear as he noisily plays his piano (complete with lively foot-stamping) from upstairs. When it comes down to it though, Roger can be quite firm, even brave, for instance when he defies Cruella as she attempts to buy the puppies. I relate to Roger a lot; his struggle to speak out against the bully despite his gentle nature felt very familiar.

Roger headshot

His partner, Anita, is the definitive “English Rose,” a demure and graceful woman with a snappy dress sense and the same love of dogs as him. She is well-mannered and even-tempered, able to keep her cool in spite of Cruella’s outrageous rudeness (although she is presumably used to her, as they were apparently former classmates).

In regards to her relationship, she and Roger seem to hit it off very quickly, considering that they go from first meeting to their wedding in about six months! This might explain why they’re so “lovey-dovey” in their scenes together; they’re still in the honeymoon phase (it’d be interesting to see how they interact ten years down the line). Still, it is nice to see a Disney couple spending time together in a domestic setting after the wedding; we only usually see the lead-up to the union, not the aftermath. One thing that I like is that she is no gushing schoolgirl but an actual adult woman, somewhere in her late twenties or early thirties by the look of her, which is unusual for a Disney heroine. Mind you, this raises the question of how in the world she and Cruella could have been classmates – are they seriously supposed to be around the same age? Good grief, Cruella looks old enough to be her mother!

Anita headshot

This brings us to the “devil woman” herself, Cruella De Vil, a stylish yet hideous woman who is obsessed with collecting and wearing furs. If you’ve only ever seen the film once, odds are she is the part of it you’ll remember the most – like all of the classic Disney villains, Cruella is a total scene-stealer, hamming it up with the best of them; a large part of the strength of the character is in the voice work, provided by Betty Lou Gerson (last heard serenely narrating the opening of Cinderella {1950}). In the 1950s, the villains tended to be subtle, simmering creations played by Eleanor Audley – the last of the female big hams was the Queen of Hearts ten years earlier in Alice in Wonderland (1951).

Cruella’s screen presence is powerful because she is so over the top; every line, every gesture is delivered with such passion that she almost feels like a caricature of someone (Zsa Zsa Gabor, perhaps? “Dah-ling!”) It’s actually something of a surprise when she does tone it down once or twice; there’s a great moment where she’s reading the headline about the stolen puppies, with a close-up of the paper preventing us from seeing who’s reading it. With a sweeter, calmer voice than usual as she “laments” the tragedy, she sounds like any concerned stranger – until we see the puff of acrid yellow smoke against the page, telling us who it is before her face is even revealed.

Cruella is a kind of adult spoilt brat, clearly used to getting her own way through intimidation or money (or both); when things are in her favour she’s perfectly sweet (if not actually polite), but as soon as she’s opposed her grasp on sanity starts to slip. As the film goes on and her attempts to get the puppies are repeatedly foiled, she gets wilder and wilder until by the climax she’s utterly insane, which is really quite frightening – watch that car chase again and remember that Anita had that woman in her parlour just weeks earlier, it’s a jarring shift.

It’s worth noting that Cruella is probably at her funniest in the earlier scenes, where her rages are tempered by the odd falsely sweet moment; by the end of the film, she’s permanently furious, openly slapping her goons and talking viciously about ways to “kill the little beasts.” A scary and surprisingly realistic villain, Cruella is the kind of person who you could even find in your own parlour one day if you’re not careful, and with the growing interest in animal rights she’s a rare example of a character who’s perhaps more appropriate for our time than the one she was created in. My one criticism of her story arc is that she isn’t really punished at the end; not killed, not arrested, just… stranded out in the snow.

Cruella in doorwayCruella goes wild

The other three human characters of note are Horace, Jasper and Nanny (why do the nanny characters never get actual names? Apparently, if you’re not Mary Poppins, you’re too minor warrant one!) Horace and Jasper are fairly standard bumbling henchmen, with the tall skinny one (Jasper) and the short fat one (Horace). These characters have been seen countless times before and since, with the ones that spring to my mind being Harry and Marv from the first two Home Alone films (1990 and 1992). Here, they manage to be by turns both funny and scary – but usually funny – such as during their big break-in scene where they commit the theft which kicks off the second act.

Jasper is the self-appointed leader, always thinking he knows best and ready to dismiss any idea his companion might have (no matter how logical). Horace, by contrast, is rather put-upon; if he only had more confidence in himself, perhaps he could be a more successful criminal! The two are mildly threatening at times, such as at Hell Hall when they threaten the puppies, but I personally found them much more unsettling during the break-in. There’s something uncomfortably real about seeing these two rough-looking blokes barging into the house with only a small, elderly woman to try and stop them (she gives it a damn good try, to be fair). The dark palette and their sinister expressions coupled with the way they quickly outsmart the poor old girl make this one of the creepier scenes, especially when you think about what might have happened to her had this not been a Disney film.

Jasper and Horace
Jasper on the left, Horace on the right
Horace and Jasper break-in
The pair with Nanny during their break-in

Nanny herself has a minor part, but much like the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty she adds a great deal of warmth to the scenes she’s in. She functions something like a cross between Flora and Fauna, generally bubbly and kind but tough and scrappy when needed. Pongo notes that she reminds him of a dog at times; he’s referring to her mannerisms, but I think there’s a “canine” element to her personality too, in the sense that she’s fiercely loyal towards her employers and the dogs themselves.

She seems more cut up than any of them when the puppies go missing (perhaps she feels it the hardest as she was responsible for them at the time). She’s also impressively brave, standing up to Cruella, Horace and Jasper with scarcely a trace of fear, as though they were nothing more than troublesome six-year-olds who need to be put in their place. At the end of the film, it is she who appears the most morose about the loss of the puppies and she who is the most overjoyed when they return – I’m glad Nanny was included and I only wish we could’ve had a few more scenes with her.

101 Dalmatians Nanny

With all this talk of the puppies, I should really devote some time to them, but you know, there’s really not a whole lot you can say about them. I have to admit, I can see the problem the filmmakers were faced with: How on earth do you make even fifteen of these characters distinct individuals in under an hour and a half of screen time, let alone ninety-nine?

Realistically, the puppies don’t really need to be seen as individuals in order to do their job; they function as one complete unit, to be shepherded about by the villains, or Tibbs, or their parents. In the end, only about three or four are given any semblance of personality, mainly in their first scene by the television before the kidnapping (and before the addition of eighty-four more).

There’s Patch, the tough little bruiser who eventually garnered his own sequel, Lucky, the famously “stillborn” one who is rubbed back to life by a stubborn Roger in one of the film’s strongest scenes, and of course Rolly… the fat one. (That’s literally his whole character; he’s fat and always hungry). There’s also Penny (the sole named female and the first of many Disney characters named Penny), and two others called Freckles and Pepper (I’m not sure if they even get a line), but beyond these, the puppies are just a sort of mass character who function mainly as a plot device.

I know that sounds a bit cold, but it’s not really a criticism; they do their job well enough. There was never really going to be time to flesh out even a handful of them properly in one film (heck, a whole TV series wouldn’t be enough for ninety-nine of them), so with the time they had I think the filmmakers did well at establishing enough character for us to care about them (although Rolly could have done with being less of a stereotype). Incidentally, if you’re curious, the male puppies all have red collars, while the females have blue ones.

14 of the 15 puppies watching Springtime
14 of the 15 original puppies, watching an old Disney cartoon

The same problem of time constraints affects some of the supporting characters, too. The Twilight Bark scenes take up almost ten percent of the whole film, but there are so many characters packed into them that we scarcely have time to get to know any of them properly before we’ve jumped another few miles to the next ones.

I enjoyed Danny and Scottie, the stately Great Dane and his yappy little terrier friend, who really make the most of their one scene. There are also some further appearances from the dogs of the “people-watching” scene at the beginning, such as Prissy the Afghan hound and Coco the poodle, who only have time for a couple of quick gags as they pass the message along. We get a bit more time with Towser the bloodhound and his friend Lucy the goose, who are the final link between the Pongos and the Colonel near Hell Hall. I’m genuinely curious as to how a bloodhound ever became friends with what might be considered a prey animal (only in Disney, eh) but I do like the way they work together, with Lucy holding his ear out like a satellite dish to help him decipher the distant messages.

Later in the film, there are also some small roles from an unnamed Collie and a Labrador, who serve the same purpose: helping the Pongo family on their way home. The Collie has a very stuffy voice but is clearly a warmer dog than he appears, offering the group shelter in his family’s barn and even keeping watch while they get some sleep. The Labrador gets slightly more screen time as he helps the family on the last part of their journey and inspires the idea of using a disguise. The two of them demonstrate a strong sense of camaraderie with these city dogs, selflessly offering their help to them and expecting nothing in return, kind of like a canine “pay it forward” movement, but there’s not much else to be said about them than that.

Danny and Scottie
Danny on the gate, Scottie on the pillar
Towser and Lucy
Towser the bloodhound and Lucy the goose

The Collie and the Labrador

The most significant animal characters of the second act are the barnyard trio who actually locate the puppies and get them out of Hell Hall, consisting of Captain, an old horse, Colonel, an Old English Sheepdog and Sergeant Tibbs, a youthful feline second-in-command. The trio live with one “Major General S.F. Smedley,” who according to his gate is a member of the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers (or at least was, as it was amalgamated with the 12th Royal Lancers in 1960). I’m a little confused about their names/titles because a quick search suggests that a Colonel and a Captain are roughly equivalent in rank, but no matter – let’s look at the characters.

Colonel has some of the loveable muddle-headedness of the Fairy Godmother, but mixed with a gruff British stubbornness which results in some of the film’s most comedic lines and moments as he makes mistakes and is promptly corrected by the younger Tibbs.

Tibbs himself is the real star of the trio, as it is generally he who deduces things first and he who actually makes his way inside to rescue the puppies. In spite of his obvious terror he’s surprisingly brave, remaining in front of the puppies even as Horace and Jasper are on the brink of clubbing them all to death. He’s also got a hilariously blasé, ever-so-slightly stressed out tone to him, a sort of British stiff-upper-lip, never angry or impatient or frustrated but simply ready to do his duty without flicking a whisker. He is my favourite of the secondary characters as he is largely responsible for saving the puppies (with a little help from the Pongos of course).

I know I haven’t said anything about Captain yet, but he’s not really very distinctive, acting merely as a sort of second straight man with Tibbs as opposed to the scatter-brained Colonel – he does manage to nail Horace and Jasper with a couple of well-aimed kicks, though!

Captain, Colonel and Sergeant Tibbs
Captain, Colonel and Sergeant Tibbs listening to Towser’s message

Among the remaining characters, there are the cows, three of whom are named (Queenie, Duchess and Princess), but there’s little to distinguish them. They serve simply to lighten the tone a bit after a particularly harrowing march by the puppies through the snow, as well as providing some sustenance for them (in a scene which was apparently criticised as inappropriate at the time).

There are also a host of TV characters shown in various scenes throughout the film, which offer some genuinely funny parodies of contemporary shows of the time and make for some of the film’s most meta jokes. In an overdramatic Western parody, we see Thunderbolt (who also starred in the sequel) doing battle with the nefarious Dirty Dawson, and later there’s a parody of What’s My Line? (1950-1967) but done with criminals – Horace and Jasper recognise this episode’s guest, the impressively-named Percival Fauncewater, as an acquaintance of theirs, and laugh along with us as the panel (Miss Birdwell, Mr Simpkins and Inspector Craven) attempt to work out what crime he’s committed.

The cows watch the puppies arrive; Percival with the Quizmaster



The studio, as mentioned in the introduction, was in dire straits around the time this film went into production. They’d had to cut their staff of inkers from five hundred to less than one hundred, and with the latest financial failure there was a serious possibility that animation would have to be stopped altogether. Luckily, this never came to pass, but a number of cost-saving measures were used to ensure that this film’s budget was a lot lower than its predecessor, Sleeping Beauty, measures which would remain in place for decades to come.

Once again, a selection of live-action reference footage was shot for the animators to work of off, with regulars like Helene Stanley returning to model the human characters and actual dogs being brought in to study. As always, this degree of realism added a great deal to the human scenes, making them look realistic through the many subtle little mannerisms the animators incorporated into their work – look at the very British nonchalance of the “romance” between Roger and Anita near the beginning. Both characters are given exquisite poise and Anita in particular moves with a smooth grace; this makes it all the funnier when she and Roger are catapulted into the pond and all their dignity is wiped out. The gradual changes in their body language as they open up, shake off their embarrassment and begin to laugh at the mess they’re in endears the characters to us, as we laugh along with them.

Roger and Anita in pond

With previous productions, the top animators at the studio would usually be assigned one character and then drew most (if not all) of that particular character’s scenes themselves. This time around, the animation was more of a “team effort” – for example, no less than seven of the Nine Old Men worked on Perdita. (Incidentally, this would also be Les Clark’s final Disney film, before he moved on to other things).

The one notable exception to this was Cruella De Vil, who was animated entirely by Marc Davis. Davis had been responsible for several other famous Disney women like Cinderella and Maleficent, but now he finally had a more flamboyant character who he could let loose with and he was said to have enjoyed working with her enormously. The animation of Cruella is definitely the highlight of the character animation; she’s marvellously compelling, whether she’s stalking around Anita’s parlour looking for the as-yet unborn puppies or driving like a lunatic in the final chase. Davis really knew what he was doing with Cruella, creating another of Disney’s most memorable villains and turning her into a total scene-stealer.

Of course, the most important thing to note about the animation in One Hundred and One Dalmatians is that it saw the introduction of xerography. This was an innovative and cost-effective method of animating involving an early method of photocopying, which had been introduced into offices by the Xerox Company in 1959. Special effects wizard Ub Iwerks adapted the copy machine to animation by creating one which copied drawings onto an electrically charged plate, and then the camera could copy them directly onto the cels. This effectively eliminated the ink-and-paint stage of the production and saved a lot of time and money (though presumably it also cost a few people their jobs) and also helped to preserve the animators’ original linework.

However, the process did have its limitations; because the camera was unable to deviate from the severe, black, scratchy outlines which the drawings had to be done in, the finished products lacked the lavish richness of the hand-inked features, a loss which Walt would lament for years, as he felt it was a step backwards and looked too “primitive.”

Still, for all that, this film probably couldn’t have been made without xerography. The sheer time it would’ve taken to animate even one spotted dog by hand would’ve been enough to deal with, but the thought of animating one hundred and one of them is truly mind-boggling. Even with xerography, the process had to be carefully simplified; small groups of perhaps half a dozen puppies would be animated first, then copied and repeated many times over until there was a suitably large number – if you pay attention in scenes when the many puppies are all running along together, you can see that every six or so move in the same way as the previous group.

Why did the Dalmatians cross the road

To achieve the spotted coats of the Dalmatians, the animators approached the patterns like constellations – they would have an “anchor spot,” which they would then base the rest of them around until they had a full pattern. Apparently, the film features 6,469,952 individual spots altogether (somebody supposedly went and painstakingly counted them frame-by-frame, heaven knows why!). Pongo has seventy-two, Perdita has sixty-eight and each puppy has thirty-two (although I think the one named Freckles may have a few more). The animation of the Dalmatians is a technical marvel which couldn’t have been achieved even five years earlier; it just goes to show that, even when they weren’t at the top of their game, Disney were still ready to take advantage of the latest technologies and innovations.

It’s also worth noting the animator’s use of maquettes, or small scale models, which they had been working with since the late 1930s as another aid in their studies. I mention it here because of one scene in particular where they were used; the car chase. The animators created miniature models of Cruella’s car and the two trucks out of cardboard with bold black lines on the edges. To make the wheels turn realistically, the animators put down a long piece of cloth with pieces of wooden dowling taped underneath it and then suspended the cars above it with kite strings. They would then pull the fabric and all the wooden dowling pieces under the wheels so that they rattled as if in motion and shot a take of it, to be animated over later. They even replicated the cars’ “suspension” by putting springs in to create a bouncy effect.

The footage would then be run through the Xerox machine and painted until it became what you see in the final film! Also, when Cruella is struggling to drive the car up a hill and through a snowbank, a thick sand-like substance was used to simulate it and show in slow motion before being painted up in the same way (I was especially curious to learn how this was done, as I could tell that there was some sort of special effect used in that scene). It’s worth bearing in mind all the tricks and techniques employed by the animators to achieve the finished result – the special effects were often highly creative.

What a crash 101 Dalmatians
What a flip!

Some of the highlight scenes include the delivery of the puppies, which uses subtlety to great effect, and the attack by the Pongos on Horace and Jasper at Hell Hall, which is both funny and frightening. The animation of the dogs is excellent, as it was six years earlier in Lady and the Tramp; speaking of that film, there are a few brief cameos of Jock, Peg and Lady and Tramp themselves during the first part of the Twilight Bark sequence, so keep your eyes peeled! I especially enjoy the animation of the Colonel’s scenes, as I think an Old English Sheepdog really lends itself to animation – the breed’s coat is so shaggy and bouncy that it almost becomes a character of its own!

Angry Pongo and Perdita
A mother’s love is a beautiful thing.



Bill Peet was solely responsible for the story in this film, so he kept in close consultation with Dodie Smith whilst working on it and sent her several sketches of the characters. As mentioned above, Smith loved these and considered them an improvement on the original illustrations.

This is sometimes considered to be the first “contemporary” Disney film set in what was then the present day, which I suppose is true, although the inclusion of a modern train carriage at the end of Dumbo (1941) suggests that that one, at least, may also have been set in the present. Still, this one is undeniably tied into the modern world in a way which no previous Disney film had been – it’s so different to see Disney characters watching television, for instance. The incorporation of various parody TV shows was an inspired touch, adding a good dose of satirical humour which you didn’t often see in Disney films of the time. “What’s My Crime?” is of course a play on What’s My Line?, except with criminals in place of mystery guests, while the “Thunderbolt” show seems to draw on shows like Lassie (1954-1974) and The Adventures of Champion/Champion the Wonder Horse (1955-1956).

These are honestly some of my favourite parts; they’re funny, of course, but they’ve also taken on a sort of nostalgic charm over the years, harkening back to the early days of television which many younger viewers never knew. There are also a few “Easter eggs” for Disney fans; at one point, the puppies can be seen watching an old Disney cartoon called Springtime from 1929, although it is often confused with the better-known Flowers and Trees (1932).

The Dalmatians watching TV

The delivery of the puppies is one of the strongest moments in the story, filled with tension thanks to the solid pacing, which may be because it was based on a real event. Dodie Smith, herself a Dalmatian enthusiast, once witnessed one of her own dogs giving birth to fifteen puppies just like Perdita does. One was even stillborn and was successfully revived by her husband, so if you’ve ever considered that part of the scene to be a bit too good to be true, just remember it’s based in reality! Smith, of course, couldn’t keep all fifteen and sold most of them on to good homes elsewhere.

As you would expect, a few changes were made during the transition from story to screen: the liver-spotted Dalmatian Perdita, who was a wet nurse in the original, was dropped, while her name was transferred to Pongo’s mate, formerly called “Missus.” The boy Tommy, an old spaniel and his master, and some gypsies were all apparently dropped too (I haven’t read the original story myself). The farm near Hell Hall also had a name change, from Dympling to Withermarsh, and the fantastic car chase between Cruella, Horace and Jasper and the moving van was entirely the work of Disney.

Interestingly, the short scene of the puppies suckling milk from the friendly cows in the Collie’s barn supposedly attracted some criticism at the time from conservatives who deemed it inappropriate in a children’s film. How odd! Then again, there’s still a bit of a stigma around public breastfeeding even today, so perhaps times haven’t changed all that much.

Controversial milk drinking

Overall, the plot is kept quite simple and tight, with few plot holes (beyond the unlikelihood of Scotland Yard getting involved with a minor case like this, let alone it making the front page of the papers), but if there’s one problem with the film’s story, it’s in the pacing. Although the pacing of some of the individual scenes can be strong, such as during the puppy delivery and the climactic scenes in Dinsford, others – I’m looking especially at the Twilight Bark sequence – do drag a bit. Well, a lot, actually. It starts off strong, showcasing a variety of dog breeds and doing its job as a scene, but then as we head out into the countryside and it just keeps going and going, it starts to get a bit ridiculous. We spend ages with Towser and Lucy as they attempt to relay the message about the missing puppies the last part of the way to Colonel and co., when this is information the audience already knows. A bit of trimming was needed here, as the scene is just about the only one where it starts to feel like the film is relying on padding.



For this film, the primary artistic influence was British satirical cartoonist Ronald Searle, whose angular, exaggerated style can clearly be distinguished in the character designs. Cruella herself is the stereotypical “poisonous woman” of the art nouveau movement and was designed as a sort of manic send-up of flamboyant actress Tallulah Bankhead (I can sense a bit of Zsa Zsa Gabor in her near the beginning as well). Everything about Cruella’s design is marvellous, another villainous triumph for Marc Davis.

Art director Ken Anderson and colour stylist Walter Peregoy worked out a new way of painting backgrounds for this film by leaving out the usual linework, which was instead printed on a separate cel before being laid over the background itself. This approach helped them to better blend in with the Xeroxed style of animation. Eight hundred gallons of special paint weighing almost five tons were used to produce the animation cels and backgrounds for the film, enough to cover fifteen football fields! A vast range of nearly a thousand different shades of colour were created for it, too. The films of this period are sometimes criticised for their “sketchy” appearance and perceived lack of artistic merit, but there’s so much more to them than that if you look closely. They might not be as luxurious as the earlier films, but the animators certainly didn’t sacrifice their art for a cheaper production.

One handy way of working out exactly when a film is supposed to be set is to take a close look at any newspapers the characters might be reading. At one point, Horace and Jasper are holding one while they talk on the phone to Cruella and apart from the kidnapping headline, there’s another saying “Carlsen Speaks” with a picture of a capsized ship. This is a reference to a Mr. Henrik Kurt Carlsen and his freighter the Flying Enterprise, which sank after a prolonged struggle in the Atlantic in the year 1952. However, on the front of the newspaper that Cruella is reading, just under the masthead, you can clearly see a date: November 2nd, 1958. So this could be the year the film is taking place in!

Cruella's newspaper
Can you make out the date in the top left corner?

As far as the rest of the film’s artwork goes, it has to be said that it’s a bit of a step-down from the likes of Sleeping Beauty and Lady and the Tramp, but not as much of a one as people think. The jazzy opening credits are some of the best we’ve seen yet, with lots of fun visuals blending in with the music that reminded me at times of the opening to Monsters, Inc. (2001). London also looks marvellous, with some sweeping romantic shots of it similar to those at the start and finish of Peter Pan (the artists seemed to be really enraptured with that city at the time), as well as some more atmospheric images of it bathed in mist after the film’s tone darkens following the kidnapping. Regent’s Park in particular looks lovely and the style of the film seems to suit the English countryside which we see later on.

During the Twilight Bark, I was a little confused to see so many neon lights in the city and wondered if the filmmakers had perhaps gotten London confused with New York City, but a quick image search revealed a surprising amount of them in 1960s London (at least in Piccadilly Circus).


This shot reminds me of Lady and the Tramp


Cruella’s haunt, Hell Hall


This is my favourite shot in the film
Pongo and Perdita face the icy Stour
Cruella prowls Dinsford

I like the small touches of realism added in, which lend the film a sense of authenticity that helps you immerse yourself more fully in the world. There are references to real English counties like Suffolk, real areas of London like Hampstead, and “English-sounding” names like the village of Dinsford (possibly taken from Dunsford in Devon), as well as real (though unnamed) features like the River Stour in Dorset, which is what Pongo and Perdita cross on their way to Withermarsh. Actual car models were also used to inspire Cruella’s infamous, monstrous limousine; it is a mixture of a 1936 Alvis Speed 20 SD Drophead Coupe, a 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale ‘Weinberger Cabriolet’ and a Rolls-Royce Phantom V.



Unusually for the time, One Hundred and One Dalmatians is not a musical. Songwriter Mel Leven had actually written a number of additional songs for the film including numbers like “Don’t Buy a Parrot from a Sailor,” which was a cockney chant intended for Horace and Jasper, and “March of the One Hundred and One,” meant for the dogs after their escape from Cruella near the end, but for whatever reason these were dropped and the film’s songs were cut to just two or three.

By far the best-known one is Cruella De Vil, Roger’s smooth, cool jazz number performed with vigour while Cruella herself is actually in the house and again after she leaves. Although it is short, it features some fun lyrics and helps to get across the kind of playful relationship he and Anita have together. It even serves a small role in the plot, as it becomes the first of Roger’s songs to become a bonafide hit, which presumably earns the family a lot of money in royalties. Just try not to hum along to the rhythm of this one, it’s impossible!

The other song from Roger is Dalmatian Plantation, sung at the end as they celebrate the dogs’ return. It’s hard to find much to say about this one simply because it’s so short; although it too features some clever wordplay in its lyrics, it only lasts for about one verse before it’s cut short by the film ending. It’s a shame it couldn’t have continued into the credits, or something, as it was a promising little number and I would have liked to hear the rest (but Disney wouldn’t start including songs with lyrics in the credits for another thirty years).

My favourite song from the film is the rather underrated little piece called Kanine Krunchies which plays as the jingle in a television advertisement early on. It’s very funny, delivered in a sweet, lispy, heavily-accented Brooklyn voice courtesy of Lucille Bliss (otherwise known as Cinderella’s Anastasia) and serving as an affectionate mockery of the kind of commercials which were standard at the time.

Kanine Krunchies

The score itself is well-used, featuring a lot of jazz influence in its brighter moments (you’ll be hearing a lot more of that in the coming films) and becoming suitably dramatic in the film’s darker scenes (like the river crossing, for instance).

The best-known member of the cast at the time was Pongo’s actor, Rod Taylor (The Birds {1957}, The Time Machine {1960}), who had extensive radio experience in his repertoire which made him a prime candidate for voice acting. The filmmakers decided to cast the dogs with deeper voice actors than their human owners to reinforce the idea that they had more power in the story, a subtle but effective choice. Lisa Davis originally read for the role of Cruella, but decided that she wasn’t right for the part and would work better as Anita. After rereading the script and listening to her read for both roles, Walt agreed, and so Cruella went to Betty Lou Gerson, who of course turned her into one of the great Disney villains.

The writing is really excellent in this film, featuring some cockney rhyming slang (a nice, setting-appropriate addition) from Jasper and loads of quotable lines from Cruella. I can’t help laughing along with her many colourful descriptions of Roger, including this gem: “Anita… and her bashful Beethoven! Ahahahaha! Pipe and all! Ahahahaha!” And then there’s that random but hilarious moment where she’s trying to talk the couple into selling her the puppies; she’s calm and collected until her pen runs dry, at which point she suddenly begins shaking it violently, spraying ink everywhere as she cries, “Blast this pen, blast this wretched, WRETCHED PEN! AGH!” At Hell Hall, she gets this fabulously blunt line, underlining her sheer callous disregard for the puppies: “Poison them, drown them, bash them in the head! You got any chloroform?” Yikes! The one that stuck in my head after watching the film was, for some reason, the moment where she works out where the puppies are heading and screams “SEE YOU IN DINSFORD!” to Horace and Jasper as she tears off like a maniac. Such a fun character, that Cruella.

There’s also one small line that I found really funny during the car chase, not from Cruella this time but from the driver of the removal van, because it’s something that just wouldn’t fly today. He calls Cruella a “crazy woman driver!” This she certainly is, but you can’t imagine a line like that slipping under the radar if it appeared in something like Big Hero 6 (2014) or Zootopia (2016)!


Final Verdict

Although Walt was disappointed with the look of the film, the public responded with enthusiasm and it became the last successful animated film of his lifetime. (In 1966, Walt did eventually forgive the art director, Ken Anderson, for his work; it was the last time Anderson saw him before his death). Dodie Smith was also delighted with the final result and said that her favourite shot in the film was one in the first scene where Pongo stretches while lying on a window sill.

The film became the tenth highest-grossing film of the year in the US and Canada, making around $6,400,000 in distributor’s domestic rentals during the first year of its release – it also proved very popular in France. The film gained four rereleases in 1969, 1979, 1985 and 1991, the latter one becoming the twentieth highest grossing film of its year in domestic earnings.

There was a VHS release of it in 1992, but technical issues prevented a Laserdisc release and delayed its DVD debut until December 1999 (there have since been a few other DVD and Blu-ray releases). In the early 1990s, some of the merchandise tied in with the video’s release had to be pulled from shelves after it was realised that the word Dalmatian had been misspelled as “Dalmation” on some of the product packaging – just goes to show the importance of good grammar!

Back in 1996, a live-action remake was created starring Glenn Close as Cruella, which opened to mixed reviews but excellent box office takings. This then spawned a sequel of its own in 2000 called 102 Dalmatians (clever), which also opened to criticism but good money. I’ve seen neither of them, but I do remember a trailer for the sequel appearing on an old VHS tape for another film I had, long before I’d actually seen any film related to this franchise.

As you might expect, the original film also ended up with a direct-to-video sequel of its own in 2003, with a real mouthful of a title: 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, starring Patch, arguably the most distinguishable personality from the original fifteen puppies. I haven’t seen this one either, I must admit, but it apparently got better reviews than some of the other DTV tripe from the time and even warranted a DVD rerelease in 2008, so it might be worth checking out if you’re a fan of the characters. There was also a short-lived TV series with the very literal name 101 Dalmatians: The Series, which ran from 1997 to 1998 across just two seasons, making this the second film after Peter Pan to have one. (Watching the series’ intro online, I’m getting the weirdest sense of déjà vu, like I recognise these character designs; perhaps I watched this when I was a kid? Obviously it didn’t leave a strong impression!)

Finally, as incredible as it sounds, there is rumoured to be another live-action remake in the works, which will focus on Cruella’s (no doubt) tragic backstory and with Emma Stone of all people playing her. Honestly, it sounds like another Maleficent (2014) in the making… why do they have to keep messing with classic villains, trying to make them “sympathetic”? I feel like I’m adding this same note at the bottom of every review; it’s like no film is safe from the pandemic of sequelitis and remakes… please, Hollywood, just leave them be! Needless to say I don’t think I’ll be seeing this one.

Anyway, my opinion of the original film – although it’s quite simple and minimalistic compared to the richness of the fifties features, for what it is I think it’s a well-made and entertaining romp. I enjoy it more than a lot of the other “Dark Age” films, that’s for sure! It has some compelling characters (especially Cruella) and even the most minor parts are given a life and warmth which make them all feel real, a feeling helped by the references to real places in England. As someone who lives here, I thought they did a really good job of nailing the flavour of a wintry English countryside and I especially enjoyed little additions like having Jasper use cockney rhyming slang (which I’ve heard plenty of from my dad over the years). That said, the film does lack a strong soundtrack and has some pretty blatant pacing issues, which prevent it from being a standout Disney feature. (I’ve also never been a dog-owner, a club which it seems many of the film’s most devoted fans belong to). Still, I would recommend seeing this one though, whether you like dogs or not – it’s a great story nicely told and with some fantastic scenes, so I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

My Rating – 4/5

Sergeant Tibbs derp face



I consulted my own books to research for this review, as well as some standard web sources:

The Art of Walt Disney (2011 ed.) by Christopher Finch

Once Upon a Time: Walt Disney (2007) edited by Bruno Girveau

Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters (1998 ed.) by John Grant – credit for poster – wiki page – IMDB profile


25 Replies to “Film Review: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)”

  1. I don’t usually take the time to leave comments —-but, man, this is a particularly bright take on an animated film. (Love to see what you could do with something like Vertigo).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I have toyed with the idea of setting up a second blog for live-action films, but I don’t feel like I’ve seen enough of them to justify it (plus it’s more than enough work running this one, haha). I haven’t seen Vertigo yet I’m afraid, but I did love Hitchcock’s Marnie, and of course The Birds!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I guess I was surprised to see that much imagination [and nuanced writing] poured into a review of a relatively one dimensional film. The review exhibited more artistry than the film —-and how often can one say that?
    By the way, I chatted with Milt Kahl a few times and I got the distinct impression that he said he hated drawing Prince Phillip in order to coax people into saying, “but you did such a magnificent job!” Although he was way too much of a gentleman to ever say it, he was fully aware of the fact nobody else could have pulled off that tricky assignment without falling on their face.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re too kind, comments like this make my day! You know, I didn’t think this was one of my better reviews, either – I’d love for you to check out some of my Renaissance ones, I adore those films.
      Whoa, you met Milt Kahl? What an honour, I bet that was a good day. Haha, modesty’s great, but so is self-confidence, I don’t blame him – he really did do wonders with Philip. It was the first time a Disney prince had any semblance of character to him.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Deal! I’m gonna try to read all your stuff on the Renaissance films –although I’m pretty sure it’s gonna turn out to be another case of your writing outpacing the subject matter! [But didn’t Novalis say something about viewer imagination having the power to transform—-as in ‘improve’– art? I have a hunch that’s what your thoughtful review will wind up doing for The Little Mermaid].
    You’ll be hearing from me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Quite an underrated Disney film in my opinion. I must say great review, thought as a suggestion, you could have put in the fact that ‘it was initially the highest grossing film of 1961, but unfortunately, the title would fall as Guns of Navarone outperformed this film to become the highest grossing film, along with West Side Story. Despite this setback, 101 Dalmatians still remained a box office success.’ Not being rude or giving you a request but a suggestion of my only criticism of the review. It’s also worth noting as a suggestion (NOT a request that I’m not being rude like I said) that you would also put that ‘101 Dalmatians was NOT the first Disney film that the setting was present day, that honor goes to Dumbo, making 101 Dalmatians the second Disney film to do it because in the end of Dumbo, according to the newspaper, the bulk of the film takes place in March 1941, making Dumbo the first Disney film to STAY AWAY from a historical setting.’

    Nonetheless, you review on 101 Dalmatians looks great! It is one of the most underrated and it may not be well known, despite having a franchise, much like Rich’s animated film that’s NOT Disney, ‘The Swan Princess’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, glad you enjoyed the review!

      I think I will leave that little nugget of info for people to find in your comment, as I don’t like editing old reviews too much beyond minor tweaks and grammatical corrections. Very interesting though – I’m glad Walt got to see one last animated feature succeed in his lifetime, as Sword in the Stone didn’t do so well.

      I think I did mention the contemporary setting in the plot section; you’re right, Dumbo was the first modern-set film in the canon, not Dalmatians. My wording was awkward and didn’t make that clear, but I am aware: I was trying to say that some other fans have mistakenly assumed Dalmatians was the first, because Dumbo lacks as much evidence of the time period.

      I appreciate the feedback, it’s great to hear from fellow fans!


  5. A wonderful, in-depth review of a movie that gets overlooked too often in the Disney animated canon, as far as I’m concerned.
    However-and considering that every version of this feature naturally has a huge, important message about compassion and mercy towards animals, it’s a major irony-it’s important to also point out that this movie has unwittingly caused no end of misery and problems for real world Dalmatian dogs.
    Basically, children who see the movie want a Pongo, Patches, Freckles, or other adorable spotted puppy of their own after seeing the animated ones on screen. So owning Dalmatians explodes into a fad.
    Sadly though, to keep up with the demand, many of these puppies come out of filthy puppy mills, born to overbred mothers who were partnered with little thought to healthy genetics.
    And while I’ve never shared a home with a Dalmatian, I know people who do, and have interacted with their dogs. They’re not a breed you should get on impulse, to be frank.
    For one thing, in England at least, they were used to guard and clear the path for carriages and coaches. That means they’re very high energy dogs, that need a good, hard, long walk every single day. They also have a major urge to go wandering, and so run away for hours or even days as it suits them.
    Dalmatians are hyper-needy when it comes to human attention and companionship, and that can be annoying to some owners. They’re very intelligent dogs, born clowns who love to play tricks.
    This means that they pick up on commands very quickly, are easy to teach tricks to, and can take care of themselves in a sudden crisis. But it also means that the breed is prone to mischief. They can be very willful and stubborn towards their owners, with a major “What’s in it for me?” attitude.
    Their guarding past means that they can be fiercely aggressive towards other animals, and even children. Yes, there have been biting incidents here and there. And did I mention that the breed is prone to deafness?
    Not surprisingly, many of these besotted new Dalmatian owners found the dogs far too much to handle as they grew older, and large numbers ended up being sent to rescues or animal shelters. For many of these unwanted dogs, there was no second chance.
    This fad buying of animals that feature in a Disney movie is a serious animal welfare and even conservation concern, to the point where it’s often referred to as the “101 Dalmatians syndrome/fad.”
    All in all, it should bear repeating that if you as a viewer and/or your kids desperately want a cute critter you saw in an animated feature as a pet, you simply must do the research first, and understand that meeting its needs properly may not be possible. Or even better yet, reminding oneself that in the end, you don’t need to own it in the first place.
    *slips and falls off his soapbox*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All very true, and an important lesson to any prospective dog owners. It’s especially true at this time of year; a dog is for life, not just for Christmas!
      I talked about this a bit on my Finding Nemo review, as that film caused a similar problem. The “Tank Gang” of fish featured in it are not actually compatible or easy to care for in reality; a Blue Tang and a clownfish might be alright, but characters like Gill or Bloat really should be left to specialists… or in the ocean. And on that note, people must remember that you can’t “free” your fish by flushing them down a drain, however good your intentions may be.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: