Film Review: 101 Dalmatians (1961)

When it comes to the festive period, you can be sure of a few cinematic staples. The big screen will be ruled by a major single franchise release – currently The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies – while the small screen will get bogged down into the annual routine of repetitive festive films surrounding Santa.

Whether it’s Edmund Gwen, Tim Allen or Paul Giamatti, Santa’s workshop will be regularly brought to life as the big day draws closer. But for me, it’s when you move away from the direct and obvious tale of the man in the red suit and look at the films that tackle the underlying meaning of Christmas rather than just the visuality of it that you really start to find the magic and wonder of this time of year.

It’s A Wonderful Life, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Mary Poppins there are some timeless stories waiting to be seen and for me, 101 Dalmatians fits onto that list as well. Not the 1996 version with Glenn Close, but rather the 1961 Disney animation. And while I’m sure the mere mention of an animated movie over 50 years old may not inspire huge confidence in it’s ability to command a modern audience, 101 Dalmatians truly is a timeless classic.

Cruella de Vil - 101 Dalmatians

The first things that will really hit you is that, while the drawing techniques used are of their period, they actually work perfectly. Yes they are dated, but they are dated in a good way. The style has a real organic roughness to it that adds a layer of charm and warmth to the story. You can see the pencil strokes, you can sense the individual frames and the transitions between them but it alright. It’s engaging. It’s friendly.¬†They feel like you want them to.

The longer it went on the more reminiscent of a newspaper cartoon or cigarette card, I felt they became. And that creates an extra dimension, a personality if you will, that adds to the film. And when it’s combining with an already strong base vocally, every individual voice carrying the pitch perfect tone to convince you of the character, their personalities and their motives, everything comes together to make an extremely satisfying end result.

It had, however, been a while since I last watched 101 Dalmatians and while I don’t think there are many people that are unfamiliar with the story, I had forgotten just how, when created in a time long since passed, attitudes and acceptability meant different things. There are a number of occasions where actions, comments and visual elements run a little close to the wind from the perspective of race, religion and political correctness. And while obviously, you have to grant it a little leeway due to its age, it’s an uneasy acceptance. It doesn’t detract from the film as much as just break the surface tension in an anxious way.

It also suffers slightly from the artistic licence employed around it’s basic story. Time, Speed and Distance are reflected as being fairly fluid and used as needed rather than a scientific exact. A couple of dogs can certainly travel for London to Suffolk faster than I ever made it going on holiday!

Hank & Merv - Home Alone

However, aside from the few bad points and surface nit-picking and after soaking up the good points; the main reason I love this film is that, aside from its typical happy every after ideas and it’s fun loveable characters, is the obvious influence it has had over the quintessential Christmas film – Home Alone. Macaulay Culkin has nothing on a pack of dogs, and poor old Horace and Jasper are obviously the inspiration for Harry and Merv.

I love 101 Dalmatians and adore how it really is a timeless classic that allows it’s own idiosyncrasies to shine brightly through. In my eyes, it’s layers of love, nurture, family carry more weight at this time of year than if you watched it midsummer, but honestly, when you’re sick of mince pies, and there’s nothing on TV you haven’t already seen, remind yourself just how good this film is and dig it out from the back of the cupboard. You wont be disappointed.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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