Paw Prints in the Snow: 101 Dalmatians

Released in 1961, 101 Dalmatians has yet to show its age. It’s actually older than my mom, but you’d never know it (well, you’d never know the age of either of them; they’re both young at heart, and young at heart-ers are a style that never fades). The animation does look a bit old, but it fits with the style of the film. As with all things Disney, there’s always a reason behind everything. I’ve always loved 101 Dalmatians and I probably always will, if only because it makes me feel better for having 3 dogs (it could always be worse—I could have 101!).
            101 Dalmatians came on the heels of Sleeping Beauty; what we consider a classic today was a commercial failure in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Walt and his studio needed income, especially as Disney Land was a huge drain on finances and Walt’s time and attention until and after its 1955 opening. Because of the financial loss of Sleeping Beauty, the Wald Disney Animation Studios had to find a cheaper way to make their films. Xerography was the answer. I’ve read a lot about it and heard a lot about it, but I can’t explain it—it’s too complicated for me. Something about taking photographs and Xeroxing them onto cells and then painting them or some madness. Anywho, it was a new animation technique that was first used on 101 Dalmatians. While using it kept the studio afloat and allowed them to keep making animated features, it doesn’t look especially technological or beautiful. It looks very stylized, which worked for 101, but I’m not sure if that same style will work for all for the remaining films between 1961 and the 80’s, when they changed the process again. The Disney films of the 60’s and 70’s aren’t as popular, so I’m a little nervous—but we’ll see. I did love the Aristocats growing up, and that falls into the xerography time period.
            Ah, puppy love. When I was young and watching Disney films, I had no idea how old some of them were. For instance, I had no idea that 101 Dalmatians was older than my mom. Locked in my own little world, I thought every movie was brand new the first time I saw it. Which means the first time that VHS with Pongo and Perdita on the cover got popped in, I thought it was a brand new film. And, for a child, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, its case matched all the other Disney VHS cases I had; it looked the same, it sounded the same; it had talking dogs; what’s not to like? And, best of all, it’s exciting!
            As an adult, I’m so thankful I know all the puppies are going to be okay. As I’ve grown, so has my hatred for Cruella De Vil. She’s so evil and mean. She’s one of the scariest Disney villains to me because she wants to hurt innocent baby animals. BABY ANIMALS! That’s even worse than wanting to hurt grown-up animals (but only slightly. Baby animals are more fragile and less likely to be able to get away. At least with other villains, they were being mean to people who were smart and could defend themselves with their wits or strength or something. But wanting to make a coat out of puppies? That’s just ridiculous. Who could hurt a puppy?!).            My love for animals in films has always overridden that of people-characters in films. If an animal dies, I sob and cry and try to always avoid that scene (to this day I cry when Mufasa dies. And Bambi’s mother, of course. It’s the reaction of the baby animals that gets me—and the fact that the animal that dies is always the good, kind one. I don’t cry when Scar dies, for instance. But he’s a villain so he doesn’t really count in the sad-when-animals-die category. That clearly excludes villains). Or, if I know the film ends in death, I avoid it altogether. Like Old Yeller. I’ve never seen it because I know the whole movie you fall in love with this wonderful dog and then, at the end, they kill him. No thank you! I’ll watch Homeward Bound instead and cry tears of joy when Shadow comes over the hill and is reunited with Peter (that’s how good the movie is—haven’t watched it in over a year but I still remember the boy’s name). Or with Marley and Me, I’ll watch the whole movie once and then only watch the happy funny bits when it’s on TV, and change the channel when it gets to the end and I know Marley’s life is nearly over. I tear up just thinking about it.
            But, conversely, if a person bites the dust, I’m usually like, eh. Oh well. It’s just a movie, after all. BUT, if it’s animated, I’m much more likely to cry (ie, Ellie in UP. That’s the only movie I’ve ever cried in the first eight minutes in about a person and not an animal). I know the actor is acting and that’s his job and whatever, but the animal character is much more real to me. The dog in the movie is just doing a trick; he isn’t an actor. He’s a dog. When a dog in any movie dies or gets hurt, I call my own pups into the room and love on them for a very long time. Animals are such a precious gift in our lives, yet their time with us is so short in comparison. Being reminded of that means I have to give my dogs a hug (thankfully Charlie, our collie, knows how to give hugs. No, really. He comes over and puts his big paws on your shoulders and lets you bury your face in his fluffy white mane, and then sneezes when he steps down like, “Well, okay, I was cute, I love you and all that mushy stuff, now let’s move on. Toy? Food? Treat? Please? Remember how good you felt when I hugged you?” He’s the best at giving hugs).
            That’s probably why I love 101 Dalmatians so much. For one, there are more than 100 dogs in a single movie, which is just awesome. Even more awesome: none of them die! And the reunion scene at the end of the film is so beautiful and long. Often I feel a little let down by the reunion scenes in lost animal movies. It’s like the characters are all, “Oh good, you’re home, now we can go back to normal and is that someone at the door?” and they walk off and the credits roll, and only two minutes was spent on the completion of a goal you just watched be worked towards for over an hour. It’s a rip off! But, as always, Disney does it right. An entire song is devoted to the reunion, as it should be. And it’s so joyous and happy, and it’s Christmas, so it is just the BEST. Isn’t that wonderful? When something is the best?
            So many dog movies either make dogs too smart or too dumb. But that’s not the case here. The animals can talk to each other but not humans. They help each other (I always wonder if I’m interrupting a Twilight Bark when I stop our dogs from barking at the neighborhood dogs and drag them inside?). Pongo and Perdy are smart in that they walk on the ice and cover their tracks, but that’s animal smarts. They don’t do anything ridiculous, and they fight like dogs would fight when they battle Horace and Jasper. The only scene when they don’t act or move like dogs is when they are trying to escape, during the Labrador-rolling-in-the-soot business. That part I totally believe. It’s Pongo hanging off the moving van with only his paws. The van would be smooth, not allowing for traction; he couldn’t have hung on like that. Because it’s an animated movie, I give them this allowance. I don’t allow it to bother me. But since I’m going on and on about how they don’t dumb down or overly smarten the dogs, I had to be fair and mention that scene. Now, back to the awesomeness.
            I always feel better about how many dogs I have when I watch this movie. I also always feel a little sad that our pets are ‘fixed’ so they can’t have puppies; I would just love to have little Charlies and Laylas running around, being adorable (Nala is much too small to have puppies—it would be dangerous for her health. She’s the runt of the litter).
            I do find it a little funny that we only ever hear about 5 of the puppies names in the movie. Patch, Lucky and Rolly are the main puppies; a few other names are said during the reunion scene. When I was little and again, in my own little world, I always thought I shared a birthday with the puppies. They say the puppies were born one dark and stormy night in October; well, I was born in October and one year there was even a tornado on my birthday. So that covers the stormy bit, and it’s always dark at night in Oklahoma. So there. The puppies and I clearly share a birthday.  I still like to think that, when I watch the movie. But that’s because I’m a-dork-able, and I know it.
            Unfortunately there weren’t any special features on my old DVD version. Well, a theatrical trailer and recommendations don’t count as ‘special features’ in my book. I liked that there were some Spring scenes as well; it’s mid-March and we’ve been forecasted for more snow. We’re already under a ton. I can see icy drops in big clumps falling from the roof now, but I fear our ‘break-up season’, when all the snow and ice breaks up and melts, is still far away. We’ve had a colder and snowier winter than usual, and I for one am ready for Spring. I enjoyed winter until March, but ‘Spring Break’ means to me that it should feel at least a little like Spring.
            I really liked the emphasis on paw prints in this film. There’s always so much symbology with paw prints that I like.  For instance, in The Lion King, Simba realizes his youth and inexperience when he steps into his father’s paw print and sees the amount he has to grow still. That’s one of my favorite scenes. In 101, the sheer volume of paw prints show how much pressure is on Pongo and Perdita. And, as a side note, props to Disney for naming Perdita. In the book, she is simply Missis Pongo, but they gave her a name of her own for the film, which I really like. She’s a major character and clearly deserves a name other than “Mrs.” The paw prints are also an issue for the escaping dogs, as they are a clear indicator to their predators of what path they’re taking. The paw prints and snow work against them, slowing them down and leading the villains to them.
            I loved how disastrously defeated Cruella is at the end. I also love that I’m not the only one who, as a child, missed that her last name spells ‘devil’. That and her house being called ‘hell hall’ is pretty indicative of how terrible a villain she really is. I think she’s often overshadowed by Maleficent and the Evil Queen from Snow White, but she’s pretty dang eveil herself. Horace and Jasper crack me up with their ridiculousness, but they are truly awful people and I do hope they got put back in jail.
            Thankfully for me Disney has quite a few dog movies in their canon. I’ve already covered this one, Bolt, & Lady and the Tramp, but I believe I still have few left. At least Oliver and Company, which I’ve never seen. And a few cat movies, too. But The Lion King is in that category (big cats), so I don’t mind it a bit.

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