Ink & Pixel: 101 Dalmatians

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fan-base, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

For as long as I can remember, there's been a rivalry between those who love dogs, and others who prefer the company of cats. Personally, I enjoy both species, though I must admit that felines hold a very special place in my heart. When it comes to canines, I adore their steadfast loyalty, random displays of dopiness, and the way it looks like they're pedaling an invisible bicycle when you scratch behind their ears just right. That said, whether it's the trilling purr that sounds when you rub their belly, their staunch dedication toward being independent, or how their kneading paws can feel like a tiny massage – cats are my jam.

Thankfully, for all of you dog lovers out there, today's article is all about man's best friend. And we're not just talking about one of two dogs here, no sir. In fact, have you ever seen those cat cafes in Japan? Or perhaps that island where it's entire population consists of nothing but wild bunnies? Well, you're in luck, because I'm about to figuratively surround you with puppies, one hundred and one of them to be exact!

Directed by the combined talents of Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske, and Clyde Geronimi, 101 DALMATIANS was the 17th animated feature to be added to the Walt Disney Classic library. With a screenplay written by Bill Peet, this harrowing adventure featuring an enormous pack of perceptive pooches was adapted from Dodie Smith's children's novel of the same name. Released in the Winter of 1961, the film features the voice talents of Rod Taylor, Betty Lou Gerson, and even Disney alumni like J. Pat O'Malley, Martha Wentworth, and Frederick Worlock. It's an adorable film for sure, but make no mistake, there are plenty of dark and sinister themes to be found as well.

Disney's version of 101 DALMATIANS tells the story of a talented but starving musician by the name of Roger Dearly (Wright), and his pet dalmatian, Pongo (Taylor). One day, while pondering his owner's well being, Pongo purposefully leads Roger to a nearby dog park, where the beautiful Anita (Davis) and a female dalmatian named Perdita (Bauer) are enjoying an afternoon stroll. Shortly thereafter, Roger and Anita fall in love and are wed. As time marches on, Pongo and Perdita become a couple as well. Of course, with the pitter patter of hearts often comes that of little feet as well! But, what happens a when deranged London socialite wants the litter for her own nefarious means?

Enter Cruella De Vil (Gerson), a mistress of mayhem, mischief, and above all else, animal cruelty. Along with her two cronies, Horace (Worlock) and Jasper (O'Malley), this lavender-skinned witch of a woman has orchestrated a plot to abscond with the Pongo's offspring and turn them into a fur coat! After forcing their way into the Dearly's home, Jasper and Horace dognap the litter and escape with them to De Vil's country manor known to many as Hell Hall. Once there, the Pongo's 15 puppies are added to an additional 84 others – for a grand total of 99. When the Dearly's fail to locate the missing pups, and it looks as if Cruella has won the day, Pongo and Perdita use a sophisticated system of communication called “Twilight Barking” to locate them. When the good word comes that the cuddly canines have been found, the real adventure begins!

Adaptations are a funny thing, in that, they sometimes tell a different story than the one shared in their source material. In the case of 101 DALMATIANS, the setup for the film was a touch different than what those who read Smith's original novel would remember. In the book, Pongo, and a female dog by the name of Missis, belong to Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, a well-off newlywed couple who live in the posh Outer Circle of Regent's Park. See, we're only into the first few pages of this story and already things are different! Consider this, though. In the film, Roger and Anita (Dearly, I guess) don't even know one another, at least not until Pongo cleverly brings them together. Oh, and how about the fact that, in the movie, Roger is a struggling musician – not some government wunderkind who obtained his tax-exempt manor as a gift from the local mucky mucks? That's not the last of it, either. Keep reading, and I'll let you in on a few more creative inconsistencies.

Here, try this next one on for size. In Smith's novel, Missis is the mother of Pongo's 15 puppies, not Perdita! Now, you must be wondering, how does Perdita even become a part of this story, then? Well, in an effort to ease some of the burden off of Missis, Anita Dearly, leaves the manor in search of another female dog that can act as a wet nurse for her understandably overwhelmed pet. Desperate and searching in the pouring rain, Anita spies a stray female dalmatian, and promptly scoops her up. After taking the drenched hound to the vet for a check up, Anita brings the dog, Perdita, back to her home and introduces her to the family. After some time, Perdita tells Pongo of her lost partner, Prince, and the many puppies that her owner recently sold to a cruel and devilish old woman. So, after connecting all the dots, we come to find that, in the novel, Pongo and Perdita are simply canine compatriots looking to help sort each others respective affairs. Pretty different, eh? There's more, but I think that perhaps I'll not spoil it all and give you the opportunity to read the book for yourself, one day.

Okay, it's fun facts about the animation time! But before we get started, I want to give credit where it's due. Most of the information I've pulled for this portion of the article comes from the “Dalmatians 101” feature included on the 101 DALMATIANS Blu-Ray. So yeah, total transparency. Anyway, it kind of blew my mind when I found out that this was the first film in Disney's animated history to feature characters that were seen operating automobiles or watching television? Crazy, right? Oh, and speaking of automobiles, how would you react if I told you the cars in the movie were animated using 3D animation! Yup! Actually, I'm going to need a new paragraph for this.

Yeah, so the animators went and hand-crafted a batch of 3D models, using nothing more than pens and paper. Each model was manipulated by hand, and then photographed frame-by-frame. After that, the photos were put through what was referred to as “The Xerox Process”. In fact, this was the first Disney film to use this arduous method of animation. How it works is, instead of the inker tracing the animator's drawing onto a cel, the artist would place it inside of a special Xerox machine and make copies. It's a damn good thing this device came along, too. First, imagine the arthritis that plagues the seasoned Disney animator's working on this film, then, think of all those dalmatian spots! Uh huh, all 6,469,952 of them (32 unique spots per puppy)!

I'm about let you fine folks in on a little secret, okay? * clears throat * It's rather tough to find production budget and box office figures for an animated film from the year 1961 – even if that film is a Walt Disney Classic. What I did find (via, is that Dsiney's 101 DALMATIANS has earned a worldwide total of $215,880,014 since its release. Now, if that seems like an incredibly high number, it's because that figure represents not just the initial box office receipts but the rental and re-release totals as well. What's more is that Disney presented a live-action version of the film in 1996 – starring Glenn Close as PETA's #1 with a bullet, Cruella De Vil. Even though the film received mixed reviews from both Disney fans and dog lovers alike, the family-friendly, slapstick caper managed to net a worldwide total of $320,689,294 in returns.

So, I just watched Disney's 101 DALMATIANS for the first time since the winter of 1987, and whoa! Yes, the film is adorable, of that there's no doubt. I love it's harrowing car chases, cool color palette, and heartwarming themes of family togetherness – but holy hell is it ever dark and sinister cinema! Straight up, Cruella De Vil is a vile basket case of a woman who I wouldn't be surprised to find sharing a pot of black coffee with the likes of Michael Vick, Gerard Butler, and that Dog Whispering fraud, Cesar Millan. There's so much to unpack about De Vil's character, but I think the fact that she expected to be able to skin the puppies from the moment after their birth says it all. I think that perhaps the only thing that would have made her character even more demented is if she were to pare the puppies with her own arthritic, nicotine-stained hands.

Beyond that, I think there's a lot to enjoy about this film. First, I found the artwork to be spectacular. It's got this Victorian vibe to it that just screams classic Disney, and the animation/articulation of the clumsy, bounding puppies is superb. It also includes one of my favorite Disney tunes, entitled “Cruella De Vil”. It's an eclectic little ditty that combines a mixture of creepy crooning with a bit of upbeat “saloon” style piano. Additionally, I really dig the concept of the “Twilight Barking” network – a method of communication where dogs can share news and stories for miles around. I've always wondered about the true nature of why neighborhood dogs will often sound off using an organized symphony of barks and howls. Could it be that Dodie Smith and Disney have pulled the curtain back on this age-old mystery? One has to wonder.

That's all for this edition of Ink & Pixel, folks! Remember to always treat your pets with love and respect, and to report any act of animal cruelty you might witness in your travels. Be a Dearly, not a De Vil!


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.