Monday, January 09, 2006

DVD Reflection: 101 Dalmations (1961)

I started this post after midnight, congested from a cold that won't let go, and dried out from the sinus medicine that I took to breathe properly. Worst of both worlds: cotton mouth and stuffed up. Apparently, it wasn't the drowsy medication either because I didn't get to bed until after 2:00 AM.

My plan was to write while waiting some kind of fatigue... and what started as a look at Disney's 1961 classic "101 Dalmations" (recently viewed by Badda-Toddler and me) became a brief look at the various decades of Disney animation (not including the mostly excellent Pixar films).

First I'll mention what my son refers to as "Dogs" and "Pongo" (smart little shit... he's good at remembering names).

I don't believe I actually saw the film as a kid, or ever before. I remember watching the version with Glenn Close from ten years ago... urgh, what a disappointment! Fairly well cast, although I would have actually used Hugh Laurie as Roger instead of Jeff Daniels. That said, I left thinking it was a cheap modern Disney version of the animated classic.

My estimation of the modern version just went up slightly. Not much, but the animated version doesn't have much in it either. In fact the animation has more in common with their simple-style films than any of their great classics (like Sleeping Beauty or Bambi). You might think of it more as a cartoon... whatever that actually means.

The voice work was good, though. I seemed to recognize some of the voices, but didn't see much on the five or six names I checked through IMDb.

Surprisingly, Cruella DeVil doesn't appear on screen as much as I would have expected for a Disney villain... especially one as well remembered and promoted as her.

Perhaps this was the beginning of a new era for Disney. Films before 101 Dalmatians include:
Essentially a decade of classics. (The last two films were released with a wide-screen image... and both very entertaining.)

The following decade doesn't look as impressive:
One could argue that Mary Poppins is much more a film musical that uses some animation (to very good effect) and might not fit well with the regular Disney animation films. I include it mostly because it is hard to avoid having a good time watching Mary Poppins. My favorite of the 60s must be The Jungle Book, and I expect I am not alone. Even so, the animation of these films isn't exactly as good as Sleeping Beauty or possibly even Lady and the Tramp.

While I haven't seen much of The Sword in the Stone in many years, the impression it left wasn't overwhelming. Maybe I'm wrong, but which film do you expect Disney to release as a two-disk special edition: The Sword in the Stone or The Jungle Book?.

Looking ahead to the 70s and 80s we see more films that are fun and nice to watch with your young relatives, but few that really ought to be seen.
I suspect most filmgoers will say that the best thing that came out of Disney's list of animated films from the 60s, 70s, and 80s was The Little Mermaid. (I actually might agree.) Most of the films from that time lack the staying power of Mermaid and Jungle Book. Robin Hood is fine and Black Cauldron delivers an unexpected story and style (plus the wonderful voices of John Hurt and Nigel Hawthorne), but if I wasn't collecting these for my nephew and son (before they were born) I would have saved my money on two-thirds of those titles. Only a few register on my nostalgia meter. The music in Fox and the Hound is distinctly average (or worse) which is a shame considering Pearl Bailey sings most of the songs. (Disney owed it to her to deliver something, anything better than what made it to the film's soundtrack.)

Wandered a bit there.

Dare I say it... that 101 Dalmatians is the first in a long line of films more fondly remembered than they are worth? As cute as it is the film simply cannot rank with Snow White, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin (one of my favorites)... even a film I call overrated, The Lion King (with it's average music and a lagging middle section). Hercules (well cast and quite stylized) and Mulan (with a very impressive animation sequence) are much more entertaining, and they came from a time when grumbling audiences claimed Disney wasn't making 'em good any more.

I'm going to have to watch the films from a given decade and compare them.

Obviously, I'm showing another guilty pleasure... I'm a sucker for some children's movies.


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