I might as well get the most out of my Disney + subscription, no? Recently, the old man I live with accused me of being a “princess” lover because I forced him to sit through Tangled (2010). That is not hard as the man never moves, nor does he particularly care what is on the television in front of him anyway. He just wanted to poke fun at me. My working assumption is that one day one of you will suggest these movies anyway. Hence, in order to watch a non-princess feature and to head-off a potential suggestion, I opted for One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). I swallowed my pride, telling myself that it made sense since I had seen (and did not enjoy) Cruella. So, why not its past forerunner, a term which also does not make sense when you know that the original was released in the years before the other is set. Anyway. . . .
One Hundred and One Dalmatians actually starts with one, a member of the title breed, named Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor). He is staring out the window of his owner’s London flat, musing about how tedious of a time is Spring. His owner, Roger Radcliffe (voiced by Ben Wright), is a struggling musician who Pongo refers to as his pet. As Pongo ponders the activity in the street below, he is looking for a suitable mate for Roger because it is the dog’s considered opinion that the bachelor life is no good. After judging, er, I mean, sifting through several candidates, and especially their dogs, he spies one young lady walking a dalmatian. Because in this world canines can read and tell time, Pongo immediately changes the clock in the room to chime the proper time for Roger to take Pongo for a walk. Pongo leads Roger to Anita (voiced by Lisa Davis) and Perdita (voiced by Cate Bauer). Anita is the human, by the way. At any rate, they fall in love, as do Perdita and Pongo, and they settle into a married life together. Their bliss is interrupted by a visit from Cruella De Vil (voiced by Betty Lou Gerson), a former classmate of Anita’s, who is interested in the puppies that Perdita births. She is clearly well off, and believes her money gives her the right to buy them. She is rebuffed by Roger, but it does not stop her desire to have the little ones as she sees their hides as perfect material for fur coats. She then employs her two henchmen, Horace (voiced by Frederick Worlock) and Jasper Baddun (voiced by J. Pat O’Malley) to steal the pups. One night, with Anita and Roger taking Perdita and Pongo for a walk, Horace and Jasper, posing as workers from the electric company, gain entrance to the Radcliffe home and do some dognapping. When the walkers return home to missing puppies, Roger immediately calls the police. Pongo, though, feels that they must take matters into their own paws. Thus, he calls on a network of dogs throughout London and the surrounding area to howl out if they know where his young ones have been taken. This message reaches all the out to the countryside where an old sheepdog named Colonel (voiced by J. Pat O’Malley), along with his cat friend Sergeant Tibbs (voiced by David Frankham) and horse Captain (voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft) have learned that Perdita and Pongo’s offspring have been taken to Cruella’s country estate. When this news reaches Perdita and Pongo, they set out in what is seemingly the worst snow storm in British history to attempt a rescue. Upon linking up with Colonel and Sergeant Tibbs, Colonel sends Sergeant Tibbs to help affect said rescue. They do so before Horace and Jasper can carry out Cruella’s order to kill the puppies before they are discovered by the police. In the process, though, Pongo learns that it is more than just his brood of fifteen. There are eighty-four other little potential jacket materials in need of saving. This makes their hoped for escape all the more difficult, but Perdita and Pongo are determined to help, even with Cruella and her henchmen combing the countryside for them. Along the way, they are assisted by a veritable pet underground that shelters them in certain places and passes along information. The dalmatians finally give Cruella the slip by boarding a moving van bound for London. In her attempt to drive it off the road, she crashes into a ditch, taking Horace and Jasper with her. When the horde of dogs finally make it back to their London home, Roger is enjoying the trappings of wealth from a song he made about Cruella. When he sees all the dogs, he decides to use those earning to buy a country estate where all of them can live. With that happy prospect, the film concludes.
In my review of Cruella, I briefly mentioned how the names of the characters say all you need to know about them. Cruella (Emma Stone) adopts a surname that literally spells out “devil,” and her henchmen have a last name that can loosely be translated as “bad one.” These sorts of things work less in the more modern film because it is geared less towards children. Adults, because of their unfortunate jadedness, can understand an anti-hero a little more, but to have names that spell out their emotional state is a bit clumsy. It works better in in One Hundred and One Dalmatians because it is actually meant for kids, and it is helpful for them to have clear lines between bad guys and good guys. As grown-ups, we tend to see the world a lot grayer. While it is true that our enemies are not as easy to spot as Cruella, who smokes cigarettes with green smoke (not sure what that is supposed to be, but please feel free to wildly guess) and looks like a walking skeleton. However, God gives us all the tools we need to be a good judge of character, no matter a person’s appearance. We are taught to not only look at a person’s heart, but how that same emotional organ will determine a person’s behavior. This is not always as simple as bad people doing bad things because the Church also says that nurture is important. Further, God provides those who are by all appearances bad the opportunity to repent. Taken in total, God wants us to discern before we judge, and discernment often takes time. Children do not have that kind of development yet, so we get an evil woman whose name speaks to evil itself that also wants to murder cute puppies.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians is fine. There is nothing objectionable in it, and it is a blessing to see good people standing up to evil. There is something in it for the young and old. Anyway, cross another one off the list.