After the artistic and financial excesses of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the Walt Disney company laid off a significant amount of animation staff and embarked on a process which would last nearly 20 years to create a much simpler and more economical animation processes in order to bring the company back to profitability. But these hard times resulted in some interesting and experimental times for the company. The first fruit of these pains was the 1961 101 Dalmatians.
Pongo the Dalmatian, has grown tired of the bachelor lifestyle of his owner Roger, and concocts a plan to set him up with Anita, a fellow Dalmatian owner at a local park. Through an awkward drowning in the parks pond, the couple falls in love, as do Pongo and Perdita. Soon, Perdita gives birth to an amazing 101 Dalmatian pups, but when Anita's former school friend Cruella De Ville hears of the miracle, she begins planning to kidnap the puppies in order to make a Dalmatian jacket.
101 Dalmatians has never been a favourite Disney film of mine, but there is still a lot to like in this animated tale. It embodies a very interesting time in the Walt Disney cannon and represents one of the last films to have a significant input by Walt Disney himself.
101 Dalmatians is presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, encoded with AVC MPEG-4 compression. Unlike other Disney films presented in a 4x3 aspect ratio, 101 Dalmatians does not feature a black bar filling 'Disney View' feature, which is a bit of a letdown.
Utilizing the 2K restoration of the film by Lowry Digital from a few years ago, the film really looks top notch. It's obvious that one of the biggest methods used in the restoration process is digital noise reduction, which eliminates grain and noise, but ever so slightly softens the image. Compared to the old TV and DVD transfers, it looks particularly smooth, but just a little jarring.
Colour reproduction is sublime - Disney goes to extreme lengths to match the original cel paintings and backgrounds, resulting in a more accurate reproduction than has been previously possible. That said this can result in some suspicion that Disney are re-writing history, but Disney assure there is no visual tinkering there.
Overall, it's a very pleasant transfer, but compared to how the film has historically looked, it might be a little too much for some.
101 Dalmatians is presented in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, at 24 bits.
True to normal form, Disney have neglected to include the original mono audio track, which is a slight disappointment from a historical standpoint, but not a terrible loss since the remastered DTS track is conservatively mixed and nicely restored.
It's not a surprise that the mix is fairly reigned in, with most of the action occurring on the main soundstage. Some of the sound effects and dialogue are a little low-fi, but accurately reflects the film's 50 years of age.
The score by Mel Leven and George Bruns marks a departure from the classical orchestral themes, infusing them with contemporary jazz elements that would be furthered in subsequent Disney films such as The Jungle Book and The Aristocats. It's in good shape and mixed well.
In addition to the extra features on the Blu-ray disc, Disney have included the previous two disc platinum DVD discs in the set, although most of the features have been replicated on the Blu-ray. Unfortunately, there are no new extra features on this Blu-ray, and an audio commentary is particularly conspicuous in its absence.
First up is the 33 minute long Redefining the Line documentary, which gathers some well-known Disney figures to discuss the creation of the film, from the original Dodie Smith book, to the technological breakthroughs in the animation process. It's a spritely affair and moves along at a brisk pace.
Next are two featurettes; Cruella De Vil: Drawn to be Bad which focuses on the cultural impact of the villainess and "Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney" which recreates the correspondence between writer Dodie Smith and Walt Disney. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing and seeing this visual and auditory history.
The Music and More section hides a horrendous Selena Gomez Music Video, three Deleted Songs and three Alternate Music Takes, with introductions by Disney staff.
Finally we have the Teaser, Theatrical, 1969 Re-Release, 1979 Re-Release and 1985 Re-Release Trailers, six TV Spots and a bunch of Radio Spots.
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