Movie #17 in the Disney Animated Marathon features a lot of dogs, I’m talking a lot people!
Story By: Bill Peet
Directed By: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske & Wolfgang Reitherman
In my forthcoming The Sword In The Stone review I will delve into the style of Wolfgang Reitherman and how with The Sword In The Stone it became the new style of Disney animation. One Hundred And One Dalmatians is an odd picture because it isn’t the passing of the torch film that The Sword In The Stone is, rather it is two eras of Disney animation meeting on one project. In that way One Hundred And One Dalmatians is a film that resides in a nonexistent place and time, caught between two very different styles. It is a lush and vibrant picture, but it is also an unfinished looking picture with the trademark Reitherman lines that trail off into the great nothingness. It would have been easy for the two parties to create a disaster of a film, to get lost so deeply in their own styles that they didn’t accommodate the other in any way. Luckily for all involved that is not the case, Rietherman, Hamilton Luske and Clyde Geronimi were true professionals and they blended their styles together into a surreal and ultimately satisfying film.
I don’t often like to make references to music, outside of scores and soundtracks of course, in my film reviews. The reason for that can be found in the few ill begotten music reviews I penned some years ago. Writing about music is very different than writing about film, and my limited writing skills do not translate to the venue of music. I must break my self-imposed creed of no music talk with One Hundred And One Dalmatians because this is a film that immediately reminded me of music. The deeper I was pulled into One Hundred And One Dalmatians the more I felt that I was watching the equivalent of a slow jazz number. One Hundred And One Dalmatians is all extended beats followed by sharp breaks and moments of beauty hidden within suffering. I think of what Miles Davis can do to my soul, and while One Hundred And One Dalmatians isn’t quite on that level, the film does gradually form into the sort of song I would expect to hear from Mr. Davis.
To that end One Hundred And One Dalmatians plays more like a mood piece. It isn’t deep in story or presentation, as a matter of fact one of my favorite aspects of One Hundred And One Dalmatians was how the visual aesthetic matched the story presentation. The backgrounds are more like matte paintings than fully realized areas, and if they are actually matte paintings then remember this is an idiot you are dealing with. Outside of the characters the world never feels fully alive, but that’s not a bad thing. In its final form One Hundred And One Dalmatians is an art house animation film, or at the very least the type of film that I could see a dude sitting in the corner of an art house cafe doodling in his notebook. One Hundred And One Dalmatians is a movie about the idea and form of animated motion pictures, thus the film never coming fully to life only heightens the idea that the film represents.
It is true that near the end One Hundred And One Dalmatians does get a little jumpy and plays loose with its time structure. Those are minor complaints levied towards a film that is a real joy to watch. It’s hard not to fall in love with the dogs, they are that cute and likable. From there it is very easy to craft enough of a story around a classic villain and toss in a chase to make everyone happy. But, One Hundred And One Dalmatians isn’t content with being just another movie, for this one time two eras of Disney animation met and they churned out a one of a kind experience.