Critique of “101 Dalmatians” (1961)

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A dalmatian named Pongo notices a female dalmatian walking with her owner. Pongo leads his owner, Roger, to the other dalmatian, named Perdita, and her owner, Anita. He finds her attractive and falls in love with her, since he feels both he and Roger need mates

Roger and Anita marry each other shortly thereafter. Later, Pongo and Perdita expect puppies—only for a woman named Cruella de Vil to visit Roger and Anita and demand the puppies once they are born, because she wants to use their fur for their coats. However, Roger, Anita, and, Nanny—their maid—refuse.

Yet, a few months after the puppies enter the world, they are kidnapped. Pongo performs a twilight bark, which is what dogs do to alert the other dogs. And in this case, it’s to announce to all the other dogs in London about their missing puppies.

Various other dogs, and even a goose, horse, and cat, respond to the twilight bark. After every animal unites with Pongo and Perdita, they leave London and search for their puppies. Cruella plans to use their fur to make coats with. As a way to support her, Jasper Horace plan to murder the puppies before the police catch them.

What Pleased Me

The characters and their connections

Pongo and Perdita develop sweet bonds with each other and their puppies. Although the puppies don’t all have spoken lines, and none of their names are revealed, there are a few that do have distinct personalities.

There is a plus-sized puppy who is always hungry and another one who blocks the TV to get a better look at the screen

Roger and Anita’s relationship had a number of perks and disagreements, which made them more believable.

One example of a conflict between the two of them was they first met. Roger accidentally knocked Anita into the water, which annoyed her. But she forgave him, and they fell in love right after.

A part that I admire is when both Anita and Nanny considered him a hero when he harshly refused Cruella to take the puppies, even though she did it, anyway.

Nanny also was not afraid to yell at Cruella and threaten to call the cops in order to protect the puppies, Pongo, Perdita, Roger, and Anita.

The characters’ teamwork throughout the movie shows how crucial it is, especially during stressful or perilous times. I rooted for Pongo and Perdita when they snuck out to find their puppies and save them from Cruella’s home, and hoped that they would succeed, especially when Jasper and Horace, Cruella’s assistants, attack them.

The song, “Cruella de Vil”

The song is catchy despite the fact that Cruella is the villain. Roger writes and sings this song as a sarcastic joke. He uses lyrics that mock Cruella and make her sound scary, such as a spider waiting to kill, and how she’s always watching everyone.

The fast melody also fits the tone to make fun of Cruella, who was Anita’s classmate back when she was in school. But that certainly led to the wrong outcome.

Anita kept getting Roger to stop singing about Cruella since it annoyed her. Yet after Roger finished singing, he and Anita kissed.

Cruella still heard the whole song, which scared Perdita, and made her wish she’d never gotten pregnant. But Cruella would have likely stuck to her plan, even if she hadn’t heard Roger’s song.

I also found it surprising that Cruella had less screen time than other Disney villains, such as Ursula, Jafar, and Hades. Even Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother from the 1950’s animated film, had a lot more screen time.

In every Disney movie I’ve seen where there is a villain, regardless of when it was released, each one played major roles to the stories. They also did a lot more to achieve their goals and worry about them failing.

They also have had tragic backstories which led them to turn on those who did not want them around, which turned them evil.

There is now a movie called Cruella, starring Emma Stone as the titular character. It’s a prequel to the events of 101 Dalmatians, of how she became wicked.

The unexpected twists

When two of the puppies fight about who pushed them in the fireplace, Pongo decides to have all the dalmatians cover themselves in soot to disguise themselves as black labs.

This surprised me as I never expected such a thing to happen as some of the puppies didn’t behave.

Another interesting twist was when the cows offered the cold and hungry puppies milk, so it added importance to the plus-sized puppy who was longing for food earlier.

The TV shows watched in the film

These include a game show that will give a criminal a chance to win something after he serves his time away from society, a cute dog treat commercial, and a Western TV show with a lot of action.

Even though they didn’t add to the plot, they did show what interested the characters. When Pongo told the puppies that they had to go to bed, they resisted since they were enjoying the show.

What Displeased Me

Some elements aren’t suitable for kids

The film included content too mature for a G-rated movie, such as smoking, drinking, talk of animal cruelty, and gun use in the Western program on TV.

Yes, this film came out in 1961, and standards differed in the 1960s compared to those in the 21st century. Still, you think they would have raised the rating to, at least, PG. Disney Plus has already blocked Dumbo, Peter Pan, and The Aristocats for users under 7 years of age due to the racial stereotypes used.

On the bright side, they do add a disclaimer stating that this movie has smoking and tobacco usage.

That being said, this movie would definitely not be released today with a G rating today. Of course, standards for films change the same way those for society do.

Constant repetition of phrases

I noticed this in Alice in Wonderland as well, which came out in 1951. I can’t imagine that redundancy was a trend in the mid-20th century. Maybe the screenwriters did that without intention, particularly since they had tight deadlines, lots of work in terms of producing the movie, and no computer-processing software.

If a phrase is used more than once, but for important reasons, like for plot or character development, then I would understand. Otherwise, I see it as redundancy.

Of course, every line of dialogue matters in any form of storytelling, whether it’s written or visual. But even if they play essential roles to enhance the plot or characters’ growths, they should be worded differently.

The most repetitive phrases I spotted include the following:

“I’m calling the police.”


“No time to explain.”

Regardless of time and technology, though, every entertainment company, whether it’s producing a movie, show (TV or streaming), will have tight deadlines, thus leading to errors, inconsistencies, and other flaws audiences will notice.

This doesn’t just happen in cartoons; it can also occur in live-action movies. For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone, Harry sits on one side of the Gryffindor table right after being sorted, and in the next shot, is on the other side.

Lack of believability at times

According to my research, breeding laws for dogs didn’t become strict and controlled until 1973. However, some restrictions started earlier, like in the 50s, although were not made clear for me while I was reading them.

Maybe the size of the apartment Roger and Anita lived in might have allowed them to have a breeding license for their dogs. However, they still wanted to keep all 15 puppies. They already had two adult dogs.

They didn’t worry one bit that having 17 dogs, and most of them being puppies would be a lot of work. An extremely overwhelming and tiring amount of work.

If Cruella de Vil was Anita’s classmate from school, why does she look old enough to be her mom?

I’m not sure how old Anita from 101 Dalmatians is, but she looks no older than 30s. But Cruella de Vil looks like she’s in, at least, her 50s or 60s – old enough to be Anita’s mom. 

Since they went to school together, Cruella is definitely not old enough to be Anita’s mother. She could be older than Anita, but unlikely more than a few years, even if she got held back several times.

My guess is that her smoking might have sped up her aging.

Yes, in the early 1960s, smoking was considered cool. However, did anyone who smoked back then notice that they started looking older faster? Maybe they didn’t care – and would possibly hide their aging signs, like wrinkles, with lots of makeup.

It’s possible that Cruella didn’t mind looking older, especially since people are more likely to respect those who appear older, even if they’re much younger. I don’t know for sure if that’s the reason (although she demanded Roger and Anita’s puppies, and no matter how much the couple, and their maid, Nanny, refused, she won right after). But I would not be surprised if it were.

Not enough female presence

This happens a lot in 20th-century Disney films, including live-action singalong videos (i.e., Mickey’s Fun SongsDisneyland Fun, etc.). I don’t know if this is unintentional or standard before the 2000s. But as a female myself, I find it a little inconsiderate. 

Yes, throughout much of the 20th century, males had more rights than females, and sexism was completely okay. However, the singalong videos I mentioned above came out in the 90s, when sexism was no longer acceptable.

Luckily, in recent years, Disney has produced movies with more female characters, such as Encanto, Turning Red, and even Coco, where the main character is a boy.

Overall impression

While 101 Dalmatians had some imperfections and didn’t engage me at high levels, I still enjoyed it, even though “Cruella de Vil” was stuck in my head for a while.

I rate it 4 out of 5 stars, and would recommend it to anyone, even young children—that is, as long as they are mature enough to know not to develop interest in smoking, even though you have to be at least 21 to buy any form of tobacco products in the US (and 18 in some other countries).

Published by Sunayna Prasad

I enjoy writing stories, creating artwork, watching movies and TV shows, cooking, and traveling. These are the topics of my posts. I also publish books, where you can learn about them on my website, Be sure to copy and paste the link and subscribe to my newsletter on the email list button on the homepage.

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