Wednesday, February 18, 2015

101 Dalmations: Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Pick your favorite spot to watch—anytime and anywhere—and get ready for a fun-filled adventure with the Diamond Edition of 101 Dalmatians! Pongo, Perdita and their super-adorable puppies are in for thrills, hilarious spills and an epic action-packed adventure when they face off with Cruella De Vil, Disney’s most fabulously outrageous villainess. When Cruella dognaps all of the Dalmatian puppies in London, brave animal heroes launch a daring plan to save all puppies from Cruella’s clutches! Unleash all the excitement and suspense of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, a beloved classic you’ll want to share with your family again and again!
Film (4 out of 5 stars)
101 Dalmatians is Disney's seventeenth animated feature and it's also the film that ensured that Walt Disney would continue to make animated films after the previous film, the masterpiece Sleeping Beauty went way over budget. Ub Iwerks, who handled the special effects at Disney, came up with a cost cutting plan to xerox the animation cels which ended up saving the company a huge amount of money. Despite Walt's concern that the xeroxed version didn't live up to their previous standards, it made the animated movies more financially feasible and audiences didn't seem to mind as 101 Dalmatians was a massive hit several times over between the original release and the re-releases. 

Based on Dodie Smith novel of the same name, 101 Dalmatians tells the story of how songwriter Roger Radcliffe (Ben Wright) and his dalmatian Pongo (Rod Taylor) met the love of their lives, Anita (Lisa Davis) and her dalmatian Perdita (Cate Bauer) in the park and later each pair got married and Perdita had a litter of puppies. Now usually in a Disney movie, all of the characters would normally live happily ever after but that's just the start of the movie. Before that can happen, there's a big adventure that has to take place. It all starts when one of Anita's old friends, the aptly named Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) pays the Radcliffes a visit. Cruella, is not only a very unpleasant women, but she also has a fondness for coats made of puppies and she attempts to buy the puppies from Roger and Anita but is rebuffed strongly by Roger. 

Determined to get the puppies at any cost, Cruella hires a pair of lowlifes named Jasper (J. Pat O'Malley) and Horace (Frederick Worlock) to steal them for her. The puppies are taken to Cruella's abandoned manor while Scotland Yard tried to track them down to no avail. Pongo and Perdita then decide to take matters into their own paws and use the "Twilight bark" which is kind of a canine Amber Alert. With dogs barking the message throughout the city and into the countryside, eventually the message reaches a sheepdog called the Colonel (J. Pat O'Malley) and his feline loyal retainer Sergeant Tibbs (David Frankham). Together with Pongo and Perdita, they will have to face Cruella and her henchmen to stop them from killing the puppies to make her a dalmatian coat.

While this isn't one of my favorite Disney movies, I still enjoy it and recognize Cruella De Vil as one of the best villains to be found in the Disney canon. She has no redeeming value and is pure evil which makes her a lot of fun to watch. There's no troubling back-story that made her this way, she is just a selfish and completely evil woman. The henchmen have their funny moments and the puppies are of course adorable. I also enjoyed the "Adventures of Thunderbolt" show that the puppies love to watch. And of course the song Cruella De Vil is also a classic and one of Disney's catchiest songs. The vocal cast is fantastic in their roles, especially Betty Lou Gerson as Cruella. The animation isn't anywhere as good as it was in Sleeping Beauty, but that was kind of the point since Sleeping Beauty almost bankrupted the company due to it's quest for perfection. 101 Dalmatians is a lot fun and it's a movie that they whole family can enjoy.  
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p transfer is the best I've seen this film but it's not the best transfer that Disney has done with one of their catalog films. Especially considering that the Diamond Editions usually get a lot of love, I would have thought that this would would look as good as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, but it doesn't quite reach those heights. That's not to say that this doesn't look really good because it does, but Disney has set high expectations for themselves with only a few exceptions like Sword in the Stone and Mickey's Christmas Carol. This film doesn't have the usual explosion of color like most Disney movies do, but when it's on display it looks very nice and accurate. The black levels are nice and dark and there's a good amount of detail on display. This transfer has been cleaned up and the scratches and dirt have been removed and there's no sign of excessive overuse of DNR. Fans should be happy with this new transfer.
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
101 Dalmatians' offers two different tracks - a new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix and a Dolby Digital Mono track for the purists who want to hear it the way it originally was intended. I prefer the 7.1 mix which I thought did a nice job of expanding the sound field while remaining true to the original mix. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand and the music (especially "Cruella De Vil") sounds very good. There's not a huge amount of surround activity but it's there and effective when used. 
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
I was really hoping that this Diamond Edition would offer a ton of extras, but most of these included have been ported over from the previous DVD release. The new extras are all in high definition.
  • Lucky Dogs - This is a nine minute look back at the history of the film with comments from former Disney employees Rolly Crump, Carmen Sanderson, Burny Mattinson, Floyd Norman and actress Lisa Davis. They talk about working for Disney during those uncertain times and how the film came about. 
  • Dalmatians 101 - Another Disney attempt at synergy as Cameron Boyce (who will play Cruella De Vil's son in Disney's upcoming television show "Descendants") fills us in on five facts about 101 Dalmatians.
  • The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt - I thought this was a pretty cool addition to the set. This cartoon picks up where the show left off in the movie where we see Thunderbolt survive the fall down a waterfall and his attempt to catch the bad guy.  
  • The Best Doggoned Dog in the World - This was a big surprise and a welcome one too. This is an entire episode from "The Wonderful World of Disney'" that looks at a bunch of different dogs (including Walt's own cocker spaniel Lady) and a look at some of their jobs like herding and saving people. Plus it's even in high definition! 
  • DisneyView - Disney has continued their tradition if including painted movie-themed panes on the sides of their 1.33:1 animated movies as an alternative to the regular black bars.
  • Classic Bonus Features - These extras have been ported over from the previous DVD release. While old, some of these are still very interesting and should be watched. 
    • Redefining the Line: The Making of 101 Dalmatians:
      • Puppy Dog Tales
      • Howling at the Moon
      • New Tricks
      • Animation 101
      • Drawing All Cars
      • Seeing Spots
      • A Dog's Eye View
    •  Music & More Bonus Content:
      • Music Video by Selena Gomez: "Cruella De Vil"
      • Deleted Song: "March of the One Hundred and One"
      • Abandoned Song: "Cheerio, Goodbye, Toodle-oo, Hip Hip!"
      • Abandoned Song: "Don't Buy a Parrot from a Sailor"
      • Demo Recordings and Alternate Versions
    • Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad
    • Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney
    • Trailers & TV Spots 
    • Promotional Radio Spots
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
This is one of most popular Disney movies around and it's easy to see why with it's fun story, cute puppies, a great song, and one of the best villains ever. The Blu-ray offers a very nice video and audio presentation and the extras are also pretty good too but I wish they had digged deeper into the vault for more. This Blu-ray is highly recommended!

Order your copy today!

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