Family Movie Night Review: 101 Dalmatians (1961)

To celebrate our dog-loving daughter’s 4th birthday yesterday, we watched this delightful film for family movie night. I had never before experienced the pleasure of viewing this artistic masterpiece of animation.  I will borrow from another reviewer, who describes 101 Dalmatians as “sophisticated and minimalist.”  From the jazzy score to the subtle, yet warm romance between both the human and canine stars, along with the Parisian style drawings of the London streets, the film has a charming, unique feel to it.  Add to it the cacophonous riot of that villainous Cruella DeVille, and this movie takes you on a perilous adventure, without overwhelming young senses.

101 dalmatians puppiesThe adorable young stars, Pongo and Perdita’s puppies, embody the very characteristics we find in our own children:  the ever eager, last to leave Lucky; “Mom, I’m hungry” Roley; and ready-for-adventure (but still timid in the fray) Patch are among the host of favorites. When they are stolen by the terrible Cruella and her henchmen, the desperate cries of Nanny and the seemingly hopeless search by their distraught owners (or pets, depending on who you ask) Roger and Anita will give rise to concern and questions by young ones as to why and where the loveable little ones have gone.

Oh, but the valiant search and rescue in the winter snow by their parents, aided by a network of devoted dogs, will take children from fears (and perhaps for the very young and sensitive, tears) to cheers of victory and the happy ending promised by every Disney enterprise.

My four-year old loved this movie, as did the rest of us, and the whole gang found many opportunities for laughter throughout, as the bumbling bad guys resort to slapstick mishaps and the puppies to their endearing, clumsy ways.

The pace is measured, allowing scenes to be thoroughly savored and enjoyed.  After the fast-paced animation of today, it may feel slow to some, but we prefer the beauty and languor of those early Disney efforts, such as Bambi.  Children are able to experience their emotions and process the scenes, better preparing them for the peril and adventure that ensue, along with the happy resolution.

101 dalmatians familyFor a biblical perspective, I couldn’t help comparing Pongo and Perdita’s and Roger and Anita’s decision to sacrifice their comfort (and, in Pongo and Perdita’s case, their very lives) to take in not only their own large brood, but also a host of other mistreated, abandoned puppies, to care for.  We are called to care for the orphans and the mistreated, and I thought their willingness to do so was a beautiful example of how we are called to live our lives as Christians.  It may be a point of reflection to share with your children when discussing the movie afterwards.

cruella deville and nannyNeedless to say, we loved this movie, and we highly recommend it to families with children ages three and up.  Our only reservations would be the perfectly over-the-top performance of Cruella by Betty Lou Gerson, who repeatedly calls people “idiot,” imbecile,” and “fool” with wild-eyed, crazy-haired abandon and diabolical laughter.  She is by far one of the most entertaining villains Disney has ever produced.  My four-year old, who is still a bit sensitive, was concerned at times, but never visibly scared by any of the scenes with Cruella in them.  (We do not condone calling people idiots in our house, but this term was used frequently in the movie by several characters; you may want to address that with your children if it is a concern.)  Also, the chase scene at the end is at times sad and intense, but in both cases tempered with humor.

If you haven’t seen this movie with your kids yet, don’t miss it.  I only wish I had seen it sooner.

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