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Ink & Paint
Ink & Paint is a podcast journey through the Disney animated classics! Each week, host Daniel Lammin and a special guest will look at each film in the official Disney animated canon, and talk about their artistic, historical and social context. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss an episode! Have comments or questions for Ink & Paint? Record a message for Daniel right from your phone, and we'll try to use it in our next episode!

Episode 18: One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Daniel is joined by production designer, architect and fashion designer Eugyeene Teh to discuss the groundbreaking Disney classic 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians', how it draws from contemporary influences for its dynamic new look, and how the Xerox process changed animation forever.

Daniel Lammin
Eugyeene Teh - Theatre Maker & Designer

Producer/Editor ∷ Alex Amster
Music ∷ Sam Porter
Show Artwork ∷ Nikolaos Pirounakis
Episode Artwork ∷ Lily Meek

Show Notes
As the 1950s came to an end, Walt Disney animation was in tatters. They had produced some of their greatest films over the last ten years, but their most recent, 'Sleeping Beauty', had gone over budget and over schedule, and wasn’t even close to recouping its costs at the box office. At the height of production on 'Sleeping Beauty', there had been around 600 artists working at the studio. Now, after a crippling series of layoffs, there were less than a hundred. Feature animation was only surviving at Walt Disney Productions out of obligation; the live-action films, ‘Disneyland’ the television series and Disneyland itself were far more profitable. Now, after 'Sleeping Beauty' had decimated the staff, wiped moral and depleted resources, there was no justifiable reason to keep going.

And yet, despite his growing ambivalence towards animation, Walt Disney still couldn’t let feature animation go. It was, after all, the historical backbone of the company. He decided to give it one last shot, the last he was prepared to give. He set the artists a challenge - they had to find a way to properly cut costs, to work even faster and still maintain the quality of the work, and this time, there was no leeway. It would be the most radical artistic shift in Disney animation in the 20th century, a complete reset - for both the artists and the public, even Walt himself - on what Disney animation could look and feel like. The art of animation itself was about to change.

And they had the perfect story with which to do it.

The humans have tried everything. Now it's up to us dogs, and the Twilight Bark.”
Danny, 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' (1961)

After a carefully-orchestrated meet-cute, dalmatians Pongo (Rod Taylor) and Perdita (Cate Bauer) live comfortably with their humans Roger (Ben Wright) and Anita (Lisa Davis) in a flat in 60’s London. When Perdita gives birth to fifteen healthy puppies, the household is overjoyed, but returning from an evening walk one night, they are horrified to find the puppies missing. The humans are baffled, but the dogs are sure they know the culprit - Anita’s maniacal socialite friend Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson). They decide to use the Twilight Bark, a dog communication channel working across England, and the puppies are tracked down to the old De Vil mansion in Suffolk… along with eighty-four other dalmatian puppies, all to be killed so that Cruella can turn them into a dalmatian fur coat. A rescue operation is planned to return all the puppies to London, with the help of local dogs and animals. After a frantic chase across the countryside, pursued by Cruella and her henchmen Jasper (J. Pat O’Mally) and Horace (Fredrick Worlock), they finally arrive back in the flat, and Roger and Anita decide to give a home to the other stolen puppies as well.

'One Hundred and One Dalmatians', the 17th Disney animated feature, was based on the 1956 novel ‘The Hundred and One Dalmatians’ by novelist and playwright Dodie Smith. She had always loved dogs, and at one point, she and husband Alec Beesley had nine dalmatians. Her first was named Pongo, a name she would reuse in the novel. The idea for the story came to her at a dinner party when a friend remarked how lovely a dalmatian fur coat would be.

Walt was first made aware of the novel in 1957 on a Caribbean cruise and immediately purchased the rights. He began a correspondence with Dodie Smith, where the author admitted she had always hoped her book would be adapted into an animated film. Not only would they keep in contact during the making of the film, but Smith would support the production with resources on the locations featured in the film.

Very soon after acquiring the rights, Walt made an unexpected decision: the job of cracking the story on ‘Dalmatians’ would not go to a team of writers, but one writer alone. The task was given to story artist Bill Peet, still considered by many today to be the greatest story artist in the studio’s history. Peet had joined Disney in 1937 as an in-betweener, but had found the work frustrating. He moved to the story department after he submitted some story sketches for ‘Pinocchio’, and quickly established himself as one of their primary story artists.

Bill Peet, during the making of 'Dumbo' © Disney

Now, he was being asked to do a job usually undertaken by a team of up to 40 people. Walt added to this unusual appointment with another unexpected request - he wanted Peet to write a full screenplay of the film before he began storyboarding. Despite a lack of enthusiasm towards the material, Peet began to refashion Smith’s novel into a screenplay, jettisoning or combining characters and reframing the story’s overall perspective. He decided it should be told firmly from the point of view of the dogs, where the real tension in the story lay.

Two months later, Peet delivered the screenplay to Walt, who thought it was “great stuff”. Work then began in earnest on the storyboards, again all drawn by Peet. In the process, he was developing a texture and rhythm unlike the romantic and melancholy tone of the previous films. Upon seeing the sketches, Smith remarked that Peet had greatly improved upon the designs of the characters in the original book illustrations, and approved of his changes to the story.

Story sketches for 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' by Bill Peet © Disney

While Peet was cracking the story, 'Sleeping Beauty' was slouching towards completion. By the time the storyboards were ready, Walt was under pressure from the board and from financial advisors to close the animation department completely, something Walt wasn’t prepared to do. ‘Dalmatians’ would be their next animated feature, but they needed to find a new way to make it that wouldn’t put the department in any more financial danger.

The answer would make 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' the dawn of a new era in Disney animation, and one of their most important and influential films.

The answer... was a photocopier.


Walt’s original collaborator Ub Iwerks, the man responsible for the creation of Mickey Mouse, had left the studio in 1930 following a dispute with Walt, but after his own studio folded, Iwerks returned to Disney in 1940. He was put in charge of exploring new special visual effects, which would include the remarkable combination technique used to combine animation and live-action in ‘The Three Caballeros’. As 'Sleeping Beauty' was nearing completion, Walt mentioned to Iwerks that they may need to close the animation department if they didn’t find a solution to their budget problems. Iwerks, ever the problem solver, set his mind to work to find that solution. In fact, he was already working on something that could be just the answer they needed.

The cartoon will introduce some technical advancements which, I believe, enhance the work of our fine staff of animators.
Walt Disney, 1960

In 1938, physicist Chester Carlson developed a process where images could be printed on paper using an electrically charged photoconductor-coated metal plate and dry powder, or “toner”. The results were crude, but Carlson continued to develop the process, and in 1946, his work caught the interest of Joseph C. Wilson, president of the photographic paper and equipment manufacturer The Haloid Photographic Company. He signed an agreement with Carlson to further develop the idea for commercial use, and dubbed it xerography, combining the Greek words for “dry” and “writing”. In 1961, Wilson would change the name of the company to the Xerox Corporation.

Joseph Wilson with the original Xerox 914 plain-paper photocopier, released in 1959 © Xerox

The idea of using the Xerox in animation had interested Iwerks for over a decade. He thought that the inking stage could be eliminated by copying the pencil animation directly into clear cels using a Xerox machine, saving time and money in the process. He first experimented with the idea during the making of ‘Bambi’, but the paper used at the time meant the results were not up to scratch, and he put the idea aside.

By the late ’50s, a similar idea had been used at Disney in a number of live-action TV advertisements. When Walt told Iwerks of the potential closure of the animation department, he returned to the idea of adapting Xerox for use in animation. “By making a direct copy,” said his son and collaborator Don Iwerks many years later, “there was nobody inking it. You got what the artists drew, exactly. It was after Walt agreed that maybe this was the answer to the problem (that) my dad then went to Xerox.”

Iwerks tested it by borrowing a completed scene on paper and experimenting with how best to copy it onto a cel using the Xerox process. The pencil drawings were photographed onto an electrostatically charged plate, which was then dipped in toner and the toner transferred into the clear cel. It worked, but only to a point. Though most of the black line would adhere to the cel, a small amount would flake off, giving the line a rougher texture. Iwerks then had the cels painted and photographed, and took the results to Walt for approval.

Walt’s initial response was trepidatious. He wasn’t pleased with the lack of density in the line, but conceded that it was a lot more effective than any solutions he’d seen so far. He decided to test it surreptitiously in 'Sleeping Beauty'. So as not to threaten the artistic integrity of the troubled film, the process was tested with the forest of thorns around Aurora’s castle. The results seemed to work, but a proper test would be needed before it could be employed fully on an animated feature.

'Goliath II' production cels © Disney

Written by Bill Peet and directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, ‘Goliath II’ was the first work of animation to be made entirely with the Xerox process. It told the story of an Indian elephant born in miniature. There was no mention of the new method of production in any of the publicity material when the short was released in January 1960, and when it proved a success, securing an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short, Walt had all the proof he needed that this new approach would not severely compromise their films in the public eye.

And with that, Walt Disney Productions’ legendary Inking department essentially ceased to exist. Over the decades, the women in the department had refined the inking process down to an immaculate art, employing a wide variety of colours to give the animation form and structure. To add insult to injury, many believed that 'Sleeping Beauty' was the apotheosis of their art, an art that was about to disappear. However, despite popular belief, the introduction of the Xerox process did not result in the inking artists losing their jobs at the studio. Rather than making the staff redundant, a small number of inkers would be kept in their positions, while the rest would be trained to use the enormous Xerox machine or redeployed to other departments.

The Xerox process was a delight, really, for the animator… because it was the first time we ever saw our drawings directly on the screen.
Marc Davis, animator (1985)

Within the studio, the response to the Xerox process was mixed. The animators were thrilled at the idea of seeing their animation on the screen exactly as they had intended it. They had always felt that the spontaneity of their drawings was lost in the inking process, removing some of the life they saw bursting from their pencils. Now, that life could be preserved without needing to pass through additional hands.

For the women who now oversaw the Xerox process though, it was a morale-shattering moment. They were used to using their hands to create. Now, they simply fed paper and cels into a machine and pressed buttons. “Even though we did production line work in animation,” said Ink & paint artist Phyllis Craig, “they felt that working on the Xerox was factory work.”

The Xerox process would now be employed on a massive scale on 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians'. Its importance though would not only be as a way of saving on time and money. The Xerox process would directly impact what the film itself would look like. Where Walt saw it as a cost-saving necessity, his artists saw it as an incredible artistic opportunity.

Over the course of our episodes on the Silver Age of Disney Animation, we are taking a look at each of the Nine Old Men, the core team of animators that defined the classical Disney style, and their individual contribution to the art of animation. In this episode, we look at the legendary perfectionist, Milt Kahl.

Milt Kahl during the making of 'Sleeping Beauty' © Disney

Kahl was born on the 22nd of March 1909 in San Francisco, the son of Erwin and Grace Kahl. Determined to pursue his dream of being a newspaper cartoonist, he began work retouching photos and pasting layouts for newspapers across the Bay Area. He eventually established his own commercial art business, but the Great Depression hit the struggling business hard. However, as with many of the Nine Old Men, seeing 'Three Little Pigs' in 1934 caught his imagination, and he applied for a job at Walt Disney Productions in June that year.

Kahl began as an assistant animator, working on some of the Mickey Mouse shorts and Silly Symphonies, before taking on a number of the forest animals in ‘Snow White’. He was then assigned to work on the character of Pinocchio, and it was on this assignment that his fortunes would change. Senior animator Fred Moore was so impressed by his work on the character that he brought Kahl to Walt’s attention. Walt was likewise impressed, promoting Kahl to Animation Director on the iconic character.

I don’t think it’s possible to be a top-notch animator without being a very excellent draftsman. You have to be able to draw these characters in order to move them around and articulate them, so there’s no way of doing it unless you draw very well.
Milt Kahl

By the beginning of the Silver Age, Kahl had earned his reputation as one of the greatest animators in the world. He had a number of exciting assignments during the Golden Age and Wartime Era, including Donald and the llama in ‘Saludos Amigos’, but with the numerous technical challenges that emerged in films like ‘Cinderella’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Peter Pan’, Kahl’s remarkable draftsmanship found him tackling some particularly tough assignments. On ‘Peter Pan’, he was able to solve how to depict human beings in flight, and giving his characters a sense of weight and gravity became a trademark of his work.

'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' rough pencil animation by Milt Kahl © Disney

For 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians', Kahl handled the central family of Pongo, Perdita, Roger and Anita. Another animator had initially been assigned to Anita, but Walt was unhappy with the work and gave the character to Kahl instead. His work in ‘Dalmatians’ is one of the purest expressions of Kahl’s incredible work. Take the sequence where Pongo jumps into Roger’s arms when the puppies are born. There is a weight, fluidity and grace to the way both characters leap into the air and grasp at one another, with Roger’s pipe spinning above them. Form is elongated and exaggerated in the individual frames, but when played together, gives the moment a startling realism. Of all the animators, none so fully embraced the possibilities of the Xerox process, and none are as well-served by it.

Kahl was one of the most respected of the Nine Old Men, and the others often deferred to him for guidance and assistance. He would curse and yell as he redrew his colleagues’ work, complaining about why no-one was as good as him. He would even take his frustrations out on Walt, one of the few who could, such as his snap back to Walt’s complaints during the making of ‘Peter Pan’, “That’s because you don’t have any talent in this place!” He was a tough man, especially to those he mentored, such as animator Andreas Deja and director Brad Bird, but was always fair with his criticism.

Before his retirement in 1976, Kahl made further incredible contributions, such as Merlin in ‘The Sword in the Stone’ (work that Wolfgang Reitherman said was “so beautiful, you could hang in in a museum”), Shea Khan in ‘The Jungle Book’ and Tigger in the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ shorts. On his final feature film, he was animating director for Madame Medusa in ‘The Rescuers’.

Despite his retirement, Kahl continued to make a significant ongoing contribution to Disney animation. As well as mentoring many of its upcoming artists, he was asked to help with character designs on the 1985 film ‘The Black Cauldron’. These few sketches were the last work Kahl ever did for the studio. Milt Kahl died of pneumonia at the age of 78 on the 19th of April 1987.

For animators today, Kahl’s work is amongst the apex of the art form. The latter half of the Silver Age, in particular, offers a unique insight into his practice, thanks to the Xerox process and his relationship with it. On the centenary of his birth in April 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dedicated their 13th Marc Davis Celebration of Animation to him, with a panel that included Brad Bird. The title of the celebration said it all: ‘Milt Kahl: The Animation Michelangelo.’

Now that the Xerox process was in place, production could officially begin on 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians'. Walt told Dodie Smith that he expected the film to be ready by Christmas 1960, and wrote to her that, “At this point, we feel it is going to be one of the most interesting things we have done in the cartoon feature field.”

'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' rough pencil animation by Milt Kahl © Disney

A memo was circulated to all the animators to make sure their final drawings were neat and cleaned up before they were sent to be copied, painted and photographed. The inking department had usually preserved only the primary lines of the animation, but now the Xerox machine would pick up every single line on the page. It fell to the assistant animators to clean up the pencil animation, a nerve-wracking task when making sure not to accidentally erase the work of these master artists. Milt Kahl even objected to his drawings being cleaned up. He wanted the rough texture of his work preserved, and demanded his assistants keep it intact. As a result, some construction lines from Kahl’s animation are still visible in the final film.

There was very little delicacy in the result, and a light line was apt to drop out entirely, but the Animator's drawing was there, strong and irrevocable in the blackest of lines. In fact, this heavy, black line put us right back into the 1920s, before the refinements of inking had begun.
Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life (1984)

There were a number of unique challenges to Dalmatians, some of which they had partially solved on ‘Lady and the Tramp’ (such as a lack of reference footage) and some that were specific to this project. In one sequence, when Perdita is hiding from Cruella under the stove and is comforted by Pongo, Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas were faced with the challenge of creating a tender scene between the two dogs but in a very limited space. The moment is a masterclass of simplicity, with their interaction reduced to their eyes and careful moments of touch. “We’ve always felt that touching was very important in animation,” said Johnson in 1985, “in taking these little pencil drawings and having them touch, has a big impact on the audience if it’s done right.”

The conflicting designs for Pongo, with Bill Peet’s on the left and Milt Kahl’s on the right © Disney

There was also a disagreement between Bill Peet and Milt Kahl over the design of Pongo. Peet’s storyboards adopted the proper proportions of a Dalmatian, but Kahl’s initial designs gave him a more muscular form and face, something closer to a Great Dane. He wanted Pongo to have a masculine look to make him easily distinguishable from Perdita. Peet objected to Kahl’s alterations and demanded that he stick to his original designs.

'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' rough pencil animation by Marc Davis © Disney

No one was having as much fun though as Marc Davis. He had been assigned Cruella De Vil, and went to town creating one of the great villains in the Disney canon. Much of her personality and comedy had been cracked by Bill Peet in his storyboards, and Davis built on that by drawing from actors Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead and Roselind Russell. None were as great an influence though as the vocal performance being delivered by Betty Lou Gerson. There are few better examples of complete symbiosis between vocal performance and animation, and Davis took full advantage of it. “A voice like Betty Lou's gives you something to do,” he later said. “You get a performance going there, and if you don't take advantage of it, you're off your rocker." The jealousy from the other animators was palpable. They knew that Davis and Cruella were stealing the film, and for many of them, she would represent a high watermark for character animation.

And then there was the issue of the spots. “Only Disney,” said Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones, “would do a picture with 101 spotted dogs.” The spots couldn’t just be distributed haphazardly. Every single one needed to be consistent, mapped and morphed depending on the individual dog’s movement. The task fell to a unit of assistant animators whose job was to apply and monitor the spots on all 101 dalmatians featured in the film. In truth, such an insane undertaking would not have been possible without the Xerox process, even just having such a large number of dogs in the first place. In most large scenes, a small group of puppies were replicated to give the illusion of many different puppies. For some of the Painters, working for hours on end with only black and white paints became so overwhelming that they would need to step away to get their bearings again.

The models for Cruella’s car and the van, being manipulated by effects animator Dick Lucas © Disney

The Xerox process was also used for the vehicles in the film. Ub Iwerks experimented with paper models of the vehicles with strong black lines outlining their shape. They were attached to a kite string and suspended onto a piece of black cloth, under which pieces of dowling had been attached. The cars were then filmed while the black cloth was pulled underneath them, causing them to bounce up and down. The footage was then transferred to a Xerox plate and copied onto cels for painting. This allowed for a more realistic range of motion for the vehicles and more elaborate chase sequences in the final act of the film. For the shot where Cruella drives up into a snowdrift, the car model was pulled through sand.

Supervising director Wolfgang Reitherman advocated reusing animation from previous films, often to determine the movement of new characters. This is subtly done in ‘Dalmatians’, but you can see it in the Twilight Bark, where a number of characters from ‘Lady and the Tramp’ appear, often reusing the animation with no changes. This offers the clearest difference between the classic Disney style of barely five years before and the new look necessitated by the Xerox process.

Many of the other animators weren’t supportive of the practice of reusing animation, but Reitherman thought it was foolish not to. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Disney animation, and he argued that, with all the amazing work done in the past, why shouldn’t they still put it to good use? While it isn’t as obvious in ‘Dalmatians’, this practice would soon become a feature of the films in the Bronze Age, where there was less attempt to hide the technique, and the practice would extend to even the music, sound effects and vocal performances.

One thing that sets the movie apart from a lot of movies in the Disney canon is it’s a contemporary story made to play in that time period.
Eric Goldberg, animator

The animators weren’t the only ones inspired by the unusual qualities of the Xerox process. The rough texture of this new line would seep into every aspect of the visual language of 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians', and dramatically shift what a Disney animated film could look like.

Walt appointed Ken Anderson as sole production designer and art director on the film. Anderson was an important member of the Disney team, having worked as an art director all the way back to ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. He had also been poached by Walt to work on both the Disneylandia miniatures and Disneyland itself. Anderson had worked as a production designer on 'Sleeping Beauty' under the watchful eye of Eyvind Earle, but with Dalmatians, he would not be answerable to anyone other than Walt.

Much like the animators, Anderson saw great visual potential in the Xerox process. He decided to apply the same process to the background artwork so that the animation and backgrounds would match. This was just as much an aesthetic choice as it was a necessity to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of the process. Anderson had also trained as an architect, and saw this as an opportunity to move the film towards a modern graphic style, more akin to contemporary pop art than the romantic storybook qualities of the previous features. It was also decided that the film should be set in modern London rather than as a period piece. This would make ‘Dalmatians’ the first truly contemporary Disney animated feature, the first to mirror the world outside of the studio. Photographer Eric Gray was put on assignment to take photos of London, Essex and Suffolk as reference for Anderson and the production design team. Dodie Smith herself even assisted Gray in finding interesting locations that she had considered while writing the novel.

Working with colour stylist Walt Peregoy, Anderson developed a method where the structural detail of the backgrounds would be drawn with thick black lines and photocopied into a cel, the same as would happen with the animation. This gave the lines the same quality as the animation. Peregoy would paint the colours separately as impressions of space and object rather than anything defined, which would then have the Xeroxed cel placed over it to give the image definition. “I would approach colour freely,” he said, “painting behind the Xerox overlay. This gives the work a free, almost watercolour quality. (Thus) colour styling serves the sequence and the animation.”

'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' background artwork by Ken Anderson and Walt Peregoy © Disney

Anderson was enamoured with the spontaneous, free-flowing look of this new process, and with the imperfections that inevitably came with it. He even tried to introduce intentional imperfections. Artist Ernie Nordley would go over the background layouts and purposely add mistakes and inconsistencies to make the environments slightly more caricatured before they would be copied.

The contemporary setting meant the film needed a contemporary sound, and even in the storyboarding stages, Bill Peet wanted to move 'Dalmatians' away from the traditional musical structure of the other Disney features. One important change from the novel was to make Roger a songwriter, which meant that songs could naturally evolve from the narrative rather than be imposed upon it. The task of composing the songs fell to Chicago-born songwriter Mel Leven, who had previously been working as a composer for UPA and had been recommended by artists who had moved to Disney from the rival studio.

The first song Leven wrote for the film would be his most famous, ‘Cruella De Vil’. He had originally written a very different song from the one in the final film, but at the last minute decided that a blues tempo would work much better. Forty-five minutes before presenting it to Walt, Leven wrote the version we now know. He had also written a different song for the ending, but Bill Peet encouraged him to write something that had a greater emphasis on rhyme. The result was ‘Dalmatian Plantation’, the second of the two songs that prominently feature in the film.

This same contemporary texture would also be picked up by composed George Bruns. Coming straight from his magnificent score for 'Sleeping Beauty', he created a modern, playful and jazz-infused score that bounded with the same spontaneous energy as Anderson and the animators. An unusual feature of Bruns’ score though was the reuse of small musical phrases from the 'Sleeping Beauty' score. Much like Wolfgang Reitherman, Bruns would reuse elements from past work in all of his Disney scores.

The modern tone gave Peet and the animators permission to explore more contemporary characters. The best example of this is Roger and Anita - where past Disney couples were coy and representational, this couple were loving, openly affectionate, combative and had palpable sexual chemistry with one another. They felt like a couple from the early ’60s.

All of these various elements combined to make 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' the most startling Disney animated feature yet. It didn’t look or feel like Pinocchio or ‘Cinderella’, and all of the artists involved were energised by this new uncharted visual territory. Everyone... except Walt. He was openly unhappy with the work being done on the film, and laid the blame on Ken Anderson. Not only did the film not adhere to the classic style he and the studio were known for, but it was uncomfortably close to that of UPA. All he could see were the concessions they had made to keep Disney animation afloat, and all the things they had lost as a result.

And yet, there was nothing he could do. All of this had been prompted by the Xerox process, and without it, they wouldn’t have been able to make the film at all. Walt would attend sweatbox sessions and story meetings, but ‘Dalmatians’ was essentially in the hands of the artists to do with what they wanted. Disney animation would never be the same again.

On the 21st of December 1960, Walt wrote to Dodie Smith to inform her that, after years of work, eight hundred gallons of paint, 113, 760 individual frames and 6, 469, 952 spots, production on 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' was finally complete, and test screenings had been very enthusiastic. One month later, on the 25th of January 1961, the film opened to the greatest acclaim of any Disney film in decades.

Theatrical Poster, 1961 © Disney

Critics were ecstatic about the film. “101 Dalmatians is one of the nicest things that have happened so far this year to dog's best friend,” wrote Time on February 16, “a full-length animutted curtoon that should please just about everybody but cats and will probably make the youngsters yap-happy. It is the wittiest, most charming, least pretentious cartoon feature Walt Disney has ever made.” Though he did comment that there were too few songs, Howard Thompson wrote in the New York Times that “While the story moves steadily toward a stark, melodramatic "chase" climax, it remains enclosed in a typical Disney frame of warm family love, human and canine.”

Dodie Smith also praised the film, sending her congratulations to Walt after a private screening in London. She did have one complaint though - she had hoped that her name might have been bigger in the opening titles, finding the current credit too small and cramped. Though she was only half serious, Walt wrote back immediately and apologised, sending her a selection of original artwork from the film as a gesture of goodwill. The two would keep in contact until Walt’s death, and often talked of collaborating on another project together, though none never came to fruition.

Dalmatians had cost $3.6 million to produce, but during its initial theatrical run, it made a staggering $14 million at the domestic box office. This was easily their biggest box office success since ‘Snow White’, and after the crippling losses in the wake of 'Sleeping Beauty', resulted in one of their most successful years on record. It also meant that, after 22 years, their liability to Bank of America was finally paid off.

'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' concept art by Walt Peregoy © Disney

Over the decades, ‘Dalmatians’ has proven to be one of the most popular and profitable Disney animated features, accumulating more box office and critical success with each subsequent re-release. Even with its contemporary setting (or perhaps because of it), the film has not lost an ounce of its charm or immediacy, and despite the limitations, the creativity on display is breathtaking to behold. It moves with the calculated confidence of a heist thriller, has barely any extraneous fat on it, and rolls from one tremendous sequence to the next. It also benefits from a truly iconic villain, with Cruella ranking 39th on the AFI list of 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains.

We had moved from a European fairy tale to a more contemporary story with a totally different sensibility. It was fresh, it was bright, and it was lean and mean; we did it in half the time and it was made with half the staff employed for 'Sleeping Beauty'.
Floyd Norman, animator

Watched within the context of the Disney canon, it’s also a tremendous artistic coup. The film bursts with spontaneous energy, and the limitations of the Xerox process are transformed into an art of their own. What is most surprising about Walt’s dislike for the film though was that it had actually achieved exactly what he had been pursuing since the beginning of the Silver Age, and what Eyvind Earle had insisted on with 'Sleeping Beauty' - the integrity of the concept art had been preserved, and the animation and the backgrounds were in perfect harmony with one another. The irony is that this miracle had been achieved, not by imposing anything on the animation process, but by working with it. 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' is just as significant as 'Sleeping Beauty' in its contribution to our understanding of animation as an art form, and one of the most important films in the history of Walt Disney Productions.

Despite the enormous success of 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians', Walt was still under pressure to close the animation department. By 1961, the studio was more focused on live-action films and television than animated films. Walt still couldn’t pull the plug though. He may have lost his enthusiasm for animation, but some of his staff had been with him since before ‘Snow White’. He felt an obligation to keep it going for their sake. And besides, now that the Xerox process had proven itself a cost-effective alternative, and one the artists seemed enthusiastic about, they wouldn’t need to sink the same amount of resources into a project that they once had. To follow ‘Dalmatians’, Walt Disney Productions turned to two potential projects. One was ‘Chanticleer’, an adaptation of a popular play from 1910 about a group of farm animals, which many of the artists were keen about. The other, spearheaded entirely by Bill Peet, was an adaptation of a beloved literary classic with deep roots in myth and legend, of a magician and his talking owl, and a boy who would be king.


The 1992 U.S. VHS release, the 1999 Walt Disney Limited Issue DVD release, the 2008 US 2-disc Platinum Edition Blu-ray, the 2015 US Diamond Edition and the 2019 US Signature Edition Blu-ray.

  • 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' made its VHS debut in April 1992 as part of the Walt Disney Classics line. Within a few months, it had sold 11 million copies, making it the sixth best-selling VHS of all time up to that point.
  • The film returned to VHS, and made its Laserdisc debut, in March 1999, and was only available for 101 days before going back into moratorium.
  • In November 1999, Dalmatians made its DVD debut as a Walt Disney Limited Issues release. It had been intended to be released in March, but was delayed due to technical issues.
  • Dalmatians entered the Platinum Edition series in March 2008 with a two-disc DVD release, featuring a new restoration and bonus material.
  • Rather than debuting in the U.S., the first Blu-ray release of ‘Dalmatians’ was in August 2012 in Australia. It presented the film in high definition, along with the two DVD discs from the Platinum Edition.
  • The film was finally released on Blu-ray in the US in February 2015 as part of the Diamond Edition line. This release had improved sound over the Australian release and featured a number of new special features as well as most of those from the Platinum Edition.
  • ‘Dalmatians’ was again released on Blu-ray as part of the Signature Collection, as well as its debut Digital HD release, in September 2019. Once again, more special features were added and a few from the Diamond release carried over.

Disney transports their new style to Britain’s Dark Ages to learn what it means to be a good man and a great king with the charming and beloved ‘The Sword in the Stone.’

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