Note: This review is of the most recently issued (2008) version.
I find it difficult to believe that it has been 47 years since this film first appeared. (I also find it difficult to believe that I now have ten grandchildren with whom to watch it.) Credit the Disney organization with providing with this latest restored version a generous selection of bonus features that substantially increase the pleasure of seeing this classic film once again. They include a DVD-ROM of a "Virtual Dalmatians Game," "Op-Up Trivia Facts," and "The Making of One Hundred and One Dalmations," and correspondence between "Sincerely yours, Walt Disney" and Dodie Smith, author of the novel on which the film is based.
The basic plot involves two lonely dalmatians (Pongo and Perdita) who meet in a London park and whose owners then meet and marry. Over time, the dalmatians become parents of 15 puppies who are stolen by Cruella De Vil who is determined to make a fur coat out of their skins. That doesn't happen, of course, but younger children get all caught up in efforts to rescue the puppies (at least when viewing the film for the first time) just as they do when hoping that Pinocchio will be reunited with Gepetto, that Snow White will awaken from her deep sleep, and that Belle and the Beast will live happily ever after. In the best of Disney's animated features, there always seems to be a subtext of menace and this film is no exception. When observing Cruella De Vil's behavior, many of those in my generation will be reminded of Gloria Swanson's portrayal of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. In terms of quality of its story, art, and music, 101 Dalmatians deserves to be ranked among Disney's finest animated films. The special features offer an exceptional "bonus."
My only concern, frankly, is that once again, many adults who are charmed by the Dalmatian puppies will decide -- or feel great pressure from children -- to purchase one. They would be well-advised to learn all about the breed first. Perhaps the next time around, Disney could add a special feature that provides such information. Just a thought....