101 Dalmatians appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. In regard to the dimensions, it seems completely unclear whether or not 1.33:1 duplicates the original theatrical ratio or not. I rented the title, so I cannot refer to any statements on the DVD's case; however, my 1999 laserdisc of the film states that 1.33:1 was the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio.
Many folks feel this is not true. IMDB indicate that the film was shot 1.37:1 but "intended" to be seen 1.75:1. That may well be correct, but at this point, I don't think I'm going to find a definitive answer. All I do know is that I noted no signs of cropping on the sides of the frames at any point during the movie, so this edition does not seem to represent a "pan and scan" transfer. The original theatrical release may have used slight matting to achieve 1.75:1, but I also saw no evidence of too much space at the top or bottom of the frames; 1.33:1 looked about right to me.
As for the quality of the image, it seemed excellent. Sharpness was consistently terrific. At no point did any softness interfere with the presentation, as I thought the movie was always tight and concise. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge enhancement. In addition, source flaws were delightfully absent. I noticed some marks on the TV when the dogs watched various programs, but I couldn’t say that those were unintentional, so I didn’t regard them as definite defects.
Colors were quite good. The hues came across as lively and full throughout the movie, with good range and delineation. Blacks looked dark and dense, and shadows showed good clarity. I found no reason to complain about this strong presentation.
The film's Dolby Digital audio was acceptable for such an old movie. What was originally a monaural soundtrack has been remixed into a passable surround mix, with unspectacular but decent results. Really, the audio remained largely monaural. Some stereo effects appeared from time to time. We might hear a bark emit from a side speaker, and some panning occurred on rare occasions. Music spread to the sides but not with concise stereo imaging; the score sounded more like broad mono. The surround channel basically just gently reinforced the music, though a few unique elements popped up there. For instance, when Cruella first drove into view, a honk came from the right rear.
The quality of the sound seemed fine for its era. Dialogue appeared clear and relatively natural, though the lines could be a bit flat, and effects also seemed fairly realistic. The film's music showed adequate range and also sounded clean and listenable. The audio won't dazzle you, but it's pretty good for a film from this period.
How did the picture and audio of this 2008 “Platinum Edition” compare to those of the original 1999 DVD? I thought both demonstrated improvements. The visuals were tighter and showed livelier colors, while the audio was a bit more involving and dynamic. The soundtrack wasn’t a serious step up when compared to the old disc, but the new transfer looked quite a lot better.
One pleasant auditory surprise: in addition to the remixed 5.1 piece, the DVD included the movie’s original monaural soundtrack. Since that didn’t appear on the original disc, it was great to get here. I’ll probably go with it in the future, as I’d prefer to hear the film with its theatrical audio.
While the original release included only the movie’s trailer, the Platinum Edition provides an ample serving of extras. On DVD One, we find two separate text commentaries. Disney titles these “101 Pop-Up Trivia Facts”. The first is “for the family” while the second is “for the fan”. “For the family” accentuates basic facts about the source novel and its author, the tale’s London setting, characters, and a few production topics. Its most interesting details come from the comparisons between the movie and the original book, as those elements give us a nice glimpse of the changes made for the flick. The other bits and pieces tend to be rather rudimentary and don’t pop up often enough to satisfy. We can go fairly long periods with no text, so this option probably works best as an accompaniment for a screening of the film; to watch it just for the details becomes frustrating.
Over on the “for the fan” track, it covers similar topics as it examines the movie’s creation, the personnel who worked on it, and various technical elements. Some of the information repeats, though usually the two commentaries remain different. This one has a more adult tone and language; you won’t get phrases like “economically feasible” in the “Family” piece.
Nonetheless, I think the two could’ve been combined into one track; it seems tedious to sit through all the “dead air” from which each one suffers. “Fan” probably has fewer empty spots than “Family”, but they still occur, and one commentary instead of two would’ve been less tedious for the viewer. I do like the information, but the amount of time required to get through both can make them a bit of a struggle.
Also on DVD One, we get a music video for a rendition of “Cruella De Vil” by Selena Gomez. She offers an odd pop/hard rock take on the flick’s signature tune. It’s very 80s and it doesn’t work. Gomez herself is one of the apparently never-ending line of cute teen pop singers at Disney. The video alternates lip-synch “fashion show” shots of Gomez with some movie clips. It’s not particularly interesting.
DVD One opens with ads for Sleeping Beauty, WALL-E, Tinker Bell, Disney Movie Rewards, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning and The Jungle Book 2. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks realm with promos for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
On DVD Two, we start with “Backstage Disney” and its five subdomains. Redefining the Line: The Making of 101 Dalmatians runs 33 minutes, 49 seconds as it mixes movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from current Disney filmmakers Andreas Deja, Ron Clements, Eric Goldberg, Brad Bird, Don Hahn, Pete Docter, Will Finn, Harley Jessup and James Baxter, Disney historians Brian Sibley, Russell Schroeder, Jerry Beck and Paula Sigman, story artists Burny Mattinson and Floyd Norman, voice actor Lisa Davis, director’s son Bruce Reitherman, animation producer/historian Hans Perk, animator’s wife Alice Davis, Ub Iwerks’ son Don Iwerks, animators Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl and Marc Davis (in 1984-1985), production designer/art director Ken Anderson (in 1983), and color stylist Walt Peregoy.
“Line” looks at the source novel and its adaptation for the screen, notes about the filmmakers, the flick’s “contemporary” feel and its use of music, animation techniques and innovations created for the film, other artistic choices, and the movie’s reception.
We get a pretty nice take on Dalmatians via the satisfying “Line”. Yes, it repeats info from the text commentaries, and like all programs about Disney animation, it comes with a lot of praise. Nonetheless, it conveys many good details about the production, so we learn quite a bit. It’s an enjoyable and informative piece.
A featurette entitled Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad lasts seven minutes and eight seconds. It includes notes from Deja, Peregoy, Norman, Beck, Finn, Docter, Bird, Mattinson, Jessup, Signman, Hahn, Sibley, Marc Davis, Alice Davis, and Clements. “Bad” gives us a glimpse of the design and execution of De Vil. In this short piece, we find many fine insights and get a great feel for all the appropriate decisions.
Some archival material shows up in Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney. This 12-minute and 37-second piece shows correspondence between Disney and author Dodie Smith. Voice actors recreate the words of Disney and Smith as we hear the words of their letters from December 1957 through April 1961. A narrator offers some additional comments to place elements in historical perspective. Nothing earth shattering comes from the cordial correspondence between Disney and Smith, but it’s fun to see their long-distance interactions and how they handled some minor quibbles.
Next we find advertising for the film. This area presents five trailers and seven TV spots that span from the movie’s original 1961 release through reissues in 1969, 1979 and 1985. We also get Promotional Radio Spots from 1961, 1969 and 1979. All of these add up to a nice collection of ads.
“Backstage Disney” ends with some Art Galleries. In this domain, we get seven categories. The “Galleries” present “Visual Development” (53 stills), “Character Design” (21), “Layout, Backgrounds and Overlays” (30), “Storyboard Art” (47), “Live-Action Reference” (27), “Animation Art” (28) and “Production Photos” (42). I always enjoy these compilations of images, and this is another solid set.
With that we head to Music & More. It consists of various versions of songs. We find “March of the One Hundred and One” (Deleted Song Sequence – 1:57), “Cheerio, Good-Bye, Toodle-oo, Hip Hip!” (Abandoned Song – 2:32), “Don’t Buy a Parrot from a Sailor” (Abandoned Song – 2:39), “Dalmatian Plantation” (Extended Version and Temp Version – 5:35), “Cruella De Vil” (Demo Recordings and Alternate Takes – 51:28), and “Kanine Krunchies Jingle” (Alternate Takes – 5:35).
Most of the sections come with text to explain them, though a couple feature intros from Schroeder. This section provides a real treasure trove of archival audio. I suspect fans will most enjoy the deleted songs, but I got the biggest kick from the alternate jingles; it’s very amusing to hear all the different vocal affections attempted for it.
Now we head to “Games & Activities” and its components. We start with Disney Virtual Dalmatians. This is mainly intended to be a DVD-ROM game, but you can try out a “sampler” on your TV. The recent Aristocats DVD includes a similar piece. This one is insubstantial but cute, I guess.
Puppy Profiler asks multiple choice questions to help determine what pet would work best for you. By “pet”, it means you have to think like a dog and find out what human would suit you. That’s an odd path for the game to take, as it means we must reply to dog-centered questions. Wouldn’t this make more sense as a method to figure what breed of canine would most suit the human?
Finally, 101 Dalmatians Fun with Language Games finish the set. It comes with the slowest narration I’ve ever heard, apparently because it’s meant to teach some English terms to some non-speakers. So they’ll understand the comments if they’re spoken slowly? I don’t think it works that way, and how many non-English speakers are going to peruse the DVD’s extras – and also somehow know that “Fun with Language” is for them since there’s no hint of this until you start the games? Weird, and pretty pointless if you ask me.
101 Dalmatians remains a winner. The movie itself isn't quite as good as the best Disney offerings, but it's fun and flip and it's sure to entertain a wide audience. The DVD itself provides excellent picture, acceptable audio and a collection of pretty good extras highlighted by some very interesting audio outtakes. This “Platinum Edition” of Dalmatians is a nice product and a solid upgrade over the original DVD.