ByWill Morton, writer at

As if I couldn’t stop gushing about Disney animation! You know them, I know them. But did you know there are some things you didn’t know about your favorite Disney movies? I hope to write for a Disney blog someday, but this will have to do for now. So, I want to share some things you probably didn’t know about 1961’s 101 Dalmatians, not only a groundbreaking movie, but it was also Walt Disney’s first foray into the modern animation age. It also happens to be the first movie I ever saw, at the age of 2. But enough about me. Let’s follow those puppies and watch out for Cruella!

1. This was the last movie under Walt’s leadership to be done traditionally through ink and paint.

It was also the first to be utilized with the new Xerox process which would automatically transfer the animators’ drawings onto a plastic cel, eliminating the tedious task of doing it by hand, which cut animation time in half, just the way a photocopier works. However, this “hacking” process also gave the animators no error in messing up their drawings, meaning they had to get it right on the first try. Occasionally there were some inconsistencies in the drawings but hey, I guess the modern age of Disney had to start somewhere. Since the dalmatians were already in black and white, it was very easy to draw them but boy, did they have a lot of spots! I think there were over 60 spots on Pongo alone! Now imagine having to repeat that over and over again, drawing after drawing. I’m guessing the animators had nightmares over seeing spots all over the place. No wonder Walt didn’t want the movie brought by the ink and paint department!

2. This was also the first Disney film to take place in the modern age

....which was 1961 (the year when the movie was released). But honestly, Dalmatians can take place at any time. Even now.

3. The vehicles in the movie were models which were also photographed by the Xerox process.

By shooting a model with a regular movie camera, they were able to put the film in the Xerox machine which was then animated. So Cruella’s car was a real car, kind of. But it looked real!

4. The book’s author Dodie Smith collaborated with Walt Disney through correspondence to develop the story into a movie.

She really wanted Disney to make the movie and was very pleased with the results. Unlike other authors (cough P.L. Travers!). Smith’s correspondence with Disney continued even after the film’s production.

5. Speaking of the book, the female dalmatian is named Missus but changed to Perdita in the movie, Perdy for short.

Perdita was a minor dog in the book. Now, I don’t know why they changed her name. Maybe because the papa dalmatian is named Pongo and they wanted their names to be alliterative? Whatever the reason, it’s a “Perdy” smart decision (pun intended).

6. Only 5 of the puppies were named in the film

Lucky, Patch, Rolly, Penny, and Freckles. The 1996 remake and subsequent animated TV series named many of the others.

7. The film was also the first Disney movie to not be a musical

Well, not technically. The song Cruella De Vil is sung but it’s at a point where the character of Roger is already writing the song and mocking the title character. The Kanine Krunchies song is also sung during the TV commercial while the dogs are watching TV. Also being a contemporary story meant that the film had no fantasy music within the score. Since it was the 1960s, there was a lot of jazzy influence in the score, which was the direction the studio went during that time.

8. Dalmatians’ movie treatment was storyboarded in its entirety by one man: Bill Peet

Peet started out at the studio in the early 40s as an in-betweener, or an assistant who would provide the final drawing for the animators. Peet eventually worked his way up to a storyboard artist and wrote the whole treatment for Dalmatians. All of it made it into the film. Now today, the storyboard is presented to the studio by the entire animation department, but back then, Peet did it all by himself. That’s impressive if you ask me.

9. There are cameos by several characters from Lady and the Tramp during the Twilight Bark sequence

First, you see Jock the Scottish terrier barking up a drainpipe, then Bull and Peg from the dog pound scene are in a pet shop window, and then out on the street before the camera goes up to an aerial view of London, Lady and Tramp can be seen among the group of dogs. Pongo would later make a cameo in 1988’s Oliver and Company.

10. Cruella De Vil was created primarily by three people within the production

Actress Mary Wickes, voice actress Betty Lou Gerson, and animator Marc Davis. Wickes was a comic actress whose shtick was her tall, gangly height. She was the physical inspiration for Cruella and even was a model. Actors were gathered on a soundstage and acted out scenes from the movie which were then interpreted by the animators. Wickes dressed as Cruella and vice versa. Betty Lou Gerson of course, gave Cruella her voice. She was a veteran voice at Disney, having already provided the voice of the narrator in the opening scenes of Cinderella. Looking back at it now, it’s hard to believe that the warm voice we heard in Cinderella would end up scaring kids and dogs of all ages a decade later! Finally, Marc Davis was one of Walt Disney’s animators who was part of the now legendary team called the Nine Old Men. This was also Davis’ last film he worked on at the Disney studios. He was determined to make Cruella equally memorable. And, boy, did he. The flamboyancy, the wickedness, and the overall evilness. That was a great character to hang your animation hat on. Of course, overall credit for the character’s creation goes out to Dodie Smith, the author of the original book. I don’t know what spurred her to create a fur loving villain whose sole desire is to skin dozens of Dalmatian puppies to make a coat, but… I’m not here to judge.

So that’s it. Hopefully, you’ve gained a little more insight into this Disney classic, and I’ll continue to provide new information into other movies, not just Disney movies (as much as I want to).


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