1. Every kid exposed to Disney films has one they fixate on. For some, it’s The Little Mermaid, or Beauty and the Beast, or Sleeping Beauty.
2. But for me, I watched One Hundred and One Dalmatians one million times. I spent hours playing with friends, pretending to be characters from the movie. I’ve never met anybody who imprinted on it in the same way.
3. And that means that, simply by laws of nostalgia, I know a lot of things about this movie that most people don’t — because I just think it’s neat!
4. Which is ironic, because Walt Disney abhorred the design of the film from top to bottom.
5. On its premiere in 1961, the success of One Hundred and One Dalmatians rescued Disney’s animation studio from potential shutdown after the financial failure of the lavishly rendered Sleeping Beauty.
6. One Hundred and One Dalmatians was the first Disney animated feature to be written and storyboarded by one person, animator and writer Bill Peet.
7. Peet cut his teeth at Disney animation doing menial animation work on Donald Duck shorts.
8. Peet nearly quit before he was promoted to the story department in time to work on Pinocchio.
9. Peet did quit just a few years after One Hundred and One Dalmatians came out, after arguing with Walt during the production of The Jungle Book. He went on to be a successful writer and illustrator of children’s books, including The Wump World.
10. The Wump World follows an innocent society of capybara-like animals called Wumps, whose home is colonized into ruin by wasteful alien invaders who get back in their rocketships and find another planet to despoil the moment they have exhausted all the resources.
11. In the final moments of The Wump World, the Wumps emerge from their hiding places and wander lost among the abandoned and inhospitable concrete wasteland, until they joyfully happen upon one last unspoiled remnant of their planet.
Image: Bill Peet
12. The final image of the book is of a Wump looking at a small shoot of green that has cracked through an asphalt road.
13. The Wump World doesn’t have anything to do with One Hundred and One Dalmatians, but I loved it.
14. I had no idea it was Peet’s work until I decided to write 101 things about One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
15. In One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Peet breaks with Disney tradition of the time by eschewing a storybook opening, featuring live-action footage (or very occasionally, as in Pinocchio, a short animated sequence) of a book opening.
16. Instead, he wrote and storyboarded a fully animated opening-credits sequence, in which bouncing Dalmatian spots illustrate each layer of the film’s collaborative production, and each group of artists gets to display their work as their names are showcased.
17. Dalmatian spots form musical notes during the credit for the film’s music. A quick animation of Pongo’s head accompanies the names of the directing animators. A loop of dogs runs to honor the character animators, letters twinkle in the names of the effects animators, Pongo and Perdita appear on a city street for the names of the layout technicians, color washes across the background for the names of the color stylist and background artists. And a fully colored and detailed background location with foreground animation goes with the art direction and production design credit.
18. Peet’s credit is his own handwritten signature, reflecting that he penned the film’s story by hand on legal paper because he didn’t know how to use a typewriter. Afterward, serif letters and typewriter sound effects display the name of Dodie Smith, author of the original novel, The Hundred and One Dalmatians.
19. Peet was apparently quite pleased at Smith’s positive reaction to his adaptation, judging by how prominently her quotes are featured on his still-running website.
20. Smith first wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians in Women’s Day magazine as the serialized story “The Great Dog Robbery” in 1956.
21. Smith also wrote a sequel, The Starlight Barking, in 1967, which would have been a quite a movie.
22. Smith took a hard turn into full fantasy with a story about Sirius, the spirit of the Dog Star, casting every living thing in the world except dogs into an unbreakable sleep and endowing all dogs with psychic powers and the ability of fast travel.
23. Then at midnight Sirius appears before every dog in the world to offer them an escape into space so they will no longer be threatened by nuclear war.
24. Pongo is chosen to decide for all dogs, and he declines, arguing that friendship with kind humans is a better dream for dogs than eternal freedom and bliss among the stars.
25. Sirius commends this decision and returns everything to normal. Pongo allows that dogs may someday all go to the stars when they are no longer content with humans.
26. Before she turned to novels, Dodie Smith was a respected playwright in an era where that was particularly difficult for women.
27. When reporters discovered the identity behind her male pseudonym, one newspaper ran with the headline “Shopgirl Writes Play.”
28. I had no idea Dalmatians was even based on a book until I was in middle school, and found a 1976 reprinted paperback in the back room of a building at horseback-riding summer camp.
29. There is a connection between horses and dalmatians. Let me explain it, because 101 facts is a lot of facts to come up with, and I’m beginning to get worried.
30. The breed’s origins stretch back to the 1300s, in the Dalmatia region of what is now Croatia. Though dalmatians have seen use as hunting and guard dogs, they’re most famously associated with firefighting.
The Saturday Evening Post’s January 1945 cover.
Image: The Saturday Evening Post
31. That’s because back when fire engines were drawn by teams of horses, dogs were needed to run alongside the carriages.
32. Why? Because back then, firefighting companies were private enterprises that competed to be first to a fire, and thereby get the insurance payout for putting it out.
33. Those companies needed guard dogs on their carriages — even while putting out fires — to prevent theft and sabotage of their equipment or horses by rival companies.
34. That’s probably the limit of the number of horse facts I can fit into this, a collection of 101 facts related to the Disney movie One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
35. Smith populated The Hundred and One Dalmatians with information from her own experience with keeping dalmatians — at one point, she and her husband Alex Macbeth Beesley owned nine of them.
36. Pongo is named for Smith’s first pet dalmatian.
37. The idea for her book reportedly came to her after a friend commented, “Those dogs would make a lovely fur coat.”
38. I think we can all agree that that’s a buckwild thing to say to someone who loves an animal so much that they have nine of them.
39. Understandably, there are a lot of little bits in the book that were left out of the Disney film: Cruella’s husband and her pet cat; different names and professions for the Darlings; a subplot where the dogs destroy Cruella’s closet full of furs.
40. But most notably, the film excises two whole adult dogs. Rather than Pongo and Perdita, Pongo’s partner is named Missus.
41. Perdita is an abandoned, liver-spotted Dalmatian whose puppies were recently purchased (by Cruella, natch) and taken away.
42. (In real life, dalmatian spots can be black or brown, with the color being called “liver.”)
43. No liver-spotted dalmatians appear in the movie version, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, as it would have been more annoying to render them.
44. (I’ll come back to that.)
45. In the book, Pongo and Missus’ humans adopt Perdita to help feed their enormous litter of 15 puppies.
46. Which makes sense if you think about it: Fifteen is just a tremendous amount of mouths for an animal with eight nipples to feed.
47. At the end of Smith’s novel, Perdita is reunited with her puppies and their father, Prince, who is also adopted by her humans, thus making the final tally 97 puppies and four adult dalmatians.
48. For my money, the best idea Smith put into The Hundred and One Dalmatians that made it to Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians is the fictional television program, What’s My Crime?.
49. It’s not the only fake TV show in the movie: Bill Peet also tossed in an Adventures of Rin Tin Tin-like series Thunderbolt the Wonder Dog, about a heroic German shepherd fighting bandits in the American Old West.
50. An episode of Thunderbolt putting the puppies in a mesmerized state is a significant plot point of One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
51. It’s an interesting detail to consider, with both the book and movie made in the 1950s, the first decade in which many parents would have watched their children grow up in front of a TV set.
52. Brothers Jasper and Horace Badun, Cruella’s hapless henchmen, are particularly obsessed with What’s My Crime?. In both the book and the movie, it buys our heroes precious time when they put off killing the puppies for an hour in order to watch the latest episode of this must-see TV show.
53. What’s My Crime? is a contemporary goof on the at-the-time-very-popular panel game show What’s My Line?
54. What’s My Line? ran on CBS for all of the 1950s and most of the 1960s, spawning a concurrent British version as well.
55. The gist of What’s My Line? is that a panel of celebrities had limited time to guess a guest’s unusual profession.
56. Panelists could ask as many yes or no questions as they wanted, but if the answer to any of the questions was no, their turn would end and the next panelist would take over.
57. This tried-and-true format has been mimicked in shows like Front Page Challenge, To Tell the Truth, and Nickelodeon’s Figure It Out.
58. As a kid, the first time I saw an episode of Figure It Out, I immediately thought, “Oh, it’s like that show What’s My Crime? is based on,” and felt very smug that I knew this.
59. This fact tells you a lot about what I was like as a teenager.
60. Another fixture of my childhood, comedian Groucho Marx, was an infamously disruptive panelist on What’s My Line?.
61. The British host of What’s My Crime? certainly has the Groucho mustache and glasses thing going.
62. Of course, the twist of What’s My Crime? is that the guests are all convicted felons, and celebrity panelists have to guess the unusual crime they committed.
63. In the book, the Badun henchmen are particularly chipper about the idea of murdering and skinning 99 dalmatian puppies because they think it’ll make them a shoe-in to appear on What’s My Crime? and have their 15 minutes of fame.
64. People say that Disney movies are sanitized, but folks, my childhood Disney favorite had a television show about extra-fucked-up crime, and it features a tense sequence in which two men attempt to beat 99 puppies to death with a fireplace poker and a broken-off chair leg.
65. According to press materials created for the 1979 re-release of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the 101 dalmatians that appear in the film share 6,469,952 individually rendered spots.
66. There was an entire department of animators set aside in the movie’s production structure whose job was just to draw spots on dogs.
67. The major technical advancement that made it financially and logistically possible to draw 6,469,952 black spots for 113,760 frames of cel animation was the Xerox camera.
68. The first commercially available Xerox photocopier debuted on the market in 1959. It could make seven copies in 60 seconds, and it weighed 650 pounds.
69. Mickey Mouse co-creator Ub Iwerks modified a Xerox camera to copy pencil drawings onto animation cels, thus eliminating the need for all the blacks of a drawing to be inked onto cells by hand.
70. The tradeoff was One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ signature uneven linework, a product of how the animators’ pencil lines were transposed to film, rather than being reproduced by the smooth lines of the inkers.
71. As the process could only produce solid black lines, dalmatians were a perfect subject.
72. “Technically, One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a zine,” I once provocatively declared to my friend, an animation professor, in order to make him furious.
73. Like many Disney films, Dalmatians made use of filmed live-action reference for character movements.
74. Cruella De Vil herself was modeled by character actress Mary Wickes, who is perhaps best remembered for playing Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act and Sister Act 2.
75. The Xerox technique also allowed Dalmatians to use live-action footage in place of animation for some of its most technically difficult scenes: the car chases involving Cruella’s monster of a jalopy plowing through heaping snow.
76. Animators constructed perfect little paper models of the vehicles involved in Dalmatians’ climax and filmed them moving, crashing, and plowing through drifts of sand to simulate snow.
77. Then, using a Xerox camera, the live-action footage was transferred directly to animation cels for coloring and compositing into backgrounds.
78. Other elements of photography were incorporated as well: Look at Jasper and Horace’s newspapers in this shot.
79. Cruella De Vil is rare among Disney villains for having no supernatural powers — and for being motivated not by power or revenge, but simply by wanting to have a puppy-skin coat.
80. Cruella’s name was likely inspired by Dodie Smith’s own Rolls-Royce towncar — or “sedanca de ville,” a term coined in the 1920s by the Spanish distributor of Rolls-Royce. (In the book as well as the movie, she has an obnoxious car.)
81. Most translations of Dalmatians attempt to keep the pun in her name by using a homonym for devils, hell, or evil. But in Dutch, her surname simply remains “de Vil,” as the Dutch verb “villen” means “to skin.”
82. For a Disney villain, she has an unusually distant and impersonal relationship with the films’ protagonists, since she obviously can’t have a conversation with our canine heroes — she doesn’t even know they’re sentient.
83. And yet her anthem “Cruella De Vil,” by composer and lyricist Mel Leven, is objectively an all-time banger.
84. Overall, Dalmatians is barely a musical. There are really only one and a half songs in the movie. (Two and a half, if you count the Kanine Krunchies jingle.)
85. The musical elements of the film are all diegetic, owing to Peet’s adaptation of Roger from a “financial wizard” to a struggling songwriter.
86. In Dodie Smith’s Dalmatians, Roger is so good at accounting that he wiped out the British government’s debt, and as a reward, was given a lifelong exception from paying taxes.
87. Longtime Disney composer George Bruns opted for a soundtrack that emphasized contemporary jazz for Dalmatians, rather than a full orchestra.
88. Dalmatians was the first Disney movie set in the same era in which it was made since 1941’s Dumbo — another production that followed a streak of Disney flops, was simplified in order to cut costs, and wound up keeping the studio alive with its overwhelming success.
89. Dalmatians’ realism and its commitment to a temporary setting was the root of Walt Disney’s personal disappointment with the film, according to veteran Disney producer Don Hahn.
90. “Walt was a romantic,” Hahn said in a short 2008 documentary about the making of Dalmatians. “I know he really loved the style of the Peter Pans and the Cinderellas and the Snow Whites and the Pinocchios. I think Walt probably mourned the fact that he was losing this lush, beautiful, tapestry look to his films.”
I dunno, it looks like a pretty gorgeous film to me.
91. As technology that could automatically take a paper drawing and transfer it to an animation cel developed in fidelity and flexibility, the process became central to Disney’s production.
92. Disney’s inking department, a highly skilled, largely female workforce, was subsequently let go.
93. But Walt Disney disliked the sketchier look of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and the concurrently produced The Sword in the Stone, so intensely that he never allowed their art director, Ken Anderson, to take that role on another film.
94. You know, I also really loved The Sword in the Stone as a kid.
95. In the late 1950s, Walt Disney was spending less and less time directly involved in animation, focusing on the difficult task of getting Disneyland off the ground.
96. Disneyland is a good metaphor for Walt’s twin obsessions: nostalgia for an idyllic small-town American past and a fascination with futurism in all forms.
97. A setting neither futuristic nor nostalgic; a story attributed to a single artist rather than Walt’s company or team; a film that directly showcased and credited the work of animators in both its credits and by directly transferring their hand-drawn lines to the screen… there was precious little of Walt in Dalmatians for Walt to recognize, and a whole lot of other people.
98. We’re 99 facts in, and I’m not sure I could tell you why One Hundred and One Dalmatians was THE Disney film that captivated me as a kid.
100. Maybe the perfect Disney movie is simply the one you saw for the first time at just the right moment, which is mostly when you’re 5 years old.
101. Walt may not have picked Dalmatians, but it sure picked me.