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‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ Is a War Film

The Disney classic shares many qualities to that of war films, including a sense of WWII nostalgia

By MovieBabblePublished 3 years ago 3 min read
Walt Disney Animation



After her introduction nearly halfway into the film, the nanny in One Hundred and One Dalmatians is likened to a dog by our narrator and protagonist Pongo. Usually a denigrating term — calling someone a dog might mean they’re ugly or less than human — but for Pongo, a dog himself, it’s one of his highest compliments. There’s something canine in nanny because of her loyalty to her human employers and their small brood of Dalmatians.

In fact, One Hundred and One Dalmatians signals that it will reverse our usual hierarchy of dog and human in its opening, which sets the scene by slowly zooming in on musician Roger playing the piano while an unseen narrator describes their bachelor lives as “downright dull.” Only, Roger isn’t the narrator. His dog, Pongo, is. But One Hundred and One Dalmatians does more than just provide us with a dog’s eye view of the world. This Disney classic, which sees the sixtieth anniversary of its release this month, doubles as a cleverly disguised war film.

That’s right, Pongo, Perdita, Lucky, Rolly, Patch, and all the rest become “dogs of war,” making their way back home after being caught behind enemy lines. And as strange as it might sound, the film also speaks of a certain 1960s nostalgia for World War II.

A New Direction for Disney Animation

One Hundred and One Dalmatians was the result of a financial disaster. Disney’s sixteenth animated film, Sleeping Beauty, was meant to be the studio’s magnum opus, and it took nearly a decade to make, sailing past its original release date of 1955 to open in 1959. The pressure of the project became so overwhelming that several animators developed medical problems, and the production costs soared beyond $6 million. The movie bombed. In its initial run, it made a little more than $5 million and nearly sunk the studio.

Today, Sleeping Beauty’s reputation has grown, and along with Bambi and Lady and the Tramp, it’s arguably the most gorgeous of Disney’s animated movies. But financial concerns meant that the studio would never again launch that kind of grand, expensive animation for the foreseeable future, which impacted the style of Disney’s animation for the next couple of decades. This had an immediate impact on One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which has a scrappier, less opulent visual style.

This change in style came from a desire to cut costs as well as the implementation of new animation technology. Traditionally in animation, the images would not be drawn directly onto the animation cells. Rather, animators would draw each image and then inkers — often referred to as “ink girls” because this labor was divided by gender — would retrace the original onto the cell.

For One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the inkers were replaced by a Xerox machine. This new technique resulted in lines that were more ragged, craggier as if the drawings were made in pencil rather than ink. The animators also adopted a mid-century modern style. This less polished look not only brought Disney up to date with the contemporary setting, but it also seems fitting for a story about hardscrabble dogs fleeing a fur obsessed aristocrat.

Love in Londontown

The first part of the One Hundred and One Dalmatians follows the contours of a romantic comedy, replete with a meet-cute where the two human couples, Roger and Anita, first encounter one another after Roger’s Dalmatian ties up their feet with his leash sending them toppling into a pond. The two obviously fall in love, but so do their Dalmatians, Pongo, and Perdita. As Roger and Anita get married in a church, Pongo and Perdita appear just outside, also acting out the banns of marriage. (The animators purposefully placed Pongo and Perdita outside of the church for fear that if they were inside during the ceremony, it would be seen as blasphemous).


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