REVIEW: Disney’s 101 Dalmatian Diamond Edition
Last Tuesday, February 10th, Disney has released 101 Dalmatians: Diamond Edition in Blu-Ray and DVD formats, as well as through digital. The release is notable because it’s one of Disney’s most popular franchise even though it doesn’t follow their usual M.O., as it isn’t based on a public domain fairy tale and doesn’t feature princesses (the movie is based on a 1956 children’s novel by Dodie Smith.)
Popular enough to have spawned sequels, a couple of live action movies, and various appearances in videogames, the ball that got things rolling was the 1961 animated film, which is exactly what you’re getting in the Diamond Edition, along with a few nifty extras. But first, a refresher for people who forgot or a brief introduction as to what 101 Dalmatians is all about:
101 Dalmatians focuses on songwriter Roger Radcliffe, his wife Anita, and their pet Dalmatians Pongo and Perdita, whose litters were abducted by Anita’s wealthy former schoolmate, Cruella De Vil, wanting to turn the poor pups’ coats into clothing. It is up to Anita, Roger, Perdita, Pongo, and a whole host of their helpful animal friends to mount a rescue for their litter along with Dalmatians already in Cruella’s hands.
Disney’s 101 Dalmatian is a huge part of Disney history for various reasons. First is the introduction of Cruella De Vil, who is probably not the kind of villain parents would expect from a kid-friendly feature (aside from her plans for the pups, it’s also horrifying when she decided to order all the pups to be killed in order to get rid of evidence in case the police comes knocking) and next is the more tangible effect on the company: 101 Dalmatians helped turn the studio around when it was suffering from a previous film’s (Sleeping Beauty, iirc) underwhelming box office take. It also marks an important collaboration with Xerox in order to use the technology for bringing the costs of animation down. So getting a copy of 101 Dalmatians: Diamond Edition is a way of owning an important piece of Disney History.
Picture and Audio Quality
101 Dalmatians, as mentioned above, used xerography in order to bring the cost of animation down. It achieved its goal, but it is not without its downsides. The use of Xerox cameras resulted in images that are a little bit less polished (or a little bit more rough around the edges, if you’re a glass-half-empty kind of dude.) than films animated traditionally. It wasn’t apparent back in the 60s, but this release sort of makes it a little bit more noticeable due to the availability of devices and screens designed for high quality images.
It’s not bad enough (or even noticeable) to actually be a dealbreaker, but videophiles will definitely see a clear difference between this and Disney’s other Diamond releases. Given the context, though – this is as most likely good as you’re going to get without the studio actually remaking the film.
It’s also worth noting that Disney tried to address letterboxing (remember that the film was made when widescreen still wasn’t a thing.) by adding the option for “Disney View,” which adds decorative borders to the sides of the screen in order to avoid stretching. It’s something that you have to put up with if you don’t want black bars on the side. It’s either that or you use your TV’s stretching function and you end up with fat Dalmatians.
In terms of audio, things are a lot rosier. The Diamond Edition comes with two English audio tracks. You have the original mono mix (in case you’re a purist who wants to watch the film the way it was presented) and you also have the option of a decent DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. The new audio track is not perfect (some vocals are a little bit hard to make out if you have a poor surround sound system) but they do the job well and definitely impressive considering that it was made 50 years ago.
Of course, in this age of streaming, instant access, and yes – piracy, home video releases need to provide extra content in order to make it more appealing compared to other more convenient distribution methods. 101 Dalmatians: Diamond Edition doesn’t disappoint in this aspect. It features all the expected extras such as trailers, music videos, and making of featurettes, but it also features something that fans will appreciate even if they’ve already watched the original: four animated shorts, including a new one made specifically for the release, titled “The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt.”
As mentioned above, 101 Dalmatians is an important piece of Disney history and a really good film in its own right. The Diamond Edition is most likely the best version that will be available for quite sometime, so it is a highly recommended purchase. The extras alone make it a really good deal even if you still have fresh-enough memories of the film that warrant holding off on watching things again.