The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, a story written in 1956 primarily for children, is about a robbery of 15 Dalmatian puppies that results in a good deal of adventure. While written for children, the novel contains rather severe storylines where one puppy is seemingly stillborn then survives, a wet nurse puppy is needed for the puppies to survive and the plans are that the puppies be killed and skinned so they can be made into fur coats. The most endearing part of the story is the personality and intelligence that is given to the animals in the story. In the end it is the fact that we have animals caring for other animals and their pets (i.e. owners) that makes this a fun story to listen to.
According to Wikipedia, Dodie Smith states that she always hoped that Disney would make her book into a movie, which it was in 1961 only 5 years after the release of the novel. While the 1961 animated movie does maintain some of the main points of the story, the story is certainly reworked so that it more appropriate for children and the silver screen. I wonder why Smith made her story as dark as it was if she was genuinely hoping for it to be made into an animated movie. As Smith is a British writer and Disney is an American company, it could be that Smith sincerely thought that her novel was appropriate as many children’s stories, especially those originating in Europe, are often quite a bit darker.
I found one detail from the story humorous and that was the occupation of Mr. Dearly (Roger in the film). While he is a song writer in the film, he is a “financial wizard” in the novel who is responsible for helping England resolve their national debt. As a result, he was granted freedom from paying taxes for life and was given a nice residence. My guess is that Bill Pete, who adapted this novel into film as well as worked on many other Disney animated films, couldn’t see how he was going to make the occupation of financial wizard resonate with kids so he made the guy into a musician. While Peet also injected the movie with more conflict and excitement, he took out some of the compassion and intelligence that was needed for Pongo and his Missis to get back their puppies.
Also, I learned a good deal about the animation process that went into this film. The more I read about the work that goes into animating a film the more intrigued I am. Right as 101 Dalmatians was being developed there was also developing a new way to transfer the animations to the cells without having to expensively ink each one, cutting the costs in half. While the process hadn’t been perfected at the time, 101 Dalmatians was a perfect film to start with as this means of copying animations made it easy for animators to add the spots (6,469,952 in total) to the film. Also, this movie along with Sleeping Beauty began a movement towards a more angular style than had previously been seen in movies like Snow White and Cinderella. Lastly, I learned that Walt Disney believed strongly in using live-action scenes as a point of reference, a practice that is still readily used today (The animators brought in a real moose so that they could observe him for the animations of Sven in Frozen.). At the time, Disney used the same actress, Helene Stanley, as a point of reference for Cinderella, Aurora and Anita (Roger’s wife), which would perhaps explain why Aurora and Anita look similar.
I have also seen the 1991 live-action version of 101 Dalmatians starring Glen Close and Jeff Daniels as Cruella DeVil and Roger respectively. I would say that instead of the live-action movie being a reinterpretation of the novel that it is, in fact, a reinterpretation and an updated version of the animated movie, which is in and of itself a reinterpretation of the novel. So, instead of Roger being a musician, he is a video game developer and Cruella DeVil is Anita’s employer instead of school acquaintance. And, unlike the novel, the animals from a nearby farm team against DeVil and her cronies in the animated movie and in the live-action movie they take the hijinks even farther by soaking Cruella in molasses. I would have rather seen the live-action movie return to the source material a bit more closely.
All in all, Dodie Smith’s The One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a short novel about how sweet, caring and brave our pets can be. As I am a fan of novels that are from the perspective of the dog or cat, I liked the book but felt like there could have been more to it. I would recommend the book to animal lovers and to parents but would caution parents that it is not as light and sweet as the animated movie.