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101 Dalmatians
Platinum Edition

In all of the Disney canon, is there a song more insidiously catchy than "Cruella De Vil?" It isn't just because of the way Roger (Ben Wright) keeps humming it and sometimes even playing it when the villain flits into his house. Something about the song and the woman seize the imagination of child after child, making it and her one of Disney's biggest figures in a vault full of those larger than life. No wonder Glenn Close would have killed to play her in the live-action remakes.

So it's almost strange that Disney would have waited so long to give 101 Dalmatians it's "Platinum Edition." Certainly Pongo, Perdita and their brood have been popular since the film's original 1961 release. The pups even had their own series on Disney channel, and one of the better direct-to-video sequels.

Whatever the reason for the delay, it's here at last, digitally restored and given a 5.1 Surround soundtrack to make sure that song really worms its way into the back of your brain. Heavily influenced by design trends of the late fifties and early sixties, the movie also stands as a transition film for the Disney Animation Studio. The first to use xerography, it moved the Disney style into a harder, scratchier look which worked for films while Disney himself was alive to work on them. (You can see the downside of xerography in far too many moments of the otherwise entertaining The AristoCats and Robin Hood).

But you don't need me to go into a lot of history of the film. The DVD has 101 pop-up facts, a good use of DVD technology (and probably even more seamless in Blu-Ray - sorry, haven't made the transition yet). What it loses in exchange is the meticulous commentary tracks that earlier Platinum Editions have had. Perhaps it's simply a combination of two sad factors - Walt didn't live long enough after this to do a lot of reflection on the film's place in his history, and many of the key players have themselves passed away by now.

Instead, animation fans have to turn to Disc Two for a documentary on the making of the film, accompanied by a "recreation" of Walt's correspondence with Dodi Smith, the author of the original novel. Yes, there's a novel, and it's quite a good piece of children's literature, too. Of course, there has to be focus on Cruella herself, in a decent little featurette.

Continuing with their DVD innovation introduced in the previous AristoCats release, Disney offers a virtual puppy option. Again, you can play it as a set-top game, but most of the real action gets unlocked if you play the DVD-ROM in your PC. Brilliant move to compete with products like Webkins, and I wouldn't be surprised to see this as part of a larger strategy to get kids deeply wrapped up in Disney Online.

Buying the DVD, though, still centers around the movie, and you already know it's a classic. If your kids only know the live-action version, then you owe it to them to buy this, because it really is far superior. A fun adventure with a killer song (the disc does include some deleted musical numbers - yet none hold a candle), 101 Dalmatians really is one of those movies that you know kids will treasure.

101 Dalmatians (Two-Disc Platinum Edition)

Derek McCaw

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