November 25, 2017


(ABC, Syndication, September 1, 1997-March 4, 1998)

Jumbo Pictures, Walt Disney Television Animation

Pamela Adlon (ABC) & Debi Mae West (syndicated) – Lucky
Kath Soucie – Cadpig, Roly “Rolly” Poly, Anita Dearly
Tara Strong – Spot, Two-Tone
Jeff Bennett – Roger Dearly, Sergeant Tibbs, Lieutenant Pug
April Winchell – Cruella de Vil, Princess (2 episodes)
Tress MacNeille – Cruella de Vil (2 episodes), Cornelia
David L. Lander – Horace Baddun
Michael McKean – Jasper Baddun

            The Hundred and One Dalmatians, or The Great Dog Robbery, was a 1956 novel written by Dodie Smith. Pongo and Missis were a pair of Dalmatians, owned by the newly-married Dearly couple, that recently had a litter of puppies. Those puppies would end up dognapped with 97 others by the evil Cruella de Vil and her henchmen in order for them to be skinned for their fur. Pongo and Missis set out to find their puppies in what became a grand adventure involving many other animals all working together. Smith would follow it up with a direct sequel, The Starlight Barking, in 1967.

The original book.

            When Walt Disney read the book in 1957, it grabbed his attention and he immediately set out to acquire the rights; fulfilling a secret desire of Smith’s. Disney assigned Bill Peet to write the screenplay for the film adaptation, the first time that a story for a Disney animated film was written by a single person. He condensed some elements from the book and focused on others. Peet completely removed the characters of Cruella’s husband and cat, a second stolen litter of Dalmatian puppies and their father, Prince, and merged their mother, Perdita, with Missis while keeping the former’s name. He also changed the name of the humans from Dearly to Radcliffe, and one of Cruella’s henchmen from Saul to Horace. Pleased with the script, Disney prompted Peet to begin storyboarding. Peet sent Smith some of the material he was working on, and she praised his work stating he had actually improved her story and the designs looked much better than the book’s illustrations.

Pongo, Perdita and a fraction of their puppies.

            By this point in the Disney company’s history, Sleeping Beauty had disappointed at the box office and Disney himself had grown disenchanted with animation to the point of contemplating shutting down the animation division. Only nostalgia and the fact the company was built on it kept it going. This meant Disney was a lot more hands-off than he had been with previous features and allowed art director Ken Anderson to use a Xerox process Ub Iwerks had been experimenting with on the film. It let them put drawings directly onto cells, bypassing the inking process, and allowed them to animate all the dogs and their spots quickly and for a reduced cost. Disney initially disliked the look the method gave the film, but over time came to appreciate it.

Cruella and Nanny.

            Although the look of Cruella was established in the book, Marc Davis took additional inspiration from Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Tallulah Bankhead and her voice actress, Betty Lou Gerson, in rendering her final design. Her disheveled style originated from old magazine images of hairstyles from the 1940s. The rest of the cast was filled by Rod Taylor as Pongo, Cate Bauer as Perdita, Ben Wright as Roger Radcliffe, and Lisa Davis (who was originally sought for Cruella) as his wife, Anita. Unlike other Disney animated features, the movie only featured three songs; however additional ones were written for it by Mel Leven

            101 Dalmatians was released to theaters on January 25, 1961. It quickly became a box office success with $14 million, pulling the studio out of its financial slump. The film was re-released in 1969, 1979, 1985 and 1991, bringing its total box office gross to $215 million. The ’91 release was the 12th-highest earning domestic film of the year. When it was released to VHS for the first time in 1992, it became the sixth best-selling video of all time. In 1996, Disney produced a live-action remake starring Glenn Close as Cruella. The film was written by John Hughes and directed by Stephen Herek, turning in a $320.6 million box office following its release on November 27. Unlike the animated version, the dogs didn’t talk but the vocal effects for Pongo and Perdita were provided by Frank Welker.

The stars of the show: Roly, Spot, Cadpig and Lucky.

            Following the success of the film, Disney decided to expand on the franchise by producing a new animated series. Walt Disney Television Animation was paired up with the recently-acquired Jumbo Pictures to bring the series to life with Jim Jinkins, David Campbell, Tony Craig and Roberts Gannaway serving as executive producers. The series marked the franchise’s return to animation, using the original 1961 designs as a base with modern flourishes like thicker borders and brighter coloring, as well as some minor design tweaks. Unlike the original film animated entirely in the United States, animation duties were doled out to Disney Animation’s Japan office, Jade Animation, Sun Min Animation, Sun Woo Animation and Plus One Animation.

Promotional image featuring Dipstick, Tripod, Two-Tone, Patch and Wizzer, along with the stars.

101 Dalmatians: The Series took elements from both Disney films and the books in crafting its universe; although the books presented a greater influence to the overall tone than the films. The series shifted focus off of Pongo (Kevin Schon & Michael Donovan) and Perdita (Pam Dawber) and put them on the puppies; specifically the plucky Lucky (Pamela Adlon & Debi Mae West), who had a horseshoe-shaped spot; Roly Poly (Kath Soucie), whose obsession with food often led the pups into trouble; and Cadpig (also Soucie), the runt of the litter and most intelligent of the puppies. Cadpig was a prominent character in the books, but not in the Disney productions before this point. Other pups included the fearless three-legged Tripod (Toran Caudell), the dim-witted Dipstick (Thom Adcox-Hernandez), the accident-prone Wizzer (Adlon for one episode, Christine Cavanaugh the rest of the time), and the fashion diva Two-Tone (Tara Strong).

Patch: show (top) vs. films (bottom).

Initially, Lucky, Roly and Cadpig were joined by two other pups named Patch and Penny, but it was feared that there were too many main characters. Penny was dropped from the show, and Patch was relegated to a minor role voiced by Justin Shenkarow. Patch would go on to have his own starring feature with the direct-to-video sequel 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure in 2003. The Patch in the show, however, differed from the film version in that he was heavier and wore a knotted rope collar.

The pups wrapped up with Cynde.

The pups lived on the Dearly Farm (aka the “Dalmatian Plantation”) run by Roger (Jeff Bennett) and Anita (Soucie), with the help of Nanny (Charlotte Rae). Roger was also a video game programmer as established in the live movie, which also marked the return of the original surname from the books. The farm was populated by a variety of animals, including Spot (Strong), a chicken who hung out with Lucky, Roly and Cadpig and desperately wanted to be a Dalmatian (she was added as a last-minute replacement for Patch and Penny); Cornelia (Tress MacNeille), Spot’s mother who wanted her to act like a chicken; Duchess (Marla Gibbs) and Princess (April Winchell in two episodes, Cree Summer for the remainder), two dairy cows; Mayor Ed Pig (Jim Cummings), the self-appointed leader of the animals; his daughter Dumpling (Cavanaugh), who was in love with Lucky; Swamp Rat (Bennett), a salesman that lived in the nearby swamp; Steven the alligator (Welker), Swamp Rat’s associate who wanted to eat Spot; Lucy (Paddi Edwards), a goose that got angry whenever the pups played in her pond; Cynde (also Welker), a snake who hung out with both Swamp Rat and Steven; and the bullying Sheepdog mix Mooch (Danny Cooksey). 

Lucky with The Colonel and Sergeant Tibbs.

The farm was protected by the Bark Brigade, of which Pongo and Perdita were members. It was headed up by The Colonel (Cummings), a Catalan Sheepdog from the original movie; his trusted ally, an Abyssinian named Sergeant Tibbs (Bennett); Captain (Welker), a horse that helped Nanny with her chores; and Lieutenant Pug (Bennett), a training officer paranoid about a potential feline invasion.

Cruella paying a "visit" to the Dearlys.

Cruella (Winchell, with MacNeille handling two episodes) had moved on from fur and developed a new interest in real estate. She lived next to the farm and constantly schemed on how to get it away from the Dearlys. Aiding her as always was Horace and Jasper (David L. Lander and Michael McKean). Cruella also had a pet ferret, Scorch (Welker), who shared Steve’s appetite for Spot. To diminish their impact on young viewers, the villains were less menacing and more bumbling; comically failing in all their attempts against the farm and the pups.

The Dearly Farm.

101 Dalmatians: The Series was produced for both syndication and Saturday mornings. It began airing on September 1st, 1997, before making its debut as one of the launch programs for ABC’s Disney’s One Saturday Morning programming block on September 13th, 1997. It, like all the other programs, were meant to debut a week early on the 7th, but their broadcast was delayed by the simulcast of the funeral of Princess Diana. The Saturday episodes were exclusive to ABC and were only seen there. The series’ theme was composed by Randy Petersen, Kevin Quinn and Tim Heintz, with Mark Watters and Dan Sawyer handling the rest of the show’s music.

Searching for that prosocial message.

The show was developed with consultation from Harvard’s Project Zero, a consortium of child experts that ensured the series upheld the FCC’s strict mandates of cartoons teaching kids prosocial messages. As a result, writers were tasked with having to address an issue in each script they submitted, as well as a solid lesson learned by its conclusion. These elements were included in the series’ publicity packets leading up to the show’s debut along with a synopsis of the episode’s story. Cydne Clark and Steve Granat served as the show’s supervising story editors, as well as two of its writers. Other writers included Mirith J.S. Colao, Ken Koonce, Michael Merton, Bruce Shelly, Anne Baumgarten, Jess Winfield, Fracaswell Hyman, Don Gillies, David Hemingson, Len Uhley, Bruce Talkington, Chris Hubbell, Sam Graham, Thomas Hart, and Carin Greenberg, amongst others. Gannaway wrote several episodes as well. The majority of episodes had two segments, and titles with dog-related puns.

On an adventure.

The series ran through its entire 65-episode run within the season; the Saturday episodes concluding in January of 1998 and the syndicated episodes ending that March. Reruns continued on ABC until 2000, when it was moved to The Disney Channel and then Toon Disney. It gradually stopped airing in various countries until its last known airing in 2013. The series has yet to be released in its entirety to home video, with only “A Christmas Cruella” and “Coup  de Vil” being put out on VHS by Buena Vista Home Entertainment and the three-part “Dalmatian Vacation” on Video CD in the United States, VHS and DVD internationally, and LaserDisc in Japan. The song “Surf Puppies” from those episodes was included on the album The Music of Disney’s One Saturday Morning. In 2017 the series became available to stream on the iTunes Store and Amazon Prime Video, with the exception of the episode “Alive N’ Chicken / Prima Doggy” as the episode was removed from broadcast after the September 11 attacks due to the scene of Spot crashing into a barn. The episode was finally restored when the entire series was made available on Disney+ in 2020.

The Disney Chapter book.

Little Golden Books published three books based on the show: the original The Big Dig, the scratch and sniff sticker book Springtime Fun, and the coloring book Hide-and-go-Seek at the Farm. A Disney Chapter book, Cruella Returns, featured an adaptation of the episodes “You Slipped a Disk”, “Leisure Lawsuit” and “Snow Bounders”. In 1998, McDonald’s included flip car racers in their Happy Meals which featured different characters on either side. McDonald’s located in Wal-Mart stores also offered exclusive curly straws. Caldor offered beanbag plush toys of the main characters along with their Sweethearts Candy. In Japan, fans could get branded keychains courtesy of The Disney Channel.

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