Even in these bumbling backward Medieval times, you have got to know where you’re going!

JamesNostalgia ain’t what it used to be. I had fond memories of watching Pete’s Dragon as a kid, with Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney and even Helen Reddy making a very positive impression (Candle on the Water, amIright?). So a few years ago when I saw it in ASDA for £3 I couldn’t resist, and put it on almost as soon as I got home. It sucked. Sure, there were some good moments in, some nice songs and some charming animation. Unsurprisingly, these were the bits that made an impression on me. Disappointingly, there was an awful lot in between. After years of talking about it alongside Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I realised this film just wasn’t in the same league. As the film went on positive certainty turned to hope turned to embarrassment turned to morosity.

Regrettably, I went through the same emotions again with The Sword in the Stone. I know that it, like all Disney, is predominantly a kids’ film (or at least a family film). I know the sugar-tinted glasses of youth trick your memory even into adulthood. But after finding so much to praise in all the Disney efforts to this point, even the underwhelming ones, I’m really disappointed that it’s so hard to praise this one which is, I fear, the weakest Disney film we’ve covered. It does have its positives (again, the stuff that stuck in my mind was by far the best material), including a surprisingly powerful moment that we’ll discuss later, but overall it is riddled with flaws, some surprisingly new to Disney, which is not a good sign. I listed it as my favourite ‘Classic Disney’ in our introductions, despite not having seen it for years. I shall certainly be taking more care with my careless questionnaire answers in future.

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I would like to add to the tragedy by shouting out to my wonderful sister Hannah, who, upon reading that it was my favourite classic, bought it for me on DVD. She is still wonderful, and it’s still an incredibly thoughtful gift, and I PROMISE to watch ALL THE EXTRAS. Even the singalongs (that are mostly speakalongs, surely?).

One of the most disheartening things is the way that the storytelling seems to have regressed by 20 years. After a decade of films with pretty strong narrative arcs from start to finish (even when not so well paced), we’re at another incredibly segmented film. You could shuffle around all but the opening 20 minutes and the closing ten minutes and not lose track of the through-narrative because, well, there isn’t one. Heck, the titular sword isn’t even in the story until the last five minutes. Each sequence is self-contained with virtually no consequences of what came before nor any set-up for what comes after. Curiously, the best moments of the film are entirely in those middle, interchangeable sequences, and so I’m not sure how you could restructure the film to a more coherent narrative without losing some of those… but the film sure doesn’t work as it is.

The main villain (if Madam Mim is supposed to be that – if she isn’t, why does she get the big battle sequence at the climax of the film?) isn’t mentioned outside of her ten minute arc; the longest running villain outside of that is the comedy wolf who unceremoniously disappears in a log floating down the river. It’s possible the villain is supposed to be Arthur’s foster brother Kay, or merely Arthur’s station in life, as the two unpleasant aspects of his life established at the start and resolved by the end. The problem with that is, neither are presented as particularly intimidating threats that Arthur either wants or needs to defeat. More to the point, Arthur doesn’t actually do anything to defeat them; he is made King by unearned lineage, not by having grown into a strong, worthy person.

This is our protagonist. 30 seconds from the end of the film. What's his victory, exactly?

This is our protagonist. 30 seconds from the end of the film. What’s his victory, exactly?

Anne: James asked me if I had some positive things to say about this film, and actually, I do!

So, The Sword in the Stone is not just based on Arthurian legend, but on the first third of T.H. White’s unbelievably good novel The Once and Future King. (The other two-thirds became the musical Camelot.) It’s been a while since I read it, but I loved it, and I think the Disney version gets a lot of things right…which may be why it doesn’t work so well. The source material isn’t a story with a beginning and an end, a good guy and a villain. It’s about Arthur’s initial education, when he’s been sent to live with Sir Ector and Kay (though why, I can’t remember…possibly to keep him safe, since Arthur is the product of a marriage between a daughter of Avalon and a Christian, and he’s basically the only person who CAN rule Britain…I may have read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s sexy feminist version a few too many times…). Merlin actually does turn him into a fish and a squirrel and a bird, and those are my favorite sequences because they feel the most true to the source material.

This movie could be re-titled Archimedes Does Not Approve.

This movie could be re-titled Archimedes Does Not Approve.

Anyway, I find myself willing to forgive some of the faults in the storytelling in this movie because it’s a pretty faithful adaptation of only part of a book, and I’m not so sure that part stands alone very well (though it was published independently before it became part of the longer novel). That said, where I think this movie shines is in the translation from page to screen of the tone of White’s novel. I so wish I had a copy with me here in Florida so that I could quote from it, but I’ll do my best from memory.

One of the things that makes White’s novel so great is that it’s not just a re-telling of Arthurian legend. It’s re-telling of Arthurian legend through the lens of the first half of the twentieth century. There are references to cricket (in relation to the jousting and games of medieval England), modern technologies, 20th century wars, and other things that have nothing to do with Arthur’s story. As I see it, The Once and Future King is to Arthurian legend what something like The French Lieutenant’s Woman is to the Victorian era, offering amusing commentary and comparisons on a bygone era. Of course, White has more leeway to talk about whatever he wants, since he’s commenting mostly on legend.

Back to the film, though. The question becomes, how do you create that kind of charmingly anachronistic ambiance onscreen? The answer: Merlin.

Back from Bermuda...wherever that is.

Back from Bermuda…wherever that is.

According to Wikipedia, White’s Merlin lives through time backwards, so he already knows that Arthur will become king; that’s why he goes about educating him. I don’t think he had that kind of time travel capability in the novel, but his relationship with the human timeline is clearly fluid. It’s not much of a stretch to give him the ability to jump ahead a couple thousand years so that he can tell Arthur about airplanes and clocks and television. Most of the anachronistic details are in the narration of White’s novel, rather than coming from the characters.

I think Disney’s Merlin is an utterly charming, intelligent creation, and the film goes dead in the scenes that don’t involve him (though luckily, most of them do!). His relationship with his talking owl Archimedes is hilarious and sometimes touching; we especially liked that the cantankerous owl stayed with Arthur when Merlin disappeared upon hearing that the boy was going to be Kay’s squire.

This film is drawn and animated in a similar style to 101 Dalmatians (though I think it could have benefited from some of the medieval designs from Sleeping Beauty), and Merlin’s cottage interior is lovingly rendered. There are a lot of anachronistic details in the background of each scene there–and sometimes in the foreground. I mean, people weren’t drinking tea in Arthur’s time in Britain–this is, after all, before the discovery of most of the rest of the world. Book-binding? Tobacco? Entomology? How about that telescope?

Galileo's head was on the block...

Galileo’s head was on the block…

Of course, none of the characters but Merlin and Archimedes (who disapproves) really appreciate the anachronistic stuff for what it is. Arthur is awed by the flying machine Merlin has, but he doesn’t dwell on the idea that people will fly one day, even when Merlin tells him he’s seen it. The anachronisms are for the audience–possibly mostly for the parents of the audience.

One thing I did NOT like about this film (okay, there were a few things I didn’t like, but I won’t wallow) was the battle with Madam Mim. Entertaining? Yes, very. Pointless? Yes, very. I appreciated the idea behind it–Madam Mim only turned herself into powerful or dangerous animals, while Merlin thought about what animal would best handle each situation, usually something small and agile.

A sssssnake, am I?

A sssssnake, am I?

It was cleverly animated, I’ll give it that. But I’ll take up an argument that is usually James’s purview: this scene is in the classic “boss battle” position in the film, but it doesn’t involve the character who is arguably the protagonist. In previous films I haven’t had a problem with it (Lady and the Tramp comes to mind especially), but the whole Madam Mim sequence felt tacked on so that the kids could have somebody to boo hiss. I can understand the reasoning behind it–the story has no villain, so what are we fighting against?–but I think it’s misguided and unnecessary. Funny, though. Very funny.

James: The Merlin/Mim battle is fun and imaginative, and could have been a fantastic showdown… if it mattered. Really, the stakes aren’t any higher than in the fish fight (that seemed like a sensible phrase before I typed it) or when chased by the wolf, except this time Arthur isn’t even involved. Or, if Merlin and Mim are supposed to be the protagonist and the antagonist of the film, then they’ve been very, very badly set up. If Mim was set up from the start as a credible threat to Arthur (or even just to Merlin), and if Arthur in some way helped Merlin to defeat Mim (either physically aiding or simply by suggesting the final form he takes) then the whole sequence would have some sort of bearing on the story. As it is it’s the final, most meandering detour on the way to Arthur finally getting the sword.

I don’t know if the film could be reworked to make Merlin the protagonist, but by God it should be. Merlin is the most charismatic character in the piece – with the most convincing English accent. Disney, you did so well with English actors in Mr Toad (Angus MacBadger aside), and you did a pretty good job in Dalmatians… where are all the Englishmen here? Some are unashamedly American – Arthur, Archimedes, Mim, and a bunch of citizens near the end – of which the only acceptable one is Archimedes (it’s a talking owl, who’s to say he wouldn’t have an American accent?). The other main characters in the film are the ‘cockney’ Kay (who sounds just awful – Dick Van Dyke may get a pass by comparison) and the RP Sir Ector and Sir Pellinore, both played by genuine Englishmen… and yet even Sir Ector sounds more American than Merlin for the majority of his dialogue.

Arthur is of course the biggest issue, astonishingly played by THREE Americans! Would it have been so hard to source one genuine English kid?

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Which, via that image, leads me to the animation. Anne is right that it’s a very similar style in theory to 101 Dalmatians; a rough, very handdrawn look. And yet, where Dalmatians looked stylistic, here it more often than not looks crude. Arthur’s eyes don’t even stay the same colour, for Pete’s sake! Certain sequences are better than others (the squirrel scene is very handsomely rendered), but too many scenes lack the beauty or style of previous Disney efforts, and seem content just to convey the events in the script.

In fact, the whole film seems just perfunctory. The events just sort of happen, without affecting anyone. The dialogue and jokes are sort of half written, with many coming across as forced (Merlin’s beard slapstick fails almost before it begins, and the long-suffering wolf is a pale and softened Wile E. Coyote). Once Arthur is King, Merlin returns and everything is just sort of made fine; there are no emotions in the final moments, no conflicts and no celebration. We’re at 79 minutes and Arthur’s the King, so the film stops. The most successful part of the film is the one that takes the characters and their emotions seriously, and actually ends on a very emotional beat.

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Because, wow. This scene. The two things I really remembered from the film, the reasons I had such fond memories of it, were Merlin and the squirrel scene. And I’m pleased to say I was very, very right about both of those. As I said earlier, this scene is probably the best animated in the picture, but it also has the most conflict in. We get a Manic Pixie Dream Squirrel for Arthur-squirrel, which is pretty much a Disney go-to by now, but the red squirrel rises above the love interests of Bambi and Bongo by being brave, passionate and, ultimately, rejected. We also get a more overtly comedic love interest for Merlin-squirrel, who I’ll just refer to as Squirrel Carruthers (if you laughed, you’re a G&S geek.).

I'm a miserable old man, and I've done it.

I’m a miserable old man, and I’ve done it.

The comedy in this sequence is great, but it’s the emotions that sell it, because the characters are so well defined here. Red Squirrel is enamoured, Squirrel Carruthers is lusty, Arthur is confused and helpless, and Merlin is terrified. Add in the wolf trying to eat them all and you have a scene with personal and physical danger for everyone involved. All of the characters go through a variety of emotions, particularly the Red Squirrel. She becomes one of the best characters in the film by a) being committed to something and b) suffering. She goes through more emotions and changes in 8 minutes than Arthur does in the entire film. She also shows more courage than him, single handedly taking on a wolf to save Arthur (making her perhaps the most proactive female character in a Disney film yet – thoughts?). And then when she finds out her crush is a human, Red Squirrel isn’t terrified like Squirrel Carruthers, she is confused and heartbroken. And, you know what? So was I.

Excuse me, I think there’s some dust in my eye…

Anne: Aww. You can console yourself with having come up with Squirrel Carruthers. Tush in thy teeth, OLD MAN!

I think you’re probably right about Red Squirrel being the most proactive female character so far, but I’m not sure it matters. Her actions would have been admirably selfless and brave whether she was male or female–Archimedes does something similar earlier in the film trying to save Arthur from the giant fish. Maybe this is just me wishing that it didn’t need to be pointed out and applauded every time Disney writes a strong-willed, courageous woman. (OH, what about Tinkerbell? She risks her own life to rescue Peter Pan, doesn’t she? Or am I thinking of the stage version…hmmm.)

On a different subject, this is the first Disney film to feature the songs of the Sherman Brothers, which to my mind indicates a pretty significant boost in quality. Unlike many of the previous Disney films, the songs in The Sword in the Stone are tailored to the action; it feels like they had a storyboard and said to the Sherman Brothers, okay, this is the part when Arthur learns a lesson about love. The villain is called Madam Mim, write her a song. Even so, they’re not quite as film-specific as the songs will become in Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks later on. I think before I saw this movie if you had played me “That’s What Makes the World Go Round” or “A Most Befuddling Thing,” I might have been able to tell you that they were written by the Sherman Brothers, or at least hazard a guess, but I probably couldn’t have told you which film. (“Higitus Figitus” and “Mad Madam Mim” being the exceptions, of course. But even “Higitus Figitus” isn’t as good as the Substitutiary Locomotion song from Bedknobs!)

Also, quickly before we wrap this up, there were a lot of visual moments in this movie that made me think of future Disney films, especially The Little Mermaid during the scene in the moat (when the giant scary fish got his nose stuck in the chain link, all I could think of was Flounder escaping the shark in a similar way). And Merlin himself brings to mind the Genie from Aladdin–a magical presence of bygone days who nonetheless makes contemporary references. When Merlin flew back in from Bermuda, I was reminded of the bit right at the end when Aladdin grants the Genie his freedom and he blasts off to Disneyworld.

I think The Sword in the Stone suffers from a bit too much cleverness–to the point that some of what Merlin was talking about went over MY head–muddled plotting and what sometimes looks like very hasty animation. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hated it, or even disliked it (after all, I was mostly entertained!), but the technical aspects just don’t add up to much and I don’t think I’ll bother revisiting this one in the future. 4/10.

James: It’s certainly got the seeds of some great moments in it, which lead to some wonderful sequences further down the line for Disney. It also has a couple of great sequences and a delightful co-lead… but the film is a mess. I’ll also give it 4/10. The animation, the music, the characters, nothing works quite as well as it should, and we know Disney can do better.

Speaking of, the wind’s in the East…

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No dog’s better than Dad.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1960)

Anne: And now we come to a movie for which I have actually read the source material…which will have no bearing on my review of the film adaptation since I remember nothing except the author’s name. (Besides, if we’re talking Dodie Smith books, wouldn’t everyone rather have I Capture the Castle?)

Anyway. 101 Dalmatians is a splendid, sophisticated movie that is just jam-packed with interesting animation, exciting action, and quirky well-rounded characters. The style of animation couldn’t be any further from Sleeping Beauty, and yet both films give an impression of moving artwork. In the earlier film, it was 14th-century tapestries, and in this film, it’s book illustrations–hardly surprising given that children’s book author and illustrator Bill Peet was at the helm (I feel like his books played a big role in my childhood, but the only one that’s sounding familiar upon further research is Chester the Worldly Pig). The sketch-like quality of the animation gives every frame a lot of texture and movement.

I love the children’s-book-illustration version of London that houses the Radcliffes and their pets (or is it the other way around–that is, the Pongos and their pets?). A world in which struggling songwriters live in adorably quirky flats with lots of spare brass instruments lying around, and people really do look like their animals.

And it’s a world in which when Scotland Yard and all the other human police services fail to track down two incredibly bumbling thugs with a truckload of puppies, the dog population implements the Twilight Bark, sending messages all the way out to the country. As in Lady and the Tramp, we don’t just see well-to-do city dogs–we see farm dogs and dogs belonging to grocers in the suburbs. Once again, the voicing of the canine characters is inspired; I particularly liked the collie and of course, the Colonel, voiced by our old friend J. Pat O’Malley.

15 spotted puddles stolen? Ridiculous.

The dogs (and their sidekicks–Lucy the Duck, a resourceful cat named Colonel Tibbs, a stable full of generous cows, to name a few) look out for each other and join forces to get the Pongo family plus 84 other Dalmatians back to London. There aren’t any villainous animals in this story; the dog world is apparently one in which you can count on and trust just about anyone.

The same can definitely not be said for the human world. Has there ever been a more despicable villain than Cruella De Vil? I mean, think about it. All the villains do pretty evil things, but Cruella De Vil wants to KILL PUPPIES and MAKE COATS OUT OF THEM.

NO SPOTS! NO SPOTS AT ALL!

I have to wonder if Cruella was markedly different as a girl, otherwise what on earth drew Anita to this character in the first place? We’re told that she’s Anita’s old school friend, but I can hardly imagine quiet, bookish Anita hanging out with that monster, can you?

It’s not really worth contemplating too much, since the point is that she’s evil now. Roger writes a song about how creepy she is, and she lives up to every word. We mostly see her lying around in her dressing gown or furs and smoking. Smoking a lot. Could a Disney movie be made now with that kind much smoking? Probably not.

Okay, I’m rambling a little now, so I’ll turn it over to James.

James: The animation is mostly very fun: definitely not as downright beautiful as Sleeping Beauty, but often just as graceful, within an entirely different style. The storybook-like illustrations allow for cheaper artwork, but animated at a high enough rate and with enough flare to make for a fascinating combination of smoothness and roughness. Furthermore, the easier animation style means that the foreground more often matches the background than in previous films. For about the first time in a Disney film, it’s hard to tell what’s static and what’s going to move, because it all blends so well together. As Anne said, it’s like the pictures in a children’s book have come to life.

And yet, it’s not flawless. The mouths often don’t match the dialogue as well as they have in the past, and when the animation changes perspective there’s sometimes a severe incongruity between images. For example this:

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is immediately followed by this:

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This is the sharpest and quickest contrast in the film, but there’s inconsistency elsewhere through the film as to how storybook and how cartoony it’s supposed to look. The cows in particular look much more like typical Disney cartoon characters than the others, and some of the dogs are lifted straight from Lady and the Tramp! Still, the Dalmatians all move pretty consistently, as do the human characters. You believe the leads as book characters, and that’s the important thing. Cruella in particular has a fabulous design and movement; I love how she’s kind of thin and frail, only built up to an intimidating shape by the enormous coat she wears.

Much as with Maleficent, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding Cruella and her motivations when you start thinking about it. Villains like this surely don’t start out fully formed, they have to become that way, right? I suppose that’s why after the upcoming Maleficent we’ll be getting a live action Cruella movie (I personally can’t wait until we get a live action Ratigan origin story.)

Not you though, Ms Close. Sorry.

But, as Anne said, she’s evil now. And a particular kind of evil, not one that takes enjoyment in suffering but one that has no consideration for such basic human concepts as compassion and, you know, NOT KILLING PUPPIES. More a sociopath than a maniac, but still detestable in her current form. Could one possibly reason with her and try to convince her that what she’s doing is wrong? At least Jasper and Horace seem to understand their crimes, but Cruella just doesn’t care. That’s a fabulous change to the usual villain rota, even the more comedic ones (like Hook).

Oh, and she is comedic. Cruella is a wonderful character, both funny and a real threat to our protagonists. Captain Hook didn’t become genuinely threatening until the end of Peter Pan, but through Pongo and Perdita’s early established fear we are able to recognise the danger the puppies are in by Cruella simply existing. She can steal the puppies, and she can and will kill them.

She’s part of large ensemble of wonderfully drawn characters. The first half of the film establishes the Pongos and the Radcliffes as eminently compatible yet distinct people (and dogs). The courtship as it plays out makes perfect sense for all four characters, and culminates at the ten minute mark with an oh so adorable (yet earned) double wedding. Cruella and her henchmen are easily understood and well presented, and great fun to watch to boot. However, the film’s true strength lies in the wealth of characters Pongo and Perdita meet on their rescue mission. Each dog (and cat) is vivid and distinct, and very, very funny. So much effort has gone into making the dog society a vibrant world filled with real characters with unique identities. For example, at the 51 second mark:

Danny and Scottie are only in the film for a minute (and Danny is in it again for another minute later in the film), but they are so real, and so much fun. I could watch an entire film about those two, and there’s mileage in each of the characters we see briefly along the Twilight Bark. A mark of the excellent world building is Prissy, the artist’s look-alike-dog, who is established in the first scene, returns in the park scene, and then eagerly takes her part in the barking chain when she’s needed (much to her owner’s chagrin). This really feels like a world in which every dog plays their part, in which every character matters.

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Anne: Oh, I don’t think they used the dogs from Lady and the Tramp because they couldn’t or didn’t have the time or money to come up with new dogs. It seems more like an homage to the earlier film to me. Especially since they didn’t use just any dogs, they used Jock, Peg and the bulldog, all of whom have significant screen-time and would be recognized by any Lady and the Tramp fan. (I gasped when I saw Peg in the shop window. That is one distinctive dog!)

I think this is the first film we’ve watched where I’ve got something substantive to say about the credit sequence (other than, wow, this song is AWFUL…*coughIchabodcoughcough*). It’s funny, whimsical and jazzy, and it hearkens back to the package films where a single shape or visual theme was animated to the tune of an existing piece of music. In this case, it’s the dalmatian spot, which gets plopped all over the screen and manipulated, and even turned into unexpected images, like this one:

Maybe Roger should write his music this way...

Maybe Roger should write his music this way…

The abstract shapes, upbeat jazzy soundtrack and even sound effects (notably the typewriter, and the sort of mechanical scene-changing sounds) all serve to place us squarely in a contemporary setting–perhaps not the exact present, but a world with telephones and word processing and fast cars. It occurs to me that we haven’t seen a Disney movie set in the present…well, EVER…with the possible exception of “All the Cats Join In” and one or two other segments in the musical package films. I like that the filmmakers took this credit sequence as an opportunity to engage the audience before the action even started; we weren’t sure if it was actually longer than previous Disney credits, or if it just felt longer (in the best sense) because we wanted to see what the animators would come up with next.

Ummm…where to go next…oh! I did want to mention how much I loved the art direction in this film. Okay, yes, I know there wouldn’t be an art director on an animated film–they don’t need to go around finding all the period artifacts and dressing the set with appropriate props–but some of the interiors were so marvelously specific. Like this shot of Roger’s bachelor pad:

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And then of course when Roger and Anita get married, all of that tumult gets smushed into one little room.

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I didn’t want to clog this up with too many images, but there’s also a moment just after Horace and Jasper leave the house with the puppies and Nanny is shouting out the attic window–and next to her in the dark you can see a set of golf clubs. Because of course that’s where the golf clubs would be kept.

I was also struck by the specificity of Cruella De Vil’s boudoir. These interiors tell us so much about the characters, and the little details give them an incredible depth. And they’re all things that aren’t referred to explicitly or even mentioned out loud in dialogue. I mean, look at that bowl of cigarette butts, the uncorked bottles on the nightstand, the stockings and shoes strewn everywhere. The painting on the wall is crooked. Even if we didn’t know from her actions that Cruella was reckless and impulsive (well, I guess at this point in the film we don’t know the half of it yet!), we could read it in the state of her bedroom.

Granted, I don't do much better myself at keeping my room clean...

Granted, I don’t do much better myself at keeping my room clean…

There was something to notice in every scene. We loved the fact that after Cruella’s first entrance, Pongo and Perdita had an important conversation under a cabinet–because dogs can do that. (Though I seem to recall spending a lot of time playing board games under the dining room table at a friend’s house growing up…but never never mind.) In fact, I think I may have to watch the movie again and just pay attention to the interiors and what’s in them.

James: I’m going to take a moment now to talk about the accents. First, it’s nice that it’s still set in London. Disney could have transposed the entire story to, say, New York (I’ve been watching a lot of Elementary lately) without fundamentally changing the characters or the story. It would have been more relatable to the primary American audience, and it would have been easier to cast the Disney regulars. Even if they hadn’t transposed it geographically, they could still have made the dogs American; only the humans would need to sound English for the story to be realistic, dogs speak Dog anyway. So it’s nice that it’s firmly based in London, with the story sprawling our damp little island, and the network of dogs is allowed to feel like it’s nationwide.

However, those accents… Okay, so most of the main ones are fine. The Radcliffes (I still want to call them the Dearlys, as per the original!) and Perdita all sound very good (all natural English accents). Betty Lou Gerson is American, but plays Cruella with a very heightened Posh English accent, which matches her heightened, fashion obsessed persona. However, Pongo is Australian. At times more so than others, but it’s very definitely there. The puppies especially sound almost uniformly American, a result I presume of casting children within reasonable distance of the California studios. It’s a shame, though, that the studio were able to film whole pictures in the UK yet couldn’t set up a recording studio over here to capture half a dozen children’s voices.

It’s also a pity that, for a story featuring characters across the country, the accents are so limited. There’s all sorts of accents they could have thrown into this story (where’s Cyril Proudbottom when you need him?), but they’re almost all RP or Cockney. There’s an amazing wealth of accents in our tiny island, some deep, some beautiful, and pretty much all hilarious. To prove it, here’s Patrick Stewart:

Actually, that proves very little. But who doesn’t love Patrick Stewart?

One final criticism: some of this film is downright daft. The scene where Lucky has ‘died’ and is resuscitated is ridiculous and, in the grand scheme of things, unnecessary (why does he need to be lucky anyway?). That the henchmen know about the hole in the wall through which animals can escape and don’t cover it up is insane (even for idiot henchmen). There’s also no reason for Cruella to have kept the dogs alive this long at all; why not kill them as soon as she gets them? Would the Radcliffes really be that happy to find themselves having to support 101 dogs? How exactly does defeating Cruella once stop her from kidnapping them again, or just killing other dogs? Are dalmatians covered in soot really indistinguishable from labradors? How did Roger sell a song about a real woman referring to her as a devil and NOT get sued for libel? And in the film’s crowning moment of silliness, there is a cake that exists solely for this purpose:

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This film is ridiculous. But, goshdarnit, I loved it. It’s funny. It’s lively. It’s energetic. It’s packed. It is an imperfect film but a real delight. It’s absolutely packed with humour from almost all characters, starting with the subtle humour of Pongo’s view of humans (and by extension the outlook of all dogs) and moving through Cruella’s manic insensitivity and Roger’s joyous teasing to the perfect mismatching of all the dogs our protagonists meet. There’s some fabulously funny lines too, particularly from Captain and Sgt. Tibbs. A particular favourite of mine was the mistranslation of the Twilight Bark: ’15 spotted puddles stolen? Oh, balderdash.’ ‘Better double check it, Colonel.’

(There’s also some delightful humour for the adults, such as when Anita asks about the puppies ‘Well where did they all come from?’, and Roger replies ‘Oh, Pongo, you old rascal!’. Not a gag for the kids.)

It's been like two days. How bad is Roger's biology knowledge?

It’s been like two days. How bad is Roger’s biology knowledge?

Anne: I think Roger and Anita are the only two people in the world who would be thrilled to move to the country and buy a Dalmatian Plantation (see what I did there?) with their earnings from the sale of “Cruella De Vil.” Good thing they found one another, eh?

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Most people wouldn’t even consider keeping all fifteen of the original puppies. But then, the world of 101 Dalmatians is a world in which dogs have the same connection to their children as humans do, and separating Pongo and Perdita from any of their puppies would be a monstrous, unthinkable atrocity. Or maybe that’s just how Roger and Anita roll, and anybody else would consider that a little nuts. Either way, I’m not too fussed about logic.

You know, I don’t think we’re ever going to see a perfect film, but 101 Dalmatians comes pretty darn close for me. I want to live in the sketchbook alternate-reality Disney imagination version of London and have tea with the Radcliffes and their dogs and their dogs’s friends–and that’s the highest praise I can give. 9/10.

James: This film was an absolute treat (treat! ha!), full of real humour and real heart. The ridiculous elements of the plot don’t matter because the world is so much fun that you can just buy it. The characters are vivid and the interactions are delightful. The pacing is much better than, say, Sleeping Beauty, although it could still be tightened a bit in the first half. I’m tempted to deduct half a point for the accents… but to heck with it. 9/10.

Besides, without this film we probably wouldn’t have had The Simpsons: Two Dozen and One Greyhounds:

Got to give it credit for that.

Anne: Next on our list is The Sword in the Stone. Since the last time I saw this movie, I read and loved The Once and Future King, so it will be interesting to revisit it!

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