Sunday, May 04, 2008

101 Dalmatians: Part 6A

This sequence serves to introduce the puppies as individuals, though only four of them get named. Patch, Lucky, Roly and Penny get bits of business to separate them out of the pack.

The dogs are just like the audience for this film: parents and children together watching entertainment on a screen. The children are emotionally involved with what they're watching while the parents are somewhat jaded. What's most important is the easy relationship between the parents and children, content to spend time together and enjoy each other's company. The comedy is gentle, but based on observation of real family interaction.

What's on TV is a satire of 1950's fare. Westerns dominated TV in the '50s, as did old B westerns and serials. Given the cliffhanger ending of the Thunderbolt episode, it suggests that the footage was from an old serial. Thunderbolt himself is based on Rin Tin Tin, an actual dog brought home from Europe by an American soldier in World War I who went on to be a very popular Warner Bros. star in the 1920s. In the 1950s, Rin Tin Tin was a TV series (not starring the original dog), as was Lassie, both shows that the 1961 audience for 101 Dalmatians would have been familiar with.

This sequence is an example of why I object to the mystique of the nine old men. Eric Larson is the only one of the nine present in this sequence and he gets several personality close-ups. Hal King does about as much footage as Larson, yet King is a non-entity in terms of Disney history. King started at the studio in 1936 and animated on every feature from The Three Caballeros (1945) to Robin Hood (1973), yet who has heard of him? A quick scan of my bookshelf reveals that he animated some of Michael in Peter Pan and worked on the soccer game in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but that's not a lot of recognition for a 37 year career at Disney.

I see nothing about King's work in this sequence to rate it any less highly than Larson's. Larson does some great work on scenes with Patch, but they're no better than King's scenes with Roly. The animators' work blends together without a problem and King gets some nice close-ups with Pepper (named only in the draft, not on screen), sitting on Pongo's head in shots 6, 24, 32 and 42. King captures the fleshy nature of dogs with the distortion in Pongo's brows and from an acting standpoint shows how involved Pepper is with the TV show while Pongo is clearly taking more pleasure from his children's reactions than he is to the show itself.

Art Stevens and Julius Svendsen do the animation on the TV. It's meant to be melodramatically over the top and they succeed in hitting the right tone. I assume that one of them did the Kanine Krunchies commercial, a parody of the UPA-style of commercials of the time. While it's a parody, it's better animated than many '50s commercials.

This sequence serves to create identification between the family on screen and the families in the audience. The quietness of this sequence serves as a rest between the excitement of the puppies being born and the kidnapping to follow. Once the kidnapping occurs, the peace that this sequence represents will be shattered until the film's finale.


Pete Emslie said...

It wasn't until after many viewings of this film that I noticed the visual gag of the horseshoe pattern of spots on the back of the pup named Lucky. One could also assume that this is likely the pup that Roger was able to revive at birth.

The fact that only a handful of pups are referred to by name and given some individual personality is a wise choice, in my opinion. To strive for such individuality in all fifteen would have taken too much screen time and been lost on the audience. It's also occurred to me that Disney did much the same thing in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", in that only two of the Dwarfs, Grumpy and Dopey, are given any significant amount of screen time to establish their personalities, whereas the others are essentially one note characters, individualized by quick visual and verbal gags that run throughout the picture. The interesting thing to me is how we the audience think we know these characters better than we do, considering how little footage is allotted to Happy, Sleepy, etc. Somehow, I think Disney successfully pulled off this same feat in "101 Dalmatians".

Mark Mayerson said...

That horseshoe pattern is explicitly noted in Dodie Smith's novel. It's interesting that the artists went along with it but never called attention to it.

If naming the seven dwarfs is a perennial trivia question, think how tough naming the 15 dalmatian puppies would be.

Anonymous said...


You're right that brilliant animators like Hal King are not given the recognition they deserve in the standard books and articles , but I have personally heard many industry veterans like Dale Baer and Don Bluth highly praise the work of Hal King. Animators like Hal King, Eric Cleworth , Cliff Nordberg, John Sibley, are well respected among some in the animation community , but it is too bad that they haven't received as much public recognition as their work deserves . People like you and Hans Perk and Michael Sporn are changing that . Bravo.

Floyd Norman said...

Hear! Hear! Thanks all of you for speaking out on behalf of Disney's unsung heros.

I worked with guys like Hal King, Cliff Nordberg and John Sibley. They were awesome animators and, dare I say it -- just as talented as the "Nine."

As much as I love the Disney studio, they were no less political than anyplace else.

Thad said...

Floyd, it would be wonderful to hear of your memories of those forgotten animators on your blog. I don't think John Sibley was ever interviewed.

Liimlsan said...

I find that generally, Bill Peet's story work tends to have the common trap of all one-man story teams, in that there's not a lot of outside in-team input on how the personalities are revealed.
(The fan theory fills the holes...for example, the fan theory is that Anita owes loan debt to Cruella's old-money family, and Cruella feels she has Anita's power now...)

I'm thinking that Bill's script is all the more atmospheric and timely, fitting in with the abnegating early 60s metropolitan aesthetic, by the fact that he reacts coldly and openly to the characters. The characters don't need an arc; although I do think making Pongo so strong at the beginning hurts his arc...he needs the challege of getting the kids back to return from Captain Happy Go Lucky Dumbfuck.

Hal King was a supervising animator on Lady and the Tramp; handling some shots of Jock and about a third of Lady's total screentime (!!); probably the most underpublicized animator in Disney History (aside from Duncan Marjoribanks).
Total things you may have known:

*the "Largo Al Factotum" scene from 'The whale who wanted to sing at the met'
*Mrs. Opossum in 'Song of the South'
*The female mice in Cinderella and the scene of the Duke dropping the slipper (at age 7 I saw this scene and rewound the tape and watched it again for like an hour - it's amazing)
*About half of John and Michael Darling (Lounsberry did parts of John, it's very visible)
*Lady and the Tramp: Lady looking through the window, the scene where Jock and Lady talk about Trust’s secret lack of smell, Lady looking at the baby for the first time, Lady scolding Tramp after discovering his past ways with women (one of my favorite animated scenes of all time - that snap she gives him!), and Lady trying to tell the Darlings about the rat.
*The first scene of the Three Good Fairies
*This scene
*The wolf pack meeting in The Jungle book

He lasted as a character animator until Robin Hood, when he was the first old animator to leave the studio due to health issues.

Mentored Dale Baer and Ted Kierscey.