101 Dalmatians, one of Disney’s most beloved animal adventures, was released on January 25, 1961. The 17th entry into Disney’s Animated Classics series, the film was adapted from Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel of the same name and achieved the commercial success necessary for Disney to bounce back from the setbacks that Sleeping Beauty created just two years previously.
The story follows Roger Radcliffe and his dog, Pongo; Pongo becomes bored with living as a bachelor and drags Roger towards another human-dalmatian pair, Anita and Perdita. Roger and Anita get married, while Pongo and Perdita have a litter of 15 pups. Cruella De Vil, Anita's wealthy former classmate, discovers the puppies and offers to buy the whole litter – upon being declined, she hires a couple of henchmen to steal them.
The puppies are discovered in Cruella’s estate, along with many other puppies, and word gets back to Pongo and Perdita that they’re to be made into fur coats for Cruella. With the help from other dogs, they’re able to rescue the pups from certain doom and head back to London, and they manage to make a fool out of Cruella and her goons along the way. Once back home, Roger and Anita end up with 84 extra puppies, though they decide to keep all of them, using money from Roger's hit new song (about Cruella, of course) to buy a place out in the country.
In regards to production, Walt Disney picked up the rights to the original book just a year after it was released, and very few changes were made in the book-to-film scriptwriting process. Animation-wise, costs were kept down through the usage of Xerox photography, which helped eliminate the inking process in order to save time (and money). The biggest benefit of Xerox beyond that was helping to animate the spots on the dogs themselves, of which there were more than six million.
101 Dalmatians ended up being the 10th highest grossing film the year it was released, and also achieved wide critical acclaim. It was reissued in theaters in ’69, ’79, ’85, and ’91, and was adapted into a live-action film of the same name in 1996. The live-action version featured Glenn Close as Cruella, however, none of the dogs talked as they did in the original version.