The One Hundred and One Dalmatians

I grew up watching the Disney film based on this book.  Now, I certainly didn't watch it as much as I did The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, but I did enjoy it very much, and I think that if I were to watch it today, I'd still enjoy it.  It has quite a few more "adult" themes in it, to wit: the idea of skinning puppies for coats, a woman who's completely mad and named de Vil, and the line when she howls, "[Kill them] anyway you like!  Poison them!  Drown them!  Bash them in the head!  You got any chloroform?" One Hundred and One Dalmatians

However, in Dodie Smith's original book, The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Cruella really isn't present much.  Her specter hovers over the escaping dogs, and they dread hearing her car horn (described as the loudest horn in all England!), but the book is really more about the hardships that parents bear for children--even children not their own.

Now, if you've seen the movie before reading the book, as I think many people have, there's a bit to clear up.  In the film, the married canine couple is Pongo and Perdita.  In the book, it's Pongo and Missis (Pongo).  After having so many puppies (15!), the Dearlys and the veterinarian find a sort of nursemaid dog to help feed the puppies.  Poor Missis only has so much milk, the dear.  When Mrs. Dearly is out driving, she finds a half-starved, liver-spotted Dalmatian who recently had puppies, but whose puppies were taken away from her.  She was also forcibly separated from her husband, Prince. Mrs. Dearly names this dog Perdita, and she becomes one of the family.  Pongo and Missis regard her as a sort of younger sister, and there's no weirdness at all of having two mom dogs raise the puppies, since dogs are practical creatures.

Indeed, much of the charm of the book comes from Dodie Smith's understanding of the animal world.  She points out that humans are quite mistaken in calling themselves the owners--it is the dog who owns the human, and the human is the dog's "pet."  Pongo and Missis take Mr. and Mrs. Dearly for a walk (NOT the other way around, if you please).  The dogs regard their pets as simple creatures, but with fondness.  Everyone loves each other very much, and it's a fantastic story for animal lovers all the way around.  We've got dogs, cats, and horses who help Pongo and Missis rescue their puppies (and many more, too!).

I also loved how Dodie Smith portrayed cats.  Often, the trope is to set dogs and cats against one another.  Here, Sergeant Tib (who in the film is a male orange tabby, but in the book is a sleek ladycat named Pussy Willow), does her darndest to help the frantic parents, and in the climactic attack on Cruella de Vil's house, Cruella's poor, set upon Persian cat (who's had forty-four of her kittens drowned by Cruella!) romps with the dogs in destroying everything Cruella holds dear. She subsequently adopts the Dearlys, and becomes lovable and sweet, for "kindness makes kind cats" (184).

The only very small quibble I have with the book is Smith's portrayal of Missis, who is a bit dim, and not much like the smart Perdita of the film.  Missis isn't as smart as her husband, and enjoys being told how pretty she is.  Perdita (of the book) is much more sensible.  So, I suppose it's not a gender thing, but a character choice.

The book and the film are really perfect companions, as Smith felt that Disney actually improved upon her work (unlike what Disney did to poor Mary Poppins), and the two together make for one dog-filled romp through the happiness of the human-animal relationship.

Highly, highly recommended.  This would also make a lovely read-aloud to little ones.

Image courtesy of Disney Wikia.


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