Disney Cashes in (Again) on a Classic

Brilliant and flamboyant, '101 Dalmations' is a summer movie success

NOTHING in the entertainment world generates more impressive or charming statistics than a feature-length cartoon from Walt Disney Pictures, still the world's premier studio for artful animations. Consider a few from "101 Dalmations," reissued this summer for a 30th-anniversary run:* Three years in the making, it was drawn by more than 150 studio artists and directed by three Disney veterans. * About 800 gallons of paint, weighing in at almost five tons, were used to color the film. The studio estimates that nearly 1,000 different shades appear on the screen. * Artists sharpened and wore down more than 1.2 million pencils while dashing off drawings for the film. * Precisely 6,469,952 spots appear on the bodies of the canine characters, who appear in precisely 113,760 celluloid frames. Those are pretty imposing numbers, but no more imposing than the box-office figures the movie is racking up during its latest release. Its gross reportedly approached $42 million a little over three weeks after its July 12 opening, leading to predictions that the picture could reach $60 million by summer's end - an uncommon achievement for any movie, and way above the animated-film record set by the 1938 classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." This clearly illustrates the show-biz wisdom behind Disney's policy of reissuing its major films at approximately seven-year intervals - this is the fourth go-round for "Dalmations" since its 1961 debut - in hopes of captivating each new generation of children, as well as parents who recall Disney hits from their own younger days. It's fair to speculate that this year's "Dalmations" revival is being further enhanced by the generally lackluster quality of most recent releases, and by the distinctly unchildlike nature of current successes like "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and its ilk. Not that "101 Dalmations" lacks drama, adventure, and even a vivid portrait of human nature at its most dastardly. The villain of the story, aptly named Cruella De Vil, is one of the most ingeniously conceived characters in any Disney film - chilling every spectator with her heartless scheme of dognapping 101 pooches and making them into a fur coat, yet carrying out her nefarious doings with such flamboyant craziness that even younger viewers seem entranced rather than frightened when she's on screen. Br illiantly drawn by the Disney artists and marvelously voice-acted by Betty Lou Gerson - whose credits include the narration of "Cinderella" back in 1950 - she stands with the great cartoon characters of all time. And she has the niftiest automobile, the destruction of which marks her well-deserved punishment at the climax of the tale. To celebrate the unforgettable Cruella is not to slight the characters who join her, however, from dalmations Pongo and Perdita to a whole brigade of supporting animals including Sergeant Tibbs the cat and Lucy the goose, and of course Horace and Jaspar, the ridiculous burglars of the story. They and their imaginatively designed English surroundings proved that Disney could devise a contemporary tale every bit as convincing and entertaining as the fairy-tale fantasies for which the studio was famous in earlier years. Coming next from the Disney magicians: "Beauty and the Beast," due in November, is a time-tested story fleshed out with superb animation and six new songs from Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who provided music for "The Little Mermaid" two years ago. And then the expected video release of "101 Dalmations" should boost its popularity even higher than it is now.

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