Great shows: 101 Dalmatians

A fan's viewpoint on 101 Dalmatians: the Series
September 01, 2008
I am very sure that everyone who grew up during the late 1980s/early 1990s remembers watching Disney's weekday programming block titled "The Disney Afternoon". Beginning in 1990, it would run an overall length of two hours of four different half-hour original Disney animated series. This block would go on to continue for about seven seasons. However, back in 1996, the same year Disney had bought out ABC, the Disney Afternoon itself was starting to wear out its welcome. By 1997, the Disney Afternoon name was dropped, and with it, it went from being two hours long to just one hour and a half.

One series in particular that seemed to mark the end of "The Disney Afternoon", and the beginning of a breath of fresh air with Disney's "One Saturday Morning" was one of their movie-based cartoons about a successful live-action remake of an animated classic. This series is known as...

This show was made to follow in the success of the 1996 live-action remake of Disney's 1961 original animated movie "101 Dalmatians". To tell the truth, I grew up with the original animated movie since 1991 and I really liked it very much. I did see the 1996 remake theatrically and that movie was also really cool. I was a bit shaky when I heard Disney was plotting to make an animated TV show out of a pair of movies I remembered so fondly. Many movie-based cartoons have an extreme variance in terms of quality ("Aladdin" was not exactly one of their best shows), but in the end, "101 Dalmatians: the Series" turns out to be one of Disney's best movie-based cartoons, to the point it's actually better than the movies.

When Disney wasn't trying to mutate their sponsored hockey team into a hokey group of intergalactic crimefighters, drown a classic Nicktoon in sugar or gangstify Donald Duck and his nephews...

...they were telling competent, good-natured stories about the lives of the Dearly family.

The basis behind "101 Dalmatians: the Series" involves the Dearlys--Roger, Anita, Nanny, Pongo, Perdita and the 99 puppies--moving onto General Smeddly's Farm. With much more space to roam around in, there will of course be some brave adventures to exploit. However, while in the process, the Dearlys now lived next door to Anita's devious, scheming boss Cruella DeVil, who is plotting to find a means of usurping the farm from the family and force them out into the streets. Some elements are ported over from the original animated movie (Pongo and Perdita), and others from the live-action remake (Roger as a video game designer, Cruella being Anita's boss).

The show itself seems a little 'different' from the movies, but the principal reason behind these changes is the writers went to the source of the story's origin--Dodie Smith's book--for inspiration.

Now, as the movies might have suggested, you might think the show itself would be set in England, and it would be about Pongo and Perdita. However, in the series, it's set in the United States, and while still appealing to multiple age groups, the focus is indeed different in the sense of going younger. Four specific characters have the spotlight--Lucky, Cadpig, Rolly and Spot.

Many times they would clash due to their vastly different personalities...

...but they also proved themselves to be a very strong team with a good sense of chemistry.

The first three are among the original 15 puppies of Pongo and Perdita, and Spot...well, let's go and describe the principal characters.

Lucky is the leader of this mismatched quartet. One of the eldest of the original 15 and appeared in both movies, he has a much more vibrant personality in this show than he previously did in the other Disney mediums. In a sense, his description on this show is much more like the Dodie Smith character. He likes being brave and loyal and aspires to be like his TV hero Thunderbolt. Because he likes being adventurous and rebellious, it can get him (and his teammates) in trouble more times than he would probably like to admit. Damage that is done is ultimately fixable though; and because he has access to a wide variety of quick thinking and logic, he can prove to be a loyal and faithful ally in the correct circumstances.

Cadpig is a character introduced through the series. She was originally introduced in Dodie Smith's book, but her character was never credited in any official Disney medium until now. Remember how one of the puppies originally died in childbirth, but Roger wound up reviving it? Well, that role was originally the role given to Cadpig. She is the runt of the litter, and the lastborn child. Amongst the characters, she is a serious fan-favorite, with her unique New-Agey personality and sarcastically biting sense of humor. Cadpig has proven herself to be extremely knowledgable, with a wide list of metaphysical metaphors that some farm residents think is a bit out of whack. She's a little sweetheart though and everyone seems to love her.

Rolly is another character adapted from the original Disney animated feature as a main character. He is a gourmand and nothing will grab his attention to a stronger degree than an all-you-eat buffet. He's a glutton and a dufus, and his personality fits in very much with a typical 'middle child' who longs to be excepted and doesn't like being reminded of being fat. He's very smart about food and his sense of smell, while not perfect, is a strong feature. He is a funny character, but he tends to work better as a secondary participant than a major focus. His aspirations will go as far as his gut will take him, and while he can be easily deceived, he's still amiable and is willing to go to far lengths to make his friends happy.

Rounding out the main four is Spot. She is a completely new character to the show, having not appeared anywhere else. Spot is a spotted chicken who longs to be a dog. Her motivation might be because she spends so much time with the other three and feels like a dog in a chicken's body. Spot might have the most common sense in the group and many times serves as comedy relief, but she is many times written off as the least relevant of the main four. Rolly might have some deficiencies in terms of character depth and liveliness, and Spot can seem to try to counter that but she is still considered by fans as their least favorite. I don't hate Spot, but she just isn't meant to be a stand-alone character and it shows.

The series' primary villainess is Cruella DeVil, who retains her role from the live-action movie as Anita's boss and is cast as the Dearlys' next-door neighbor. She loathes the fact they are now her neighbors and together with her fumbling henchmen Jasper and Horace Baddun, her grunting pet ferret Scorch and her vain and snobby Afghan hound Vendella, they are constantly plotting to find anything, from a loophole in the Dearlys' contract to blackmail, in an attempt to take the farm from them.

Keeping in line with the 1990s theme of trying to use kinder and more gentle themes, Cruella is certainly intimidating, but still maintains a sense of humor.

Many episodes were about the Main Pups attempting to keep Cruella from taking the farm, but it was not limited to just that storyline. Others were about the Pups trying to have fun, aiding others in their time of need, finding love, etc. Some had them learning small life lessons, such as tolerance, the value of imagination, overcoming a personal problem, trying new things, being responsible, don't cut school, respect your elders, crime doesn't pay, etc.

Throughout the series, there were other characters who would appear, some would appear in a good number of episodes and others would appear in just a few. Some characters where ported over from the movies, among them the Colonel, Sgt. Tibbs, the Captain, Lucy the Goose, Duchess and Princess, etc.

Others included Mooch, the tough dog who kinda came with the farm and enjoys pushing others around, and Wizzer, Dipstick and Two-Tone became members in his gang. Two-Tone, who had eventually left, is intended to be in a romantic relationship with Lucky and has since become a mega fan-fave. Another is Tripod, a serious athlete who only has three legs but this is far from a hindrance; he acts like he is Lucky's friendly rival. Other characters included Mayor Ed Pig and his daughter Dumpling, con artist Swamp Rat and his alligator goon Stephen, the pushy Lt. Pug and a very different-looking Patch. Some of the one shot characters included a German Shepard pup named Blaze, a baby chick named Peeps, a misjudged lobster named Lance, etc.

The series' animation style is unique and sets it apart from the movies. It has a semi-rounded, semi-angular style similar to the vein of "2 Stupid Dogs", but it's charming and easy on the eyes. The character voice talents are crisp and clear, easy to understand and there was not even one character whose voice did not seem to fit.

Another factor in the show is its humor and warmth--the characters all seem to have strong emotional attachments to each other and they seem to have the ability to make you laugh while you feel good. The messages are submitted to viewers without beating you over the head with them or sounding like they are trying to submit the message in a tiresome fashion.

Now of course the show isn't perfect--I'll share some aspects I didn't like.

One of the main problems in the show I didn't enjoy was the fact that I think the show could stand to synergize some of the other secondary characters more often. I mean, we see a lot of the four Main Pups, Cruella, and some others such as Roger and Anita, but I'd like to have seen more of some of the other characters like Pongo, Perdita, Wizzer, Dipstick, Tripod, Two-Tone and some others. It would also have been nice to see a physical appearance of characters like Freckles, Penny and Pepper (1961 movie) and Fidget and Jewel (1996 movie). In addition, Patch also appears, but the reason he's so different in appearance is because his design is based off his character in Dodie Smith's book. Wish he'd gotten more chances to appear.

In the series, Two-Tone only had a major role in one of the series' best episodes, "Love 'Em and Flea 'Em". Among fans of the show, Two-Tone seemed to do much more for them than Spot. A character that is intended to have a strong emotional attachment to a main character would be a logical choice for a key role. It boggles the mind why this character that might have tested so well didn't get more than she deserved; many fans think Two-Tone deserved the role of the fourth Main Pup. Why have Spot if there are other, stronger choices?

Another issue I had was some plotlines. I enjoyed the themes of most plots in the series (as I outlined above), but I tend to enjoy the show less if they decide to bring in the Bark Brigade. These episodes have a military school-like theme, which I'm sure no kids like the idea of, but what makes it worse is anytime the Bark Brigade comes in, they bring with it an extremely aggravating character detested by basically all fans of the series known as Lt. Pug. As a character, he is completely useless. He is not likable, funny, deep, or even interesting in the most remote sense; his constant yelling and abuse of power just make him annoying, pointless and tiresome. He is easily the show's worst character. Now, it's not a complete and total loss; some good episodes, like "Purred it Through the Grapevine", "Full Metal Pullet" and "K is for Kibble" exist, but there are others that just aren't much fun such as "On the Lamb", "Walk a Mile in My Tracks" and "Mall Pups". The only other positive quality about Lt. Pug and the Bark Brigade is it isn't an overbearing aspect; otherwise, this lieutenant is a washout and the only thing he deserves is a dishonorable discharge.

Oh yeah, and there's also one episode that focuses entirely on Jasper and Horace--while not a actual screenshot, there is a clip show episode called "Horace and Jasper's Big Career Move"--which needs to be avoided by all but the isomniacs.

Another thing I did not enjoy so much is the fact the show itself didn't last as long as I think it probably could have. The show ran from September 1997 up to March 1998. Disney seemed to just burn the show off without any real promotion and without giving it much thought, so we had to sorta find the show for ourselves. Making matters worse was Disney had two other shows that came out in Fall 1997--"Pepper Ann" and "Recess"--and Disney seemed to space out their episodes further, allowing them to run longer and they seem to give them more credit than they deserve. That really sucks; I think "101 Dalmatians: the Series" was ultimately much more imaginative than these two shows and in its inital run, deserved better than it received.

And the show ended with 65 half-hour episodes (mixing 11 minute eps with 22 minute eps, making the overall total 105), the minimum magic number necessary for syndication (to be fair, "Pepper Ann" and "Recess" also stopped at 65). That figure would permit "101 Dalmatians: the Series" to run for 13 straight weeks (which is one-fourth of a year) of Monday-Friday airings, spacing them out far enough, and in that time frame, you would not see one rerun. In syndication though, the former episode in "Alive N' Chicken/Prima Doggy" is an episode where Spot thought she was about to die, and some of my details are a bit sketchy, but near the end Spot winds up crashing into the Chow Tower--Disney pulled the episode in 2001 due to world events. While it didn't surpass the 65 episode rule, at least it didn't fall short either (and that's more than I can say for "House of Mouse", "Hercules", "Teamo Supremo", "The Little Mermaid", "Lloyd in Space" and "Brandy and Mr. Whiskers").

Another thing I would have liked to have seen is some more merchandise. Now, like "Lilo and Stitch" would be a few years later, I know Disney would be trying to keep the merchandise within reasonable limits so the public isn't going to get annoyed with it (like they did with Winnie the Pooh), but I would not have minded seeing more than this show got. I remember McDonald's once ran a flip car promotion back in January 1998 where they would have one of the Dals paired in a flip car with a non-Dal character (for the record, they were Lucky/Cruella, Cadpig/Spot, Rolly/Mayor Ed Pig, Two-Tone/Lt. Pug, Tripod/Dumpling, Pongo/Swamp Rat, Perdita/Scorch and Dipstick/Cynde the Snake). I bought them all off eBay and they are awesome. I also bought two books, "Cruella Returns" and "The Big Dig" which are child-targeted books and they are nice. Another is the "101 Dalmatians Christmas" VHS tape, which holds the episodes "A Christmas Cruella" and "Coup DeVil" and I am certain it sold quite well (a lot of tapes can be found on eBay or Amazon). I make it a holiday tradition to watch it very time Christmas comes close. Hell, I even own a promotional button and an animation cel from the episode "Chow About That?" which features Rolly and Cadpig. And I understand that the Japanese could buy the three-part finale "Dalmatian Vacation" on video (come on Disney, please bring it here to the US!). But so much more would really be nice (ie. comic books, calenders, coffee mugs, stuffed toys, frisbees, folders, notebooks, bomber jackets, baseball caps, bumper stickers, video games...can you tell I'm a bit of an obsessive collector?)

When Disney officially announced that they were making their own Cartoon Network called "Toon Disney" about one month after the three-part "Dalmatian Vacation" finale (back when there was such a thing as "Toon Disney"), "101 Dalmatians: the Series" was on shown in reruns on that channel with all the other Disney Afternoon/One Saturday Morning/One Too series.

Beginning in November 2004, it soon became stuck in an ungodly timeslot (5:00 AM) when nearly every last show was pulled from their programming lineup.

Fans remember "Virtual Lucky" as the final officially aired episode (one of the best episodes, which was about Lucky, Cadpig, Rolly and Cruella getting stuck inside Roger's new video game). This is because back on January 31, 2006, Toon Disney pulled it from their broadcasting schedule as well. However, I am happy to report that I am also a proud owner of seven taped-off-TV VHS tapes worth of the show.

In closing, I will say I am a proud lover of Disney's "101 Dalmatians: the Series". It's one of my absolute favorite cartoon shows and I am glad I took the time to devote my attention to it. Please, by all means, give this show a shot. If you happen to know someone who is a fan, there is a good chance they have some episodes on tape. If not, there is always hope that in the future, Disney will make an official DVD boxset release of the show as well. ;)

Kudos go out to Belchic, Dana, Mimi and Two-Tone on Sparky's 101 Dalmatians message board for the pics, you guys rule!
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