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Although the tagline Sarah and I came up with was “reliving childhood”, 101 Dalmatians is the first of the movies I’ve felt was a real part of my childhood. Although I’d seen most of the films up till now, they weren’t ones that my family had on VHS. This one we did.

Going into this movie, I expected that knowing what was happening next would make me more likely to fall asleep in the same manner that I can’t actually sit down and watch Star Wars anymore because I’ve seen it so many times I’m nearly asleep before the opening scroll is finished.

But as we watched this film, I found myself far more engaged with it than most of the rest of what we’ve watched thus far. This may have also had something to do with the fact that even among the Disney movies I grew up on, 101 Dalmations was a favorite. I even had a poster on the wall in my bedroom for quite some time.

As I used to go to sleep, in the darkness of the room, I used to stare at the patterns of spots on the puppies. Much like the face of a quintissential ghost made out of a sheet, I often saw faces in those spots. Some looked happy. Some looked angry. Many looked confused.

On nights I couldn’t sleep, I often wondered how many “faces” there were on the poster. Since the faces were composed of three spots arranged in a triangle, with two being the eyes and one being the mouth, should I count it if you “rotated” the triangle to change which were which? I no longer have the poster, but the question still intrigues me as a mathematical puzzle. Perhaps I’ll have to really sit down and consider it one day.

Regardless, the idea of seeing images from random placements and orientations of spots is a phenomenon we’ve discussed before. It’s pariedolia. Our minds are tuned to extract useful information from the general noise of the world, and this phenemenon is simply that process reaching too far and attributing meaning to nonsense.

Of course, it’s not always meaningless. Knowing that we have this propensity to see faces and ascribe meaning and emotion to them allowed animators in this movie to make Cruella DeVil the “evil thing” she was. For example, her car took on the appearance of an angry glaring face thanks to its headlights.

Cruella is also always shown in thick furs that make her silohette much larger than her true appearance. Again, our subconscious has something to say about this: Large things are more apt to be perceived as dangerous. Interestingly enough, the opposite is true. A recent study showed that when subjects were shown various images of hands holding various objects, we tend to anticipate that the bearer of someone holding a gun was larger than they actually were and larger than they, on average, rated the bearers of other objects. And by no small amount; the amount was somewhere between 10 and 20%.

I think this is why I have always liked Cruella as a villain. She doesn’t just get under your skin. She’s in your mind! She also has an annoying tendency of being omnipresent. Puppies are being born? She just happens to be in the neighborhood.

In the intro to the DVD, they featured an anti-smoking segment with Cruella’s green haze of smoke and Pongo wrinkling his nose with the tagline “Don’t be Cruel” (har har). Of course, it’s a bit of an oversight that Roger’s smoking is never depicted as particularly loathsome. I suppose the message is that smoking pipes that don’t leave green clouds is ok?

Anyway, plot.

Pongo and Roger live together and Pongo’s upset because he doesn’t get to do much so he decides to hook Roger up. The criteria? The woman should be pretty. That is all. Good to know dogs are shallow too (“fifteen puddles stolen? Balderdash!”).

He manages to find him a suitable mate and they fall madly in pond together. Oh, and she has a dalmation named Perdita for a dog too. Which is good. Those little dogs that fit in a purse are just dumb. Like dauchhunds. Wretched little things they are.

Pongo and Perdita end up having quite the litter together. Fifteen puppies. And Cruella wants ’em. But Roger, who has an understandable dislike for her, refuses to sell.

So Cruella storms off (on the stormy night) and hires a pair of thieves (the bumbling sort that try to break into the home of kids that are Home Alone) to steal the puppies. They do, and take them to the DeVil mansion in suffolk along with 84 other puppies which were “bought and paid for” legally. Cruella plans to turn them into coats, but Pongo and Perdita use wrangle up the Lady & the Tramp crew and some other dogs to find ’em.

When Pongo and Perdita learn where their puppies are, they set off to rescue them. After a montage they arrive just as the puppies make their escape. The two decide to adopt all the puppies and begin the trek back to London. Cruella and her sneakthieves chase them.

A few towns away, they plan to catch a moving van back to London, but Cruella cruises the street between their hideout and the van. So Pongo gets the bright idea of covering themselves in soot to look like Labradors. As if 101 Labradors wouldn’t be in any way suspicious. Especially if 17 of them had collars that were covered with soot…

But the baddies don’t appear to notice (I’m pretty sure it’s because Cruella had motor mania) at least until they get dripped on by melting snow and ice from the roofs, washing off the soot.

This prompts a furious car chase in which Cruella and the baddies end up crashed in a ditch, but otherwise unharmed.

The dogs all make it home and everything is peachy keen. Roger and Anita decide to keep all the puppies and move out to the country to start a dalmation plantation. Where they’ll presumably make lots more. And do what with them? Uh, I’m not sure, but I bet I know a buyer.

In fact, I bet Cruella would want to be a majority shareholder given she legally owned the vast majority of their puppy capitol. But I guess that slipped her mind. Perhaps she had a concussion from the crash and didn’t remember anything.

We might also wonder at the effect when Roger’s song about Cruella went viral. It could quite well be taken as slanderous, but then again, this was set in a far less litigious time period. Either that or she did take it to court and the judge decided it was accurate.

One can only hope.