Even when you’re a kid, you just know that this movie looks different from classic early Disney, even if you can’t put a finger on it: The sharp character designs with thick black outlines; the desaturated colors and backgrounds that evoke newspaper comics; the very busy frames, full of motion and details; the blocks of solid colors on characters. It all adds up to a look that’s very sketch-like and modern as opposed to the storybook mise-en-scene of Disney’s early years.
(Only when you do a little bit of research do you realize that this is the result of new Xerography animation which allows for more detailed and rapidly-produced motion, but as of 1961 couldn’t easily support curves or textured colors.)
Everything about this look works and aligns with the contemporary London setting of the story. The characters are crafted clearly, with each human and animal having something distinct about them. The sprightly visuals are accompanied by a comedic script, blended beautifully with both some dramatic rescue beats and the sentiments of a young family serving as a backbone.
Then you have the villains. They’re great, among Disney’s best. Cruella is 100% nasty intensity and energy, her minions Jasper and Horace bumbling with just the right amount of menace. Cruella is never deepened or used as cultural commentary (as opposed to Gaston), but it hardly matters – she’s a whirlwind of evil, with an all-timer car. And she gets one of Disney’s best songs to boot. When she finally goes insane in the last 15 minutes, it’s both a part of her natural character arc and intensely freaky.
It adds up to a genuinely great movie, fun and exciting, with some emotional resonance, too: I choked up once or twice.
Exceptionally Good (7/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.