Cruella and the canines are back, to delight of fans who knew them when

July 23, 1991|By Orlando Sentinel

Children of the 1950s might be hard-pressed to whistle the theme songs to "Sleeping Beauty" or "Cinderella."

But mention the title "101 Dalmatians," and people well into their 30s or 40s are likely to launch into "Dalmatian Plantation" or sing you the lyric that rhymes with "Cruella De Vil."

There's no question about it: Something about the 1961 Disney movie "101 Dalmatians" struck a chord with the baby-boom generation. And the recent rerelease of the now-classic feature-length cartoon has today's grown-ups turning childish once again.

Maybe it was all those animals, not only Pongo and Perdita and the 99 puppies but also the bloodhound Towser and the sheep dog Colonel and the cat Sergeant Tibs. Maybe it was the wonderfully menacing glamour of Cruella De Vil, the chain-smoking, wildly coiffed villainess who steals the 99 puppies and tries to have them made into a fur coat.

And maybe it was the oddly sophisticated humor of the movie, which still makes it just as entertaining for an adult as it is for a child.

"Walt Disney never really consciously did his films for children," said Marc Davis, the animator who created Cruella De Vil. "He was always aiming for an adult audience."

Still, the cult following that surrounds "101 Dalmatians" is a continual surprise to some of those who played key roles in the making of the film. Betty Lou Gerson, who contributed the voice of Cruella De Vil, says that her character has become a popular one at Halloween parties, where baby boomers struggle to get the black-and-white hair, the cigarette holder and the fur coat just right.

"I had no idea she'd become this cult figure," said Ms. Gerson, who had had a long career in radio and television before she became the voice of Cruella De Vil.

Mr. Davis explains the timeless appeal of Cruella by observing that she's one of the few Disney villains who isn't magic: "She's just a mean broad," he said.

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