Revisiting Dalmatians

Back in 1959, Disney story ace, Bill Peet was busily storyboarding the Walt Disney classic animated film, “101 Dalmatians.” In one delightful sequence we find Pongo, Perdita and the puppies enjoying a television show. Of course, they’re in Roger Radcliffe’s flat located somewhere in London. Roger, of course, is Pongo’s pet. Anyway, Pongo and Perdita’s offspring are enjoying the adventures of “Thunderbolt the Wonderdog” in beautiful black&white on the family “telly.” As Thunderbolt and Dirty Dawson appear to fall to their doom over a rushing waterfall, we suddenly take a commercial break and never learn how the dire situation is resolved. It would appear, the Old Maestro, Walt Disney was eager to get back to the main story line of “101 Dalmatians,” and encouraged his storyman and screenwriter, Bill Peet to skip the rest of the television story, and that’s where I come in.

A lot was riding on “101 Dalmatians back in 1959. “Sleeping Beauty” had proven to be an animated masterpiece. However, financially, it was a failure and that left animation in jepordy. Could animation even afford to continue at the Walt Disney Studio? That was the big question that had to be answered back then. Suddenly, there was a ray of hope. Studio genius, Ub Iwerks had finally figured out a way to utilize the photocopy process to copy the animators drawings onto sheets of acetate. Xerox had come to the rescue of Walt Disney animation saving us both time and money. However, it gets even better. We were blessed by having the perfect movie to utilized the innovative new process. It would appear that Ken Anderson’s art direction for the new Disney film would be the perfect fit for the animated movie’s technical innovation. The styling would be inspired by the British illustrator, Ronald Serle and his sketchy drawings would be ideal for the Xerox process. Adding Tom Oreb’s character design and Walt Peregoy’s brilliant color styling, this new Walt Disney motion picture would be a creative breakthrough with a design sensibility reflecting the new decade we would soon be entering. As you know, we completed “101 Dalmatians” in the summer of 1960 and in a year the film would be released and become a smash hit for the Disney Studio and proof that animation was alive and well.

Wait a minute! What’s my part in all this, you say? Well, I did work on Walt Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” back in 1960, but I also worked on the film only a few months ago. Remember the puppies watching Thunderbolt the Wonderdog as he pursued Dirty Dawson? Remember how hero and the bad guy fall to their doom over the waterfall? Well, Bill Peet never resolved that particular sequence because Walt Disney wanted the storyman to get back to the main storyline. So, a few years later - last year in fact - I completed the sequence Bill Peet never finished. I wrote and storyboarded the ending of the “Thunderbolt” episode and we completely animated the sequence the traditional way using pencil and paper. It was a return to Old School Disney animation even though the year was 2014. Should you purchase the newly restored Blue Ray DVD of Walt Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” you’ll be able to see how the sequence finally wraps up. It was a delight to once again follow my favorite Walt Disney storyman. After all, I had done this before. You see, back in 1966 there was a little film called “The Jungle Book” That Bill Peet was also storyboarding and I ended up on that project as well. However, that’s another story.

Original Bill Peet storyboards from Disney's 101 Dalmatians. Bill never finished the sequence so I had to write the ending for him. It was an honor to follow a master Disney story artist.

Original Bill Peet storyboards from Disney's 101 Dalmatians. Bill never finished the sequence so I had to write the ending for him. It was an honor to follow a master Disney story artist.