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'101 Dalmations' Counted Platinum

22 Jan, 2008 By: Chris Tribbey

(L-R): Voice actress Lisa Davis, Disney animator Eric Goldberg and film critic Leonard Maltin during a panel in Hollywood, Calif.

It was probably the hardest thing Lisa Davis has ever done.

She was a young actress who was asked to read for the part of Cruella De Vil in Disney's latest animation feature, 101 Dalmatians. Across from her was Walt Disney, reading the part of Anita, Cruella's employee.

And Davis knew it was wrong.

“How do I tell the great Walt Disney he's brought me in for the wrong part?” the 71-year-old actress said before a panel discussing the film Jan. 18. “How do I tell him ‘I should be Anita?' It was scary.”

But she did, he agreed, and 47 years later the part remains Davis' favorite of her career. Yes, even over the likes of 1953's Queen of Outer Space. (“It's so bad it's become good,” Davis joked.)

“Oh, some of us like Queen of Outer Space,” film critic Leonard Maltin said before a screening of 101 Dalmatians at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood. 101 Dalmatians will show at the theater through the end of the month, in anticipation of the two-disc Platinum Edition DVD release of the film March 4 at $29.99.

The DVD is stuffed with hours of bonus features, including Davis reading the actual correspondence between Walt Disney and author Dodie Smith. “None of the other special features come close,” Davis said.

Disney's most outrageous villain ever gets her due in this DVD set, with an all new Cruella De Vil music video and a “Drawn to Be Bad” featurette that looks into the inspiration behind Cruella.

“Cruella is of course one of the great characters in Disney history,” Maltin said. “Certainly [among] the great villains.”

“He was delighted to draw her,” said Alice Davis, widow of the late Marc Davis, who was the directing animator for the film and the only animator who touched Cruella. “He was so used to doing princesses, and this was his chance to do something mean.… He was the only one who animated her the entire film, and he was proud of that.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing on the DVD is the film itself: digitally restored with enhanced picture and sound. The Disney crew worked on more than 343,000 frames to get the best picture possible for the new DVD. In 1961, the film was the first to use Disney's new “xerography” animation technique, which did away with the need to hand ink the outlines on every cell.

“It was a bit disturbing to first see,” said 101 Dalmatians “imagineer” and Disney legend Blaine Gibson of the new technology used for the film. “It was a very unique look. And it's held up well after all this time.”

“The picture now is being shown in a full 2K digital presentation,” Maltin said. “If you don't know what that is, neither do I, but it sounds really, really impressive.”

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