As a child, one of my absolute biggest loves was Disney's '101 Dalmatians'. I loved the 'family-overcomes-evil' theme, the potential for multiple new characters, the many adorable puppies, and of course, the devious Cruella DeVil. Since 2002, I have been collecting 101 Dalmatians merchandise anywhere I find it, including Internet images, Disney-press books, stuffed toys, McDonalds collectible figurines, coin purses, folders, prints, refridgerator magnets, Disney World pins, a copy of Dodie Smith's book, and of course, copies of the movie. I am now own both store-bought and taped-off-television versions of both the original animated movie from 1961 and the live-action remake from 1996. I even pre-ordered the video for 101 Dalmatians 2: Patch's London Adventure for the movie and the Disney Store limited edition prints. Except for 102 Dalmatians, I've seen pretty much every Disney 101 Dalmatians medium.
I am fully aware that many movie-based cartoons vary in terms of success. While, like the video games, Disney's tend to be worthwhile and watchable, they are not all even in terms of quality. Some are good (The Little Mermaid, Lilo and Stitch: the Series) others are uneven (Timon and Pumbaa, Hercules) and others are soulless by-products meant to cash-in on the movie (Aladdin, The Mighty Ducks, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command).
How does '101 Dalmatians: the Series' measure up?
To tell the truth, I actually like it better than the movies.
Don't get me wrong, I loved the original animated movie plenty, but today, I just prefer the 1996 live action remake and the series. It goes back to the roots of Dodie Smith's original book for inspiration, indicating we finally see Lucky with a strong personality and Cadpig in an animated Disney medium. It is definitely one of the best late 1990s cartoons, even being nominated for the Daytime Emmy for 'Outstanding Children's Program' in 1997-1998. The setup is that it acts as a mix of Dodie Smith's book, the original animated movie and the live-action remake. It centers on Lucky, Cadpig, Rolly and their chicken friend Spot as they experience life on the Dearly Farm (and stop Cruella DeVil's schemes to steal their land, which everyone knows is worth lots of money). It sends positive messages and contains many interesting, strong and likable characters. I enjoy the American setting and contemporary theme.
There are characters I have liked from the beginning and continue to like (Roger, Anita, Pongo, Perdita, Lucky, Rolly, Cruella DeVil), other characters I also like and welcome their additions (Cadpig, Spot, Mooch, Scorch, Tripod, Two-Tone, Duchess, Princess, Swamp Rat, Mayor Ed Pig, Dumpling, Cruella's relatives, Blaze, Rebecca, alternate Patch) other characters I am just indifferent to (the Colonel, the Captain, Sgt. Tibbs, Wizzer, Dipstick) others I just never cared for (Horace and Jasper...see below, and Lt. Pug is the only character in the series I just don't like). I don't have one favorite over the others, but I seriously like Cadpig and Lucky.
The show doesn't use the same 'rounded-edge' style that the movie uses, but I like it. There are many brilliant episodes in the show, which are humorous and heartwarming. I own just about every episode of series on tape (and have multiple copies...it spans about seven video tapes). The only episodes I don't have are the three-part 'Dalmatian Vacation', and 'Alive n' Chicken/Prima Doggy' (the last two were pulled from syndication due to the 'death' theme in 'Alive n' Chicken'...in that ep, Spot thought she was going to die, and 'the trio' try to help her deal with it, and consequently pulled 'Prima Doggy' with it, after 9/11/2001).
My pick for the 'Best Episode of the Series': "The Making Of...". It is a brilliant 'behind-the-scenes' like look at the show, with many in-jokes and clever references. It takes the many already great episodes of the show and makes them even better.
My pick for the 'Worst Episode of the Series':(Almost) a no-brainer: "Horace and Jasper's Big Career Move." Basically, Cruella fires Jasper and Horace and they go around to various talent agencies looking for work. It is just an extremely boring episode. Not to mention we don't even see the main pups in non-archive footage until the very end; it's a 'clip-show' episode. It's okay, though...it kinda proves my hypothesis that we love 101 Dalmatians for a bunch of different reasons but Jasper and Horace aren't one of them.
I love the show and it's quickly become an absolute favorite of mine. I'd wholeheartedly recommend it, the guys at Disney have a great product that seriously needs to be synergized. I've been a Cadpig fanboy for years and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Currently, in addition to owning several episode tapes (eagerly hoping for a series boxset), I have the McDonalds flip cars, the books 'Cruella Returns' and 'The Big Dig', the '101 Dalmatians Christmas' tape, and I am also a proud owner of a rare animation cel from the series bought from the Disney Store in New York City. The cel I own is from the episode 'Chow About That?' featuring Rolly and Cadpig, where Cadpig consoles her brother saying, "When I miss a meal, I have a mental meal." Go Cadpig!