The company was in debt following the flop of Sleeping Beauty (1959) and desperately needed a hit. There was even talk of closing down the animation division as the company was refocusing on live action films, television and theme parks.
The birth of the puppies actually happened to the author Dodie Smith. Her dalmatians had 15 puppies, one was born lifeless and her husband revived it. However, they sold most of them, and kept only a small number.
Due to the commercial failure of Sleeping Beauty (1959), production costs needed to be cut. As a result, this was the first Disney feature film to use photocopying technology (Xerography), which made an animated film with this much visual complexity possible. It also set the visual style of Disney animation (a scratchy, hard outline look) for years until the technology advanced enough (with the production of The Rescuers (1977)) to allow a softer look.
In the early 1990s merchandise tied-in with the video's release was quickly pulled from shelves because the word Dalmatian had been spelled incorrectly as "Dalmation" on some of the product packaging. The merchandise was only available at Disneyland or the Disney Stores.
The author of the book on which the film is based, Dodie Smith, was a successful playwright and novelist who had nine Dalmatians of her own, including one named Pongo. She got the idea for the book when a friend who was at her house saw all the dogs together and remarked, "Those dogs would make a lovely fur coat."
(at around 35 mins) Characters from Lady and the Tramp (1955) are shown in brief cameos during the Twilight Bark scene: Jock is first shown coming out of a doghouse and then barking into the drainpipe to a dog in an upper apartment. The strays Peg and her friend the bulldog are seen in a pet shop with various puppies, and both Lady and Tramp are shown very briefly with several dogs at the end of the scene when the barking reaches across the entire city.
Quite a few liberties were taken in bringing the book to the screen. In the original story, the two Dalmatians who ran across England to rescue their pups were named Pongo and Missis Pongo, or just plain Missis; Perdita was a stray whose own puppies had been sold, and who was taken into the household to help wet nurse Missis' fifteen puppies. In the film, their owners are named Roger and Anita Radcliffe; in the book, they're Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, no first names given. The book also features two Nannies (Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler) to the film's one; Jasper appears under the same name in both versions, but Saul is changed to Horace for the film; and Tib, the book's heroic gray tabby female, is transformed into an orange-colored tom. However, the film was not the first time the story had undergone changes; "The Hundred and One Dalmatians" first appeared as a serial in Ladies' Home Journal, under the title "The Great Dog Robbery".
Out of the 15 puppies Perdita gives birth to, only 6 are named in this film (Lucky, Rolly, Patch, Penny, Pepper, and Freckles). Other incarnations like the live action film and the TV series revealed 6 other names (Wizzer, Dipstick, Two-Tone, Cadpig, Fidget and Jewel), which combined still leaves 3 puppies unnamed.
Lisa Daniels only provided about a third of Perdita's voicework in the film. Halfway through the movie's lengthy production, she got married and moved to New York City so Cate Bauer completed the vocal performance.
Art director Ken Anderson came up with the idea of overlaying cels of line drawings over the painted backgrounds to match the Xeroxed cels of the characters. For the next twenty years, all Disney features - with the exception of The Jungle Book (1967) and the animated segments in Mary Poppins (1964) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) - would use this technique for their backgrounds. With The Fox and the Hound (1981), Disney returned to fully painted backgrounds, with a brief reprise of the cel overlay for Oliver & Company (1988).
Bill Lee is Roger's singing voice. Four years later, he would go on to provide the singing voice for Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965). Ben Wright who provides Roger's speaking voice also appears in The Sound of Music as Nazi Gauleiter, Herr Zeller.
800 gallons of special paint weighing nearly 5 tons were used in producing the animation cells and backgrounds - that's enough to cover 15 football fields or the outsides of 135 average homes. Nearly 1,000 different shades of colour were created.
On previous Disney animated features, the top animators were assigned a character and drew the bulk (if not all) of that particular character's scenes individually. Animation on this film was far more of a "team effort" - for example, seven of the famed "Nine Old Men" worked on Perdita. There was one notable exception: Marc Davis drew Cruella De Vil entirely on his own.
The various vehicles in the movie are live-action models painted white with black lines. Each frame of the live-action footage was Xeroxed onto cels and painted the same as the hand-drawn characters. This would become standard procedure at Disney and other studios until the mid-1980s, when computer animated models first came into use.
The final film for animator Marc Davis. After animating Cruella De Vil in this film, Davis went to work for WED Enterprises, designing for such Disneyland rides as the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.
2 of the Voice Actors in this film had previously been the Narrators in 2 Previous Disney Animated Movies prior. Betty Lou Gerson who did the voice of Cruella De Vil and Miss Birdwell previously did the Opening Narration in Cinderella (1950), whilst Tom Conway who did the voice of The Quizmaster and The Collie previously did the Opening Narration in Peter Pan (1953).
(at around 31 mins) When the Baduns are talking on the phone to Cruella, they are holding a newspaper. The only headline on the front page (apart from the dognapping) is CARLSEN SPEAKS, and a picture of a capsized ship. This helps us to date the story, since the Carlsen in question is Henrik Kurt Carlsen, captain of the freighter Flying Enterprise, which sank after a prolonged struggle in the Atlantic. This was the media event of the year in 1952. However, at the very beginning of this scene, on the front pages of the newspapers that Cruella is reading, just right under the masthead, you can clearly read the date, which is November 2 (Sunday), 1958.
Walt Disney originally had Lisa Davis read the role of Cruella De Vil, but she did not think that she was right for the part and wanted to try reading the role of Anita. Disney agreed with her after the two of them read the script for a second time.
In the book, Roger and Anita's last name was Dearly instead of Radcliffe. Presumably, Walt Disney changed it since they already had two similarly named couples: Jim Dear and Darling from Lady and the Tramp (1955), and George and Mary Darling from Peter Pan (1953). Dearly though would later be used as their surnames in the Live Action Film, 101 Dalmatians (1996) and 101 Dalmatians: The Series (1997).
Chuck Jones once commented that only Walt Disney would make an animated film about one hundred and one dalmatians: "if I had tried to make One Dog Named Spot for Leon Schlesinger, he would not let me do it. Spots cost money."
In the scene when Horace and Jasper are watching television, the TV show they're watching "What's My Crime" is loosely based off of a current TV show called What's My Line? (1950). What's My Crime consists of a panel asking several questions to guess what crime the guest has committed, while in What's My Line? (1950) is the same but the panel tries to guess who the mystery guest is while blindfolded.
The production of the film signalled a change in the graphic style of Disney's animation. Sleeping Beauty (1959) had a more graphic, angular style than previous Disney films, and Dalmatians had an even more stylized look, inspired by British cartoonist Ronald Searle, which would become the norm for Disney animation for years to come.
This film was shot in Standard Academy (1.33:1), although it was designed to be matted to a ratio of 1.75 for widescreen-equipped theaters. When re-released in the mid-1990s, the entire 1.33 frame was matted within a 1.85 (flat) viewing area, so that the entire animated frame could be seen, since most modern theaters no longer have the equipment to run films in Academy ratio.
Songwriter Mel Leven wrote several additional songs for it including "Don't Buy a Parrot from a Sailor", a cockney chant, meant to be sung by Jasper and Horace at the De Vil Mansion, and "March of the One Hundred and One", which the dogs were meant to sing after escaping Cruella by van.
According to Lisa Davis, Walt Disney took Cruella's look from Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was known for wearing fur coats. Though Davis made use of her exceptional Zsa Zsa impression to read for Cruella, she felt that she was better suited to the role of Anita. Walt listened to her read some of Anita's lines and ultimately agreed that it was a perfect fit.
Although Walt Disney had not been as involved in the production of the animated films as frequently as in previous years, nevertheless he was always present at story meetings. However, he felt that Bill Peet's original draft was so perfect that he had little involvement in the making of it altogether.
On February 11, 2015, a special screening of the movie was shown at Disneyland to promote the release of the Diamond Edition Blu Ray. It was held in the Fantasyland Theater and was hosted by Disney Historian, Tim O'Day, and Disney animator, Andreas Deja.