I haven’t written on Disney for a long while, so I figured I’d fix that.
I was going to write this during the Valentine’s Day season, but I really can’t wait that long. Plus I have nothing else to write about this week…
In the canon of Disney animated films, it’s rare for a married couple to make it to the end of a film. Belle and Ariel’s mothers died off-screen, Mufasa is murdered by Scar, Tiana’s father dies fighting in World War I, both of Anna and Elsa’s parents are lost at sea (
where they’re shipwrecked in Africa and then killed by Sabor…). Then we have Cinderella and Snow White who are orphans by their film’s beginning. In the few instances where a married couple makes it to the end (like in Tangled or Sleeping Beauty) they’re minor side characters who are just there to be royal window dressing.
But there is one Disney film that features not only one but TWO married couples who make it all the way to the end of the film.
That movie, of course, is One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
Now, Pongo and Perdita are both lovely and devoted to one another, but they’re not the ones I’m writing about today (though they are super adorable).
I’m talking about Roger and Anita.
They’re literally the perfect couple, and they don’t need fairy godmothers or genies to make their dreams come true. One thing that I adore about their story is that it begins with them meeting and falling in love. Their marriage isn’t the end of their story; it’s the beginning. The story is them going through the traumatic separation from their beloved dogs and coming out a stronger couple.
“But they’re side characters!” you protest.
“Nonsense!” I shout back.
We do spend the most time with Pongo and Perdita, since their journey home is the whole point of the film, but Roger and Anita aren’t shoved aside the way Aurora’s parents are relegated to two scenes and a handful of lines. Their relationship is given just as much depth and life as their canine counterparts.
So what makes them so wonderful?
Well first, the writers beautifully capture the “opposites attract” concept. Roger is artistic but flighty and Anita is more practical and balanced. They feel like an actual couple as opposed to two characters whom the plot brings together. As a contrast, I’d offer up Aladdin and Jasmine. They end up together and overcome quite a few obstacles, but we never really get to see them as a couple doing couple things.
On the other hand, we see Anita and Roger going about their day together. And we get to see them behaving like actual humans. At one point (pictured) Roger has a breakthrough with a melody he’s been toying with for a while, singing the charming “Cruella De Vil” and dancing around with Anita, even though she is in no mood to deal with his weirdness just then. Even though he’s being annoying and she’s clearly very over it, you know this is exactly how their whole relationship is. He appreciates being able to be himself around her and she appreciates the whimsy he brings to her world.
They also support one another. Roger is not the most spectacular breadwinner since, you know, he’s an artist, but Anita doesn’t care. When Cruella teases Roger about his profession, she defends him. And Roger makes it a habit to let Anita know how much he adores her whenever possible.
I also quite like the scene where Roger stands up to the bombastic Cruella, covered in ink from her fountain pen and stuttering the whole while. He tells her she can’t have the puppies, doing his best not to collapse into a pile of quivery jelly. After Cruella rages out of the house, he’s so tense that he can’t even relax, but Anita hugs him as though he stood up to her with much more confidence and assertiveness than he actually did. She knows he’s not the sort of person to ever do something like that, but she appreciates him trying.
Anita is a fabulous character on her own, as well. She’s classy but isn’t afraid to call Roger out on his goofiness. She certainly embodies the mid-century ideal of the perfect hostess type, but she doesn’t ever come across as a weak or shallow character. She’s not a stereotype. She’s well-read, clever, and much more grounded in the real world than Roger. She’s obviously the person who manages the house’s finances and plans everything.
Roger, on the other hand, is cluttered, anxious, spacey, and loses himself in his work to the point where he needs to be reminded that the rest of the world exists. He’s not great at dealing with the real world, but he loves what he does and, by the film’s end, has written a hit song that allows them to buy a big house in the country where they can raise all their dogs.
Now, obviously, this is still somewhat of a fairy tale. I wish songwriters could support themselves and their wives and hire a staff and own a hundred and one dogs, but alas… Since Anita went to an expensive school (if she was schoolmates with Cruella, who clearly hails from old money), it can be assumed that Anita is the one keeping them afloat. I like to think she invested the inheritance she got from her family when she was married and has been living off the interest, thus allowing Roger to continue with his music (while her nest egg just appreciates in the bank).
Such financial stability is, of course, as fanciful as any genie nowadays, but the truth of the matter is that Roger and Anita feel like actual people faced with actual real-life problems (apart from ostentatious puppy-thieves, of course). Their relationship feels genuine and honest. They seem like people you could actually imagine going to visit for tea or passing while walking through the park. They have such a warmth about them that you can’t help but be jealous of them in a way that you can’t really be jealous of others like Ariel and Eric. Eric is obviously a dreamboat (who owns his own boat, being royalty and all) but his relationship with Ariel is so ethereal and high up in the stratosphere of fairy tale fancifulness that it feels wrong to think of how the two of them would deal with, say… You know, I can’t even think of anything. Eric and Ariel wouldn’t ever deal with bills or cleaning the house or anything normal people deal with.
That’s why Roger and Anita are special. They’re a believable couple whose story didn’t end when they got married. They make their own happiness where they can find it, supporting one another and relishing the moments of joy when they happen. They aren’t afraid to tease one another or be weird in each other’s presence. They’ve both accepted each other for what they are.
And I love them. So Much.