Cruella is among the most critically-acclaimed and popular Disney characters of all time, and is held in a similar regard among cinematic villains, once being voted the 39th greatest movie villain of all time, the 82nd most popular film character of all time and the 31st greatest movie female of all time. She is also one of Disney’s single most iconic and memorable characters; referred to in television shows such as The Simpsons, her name served as the inspiration for a fetish magazine, as well as a short-lived Northern Irish post-punk band. She remains a recognizable image in popular culture.
Disney’s first and most critically acclaimed version of this character appeared in 101 Dalmatians. This version of the character inherited several visual traits from the original Dodie Smith version: her hair, which was black on one side and white on the other; her black dress; and her enormous mink coat, which swings about her like a cloak. This version of the character, designed by Bill Peet and Marc Davis, was also completely skeletal, and smoked constantly, leaving a trail of green, foul-smelling cigarette smoke wherever she went. Her physical appearance and general manner was evocative of some sort of hellish beast or demon, a fact referenced in her name and in a song about her.
Cruella, an old school friend of Anita's, claims that she cannot live without furs. She hires Horace and Jasper Badun, 2 incompetent crooks, to steal Pongo and Perdita's 15 Dalmatian puppies, and buys eighty-four more through legitimate means. She intends to have all ninety nine puppies skinned and made into clothing. The Colonel, Sergeant Tibbs and Captain are among the animals of the countryside to help Pongo, Perdita and the puppies return home, while Cruella and the Baduns pursue them.
Unlike previous Disney villainesses such as The Queen, Lady Tremaine, and Maleficent, Cruella is not a schemer. Instead, she acts purely on impulse and is thus prone to reckless behavior, particularly tearing through the snowy landscape in her car. Unlike future versions of the character, this version of Cruella was seemingly invincible in the eyes of the Dalmatians, who, though they could just about able to keep Jasper and Horace Badun at bay, were unable to face "that devil woman". Their only hope was therefore to flee; Cruella's defeat in the film is brought about not through the deeds of the animals but her own stubborn relentlessness (which, by the end of the film, has seemingly degenerated into a mad fury), and the incompetence of her henchmen.
A while after Roger and Anita have married and settled down together, Perdita, Anita's dalmatian, hears the screech of Cruella's car outside, and runs to the kitchen to hide from 'that devil woman'. Looking out of the window, Roger sees that Cruella, whom he refers to as Anita's old schoolmate, is coming towards the house. As she approaches the front door, Roger sings less-than-flattering song about Cruella; Anita attempts to stop Roger for fear that Cruella might hear. Roger goes upstairs and uses various musical instruments to play the tune to the song when Cruella bursts in, demanding to see Pongo and Perdita's puppies, and leaving a trail of smoke from her cigarette. Anita informs her that the dalmatian puppies will not arrive for a few weeks. After commenting on Pongo and Perdita's 'beautiful coats', Cruella leaves, saying that she will return in 3 weeks. A previously excited Perdita grows anxious at Cruella's interest in the puppies.
Dognapping the Puppies
Cruella returns to the Radcliffe's house just after the fifteen puppies are born. At first she is furious that the 'mongrels' have no spots, but, when Anita tells her that the spots will appear in a few weeks, Cruella offers to buy all fifteen immediately. Roger refuses any price, and Cruella, after realizing he is not joking, storms out, vowing revenge. Later, Horace and Jasper Badun succeed in stealing the puppies while the Radcliffe's are out. At home, Cruella laughs to herself as she reads of the theft in the newspaper; she is the orchestrator of the crime. The Baduns phone her to demand payment, but are told that they will receive nothing until the job is done. Slamming the phone down, Cruella then decides to phone Anita, and feigns surprise at the theft (though Roger is convinced that she is involved).
The Baduns succeed in stealing another eighty-four puppies, and take them to the Old De Vil Place. Cruella arrives one evening, demanding that 'the job' be done immediately, and leaves furiously, threatening to call the police otherwise. Sergeant Tibbs succeeds in helping all ninety nine dalmatians escape the old mansion. Cruella and the Baduns search for the puppies in a small village, and Cruella is initially fooled when the dogs cover themselves in soot to disguise as labradors and board a lorry heading for London (Horace although was convinced about the Puppies disguising themselves with soot, but Jasper said sarcastically that they were and then angrily yelled "You Idiot!!"). When she sees snowflakes removing the soot, however, she follows in her car, and the Baduns follow in their truck. Pursuing the puppies, Cruella almost succeeds in ramming the lorry, driver, dalmatians and all, off a cliff, but the top of her car is ripped off during the chase, which comes to an end when the Baduns, trying to hit the lorry, succeed in ramming their truck into her car, sending Cruella, Horace, and Jasper over the cliff; all 3 survive, but Cruella is furious and subjects Jasper and Horace to a tongue-lashing at which point Jasper finally plucks up the courage to tell her to shut up. Consumed by anger and humiliation, Cruella collapses into manic sobs and was arrested after the police recognizing her as the thief.
The incarnation of Cruella that appears in 101 Dalmatians: The Animated Series (which relocated the events of the films in America), voiced by April Winchell, shares traits with both the 1961 version and the live-action version. In design, she resembles the Cruella of the original animated version. However, the series’ slightly different design style, as well as lower budgets, resulted in a simpler design; most notably, the black dress and fur coat were dropped in favour of a simple black and white dress. This version of the character also lost previous incarnations’ excessive smoking habits (in the first episode, she lampshades this by stating "I picked the wrong week to quit smoking") and, notably, obsession with fur (these factors may have been removed due to censors not wanting a smoking, animal murderer on a Saturday morning cartoon); instead, her goal throughout the series was to own the land currently owned by Roger and Anita Dearly. Like the live-action version, this Cruella was the head of the House of De Vil, and was often defeated in comedic fashion. Her minions included Jasper and Horace, as well as her pet ferret, Scorch. In the Christmas Episode, It is revealed that she always wanted a dalmatian puppy for christmas but she never got one and her parents were always away for the holidays, while she was left in the care of a different foreign babysitter, which reveals that she was always evil, even as a baby.
This series does not take place in the same continuity as the movies; an example of which being the fact that this show is set in the United States (as evidenced in many episodes) while the movie is obviously set in London, England and its surroundings. The original animated movie is set in the 1960s (evidenced by a newspaper that Cruella is seen reading, the year is 1961), while the live-action films and this series are set in a modern day world (1996 at the time). It is also notable that the movie is quite realistic, while the series is very cartoony. This series comes closer to the essence of Dodie Smith's book than the movies and is based on everything 101 Dalmatians related (Cadpig is one character that is not characterized in the movies). Therefore, all three mediums can be considered canon, even though they're not in the same continuity. Also, Roger and Anita the dog owners' last name has been changed to Dearly instead of Radcliffe, as it is in the other movies and novels.
Cruella returns in the sequel here voiced by Susan Blakeslee. In this film, Cruella is first seen trying to find a substitute for her fur obsession. She meets a man named Lars and quickly admires him for his artistic vision. Lars' paintings of spots proves a fine replacement for Cruella's prior obsession. However, Cruella eventually bores of Lars' work but to help Lars, she bails out Jasper and Horace to kidnap the dalmatian puppies again.
The duo kidnap the puppies and takes them to Cruella's home. Lars believes Cruella wants him to paint puppies but after he finds out he would have to kill the puppies he refuses and calls Cruella a sicko. In anger, Cruella ties Lars onto a large target and throws several knives at him as torture. She returns to her psychotic state and wishes to have a new fur coat once again. Jasper and Horace are given the job to murder the puppies again but the dogs escape. A chase through the city follows which leads to Cruella's defeat by the dalmatian puppy Patch. Cruella is arrested and sent to the Asylum.
In the series House of Mouse, Cruella appears as a recurring character. In the series, Cruella usually measures and examines other dogs from other Disney films, and also threatens Pluto in the first episode.
- Goofy: Here's your doggy bag, Ms. De Vil.
- Cruella: Forget the bag. (gestures to Pluto) I'll take the doggy! (laughs fiendishly)
Also in the first episode, when Pete attempted to escape Mickey and friends after his villainy was exposed, he disguised himself as a dalmatian but ran away in fear after Cruella began to measure him with a wicked grin. In the episode "House of Genius", Cruella was accused of kidnapping the puppies. She replies by shouting "You make one movie and you're labeled for life!". Cruella also appears as one of the main villains in the film Mickey's House of Villains where she, Jafar, Hades, Ursula and Captain Hook take over the House of Mouse. Out of the main villains, Cruella was the first to note her interest in taking over the club for her own purposes. In "Pluto Saves the Day, when Pluto and his all dog band performed, Cruella eagerly mumbled to herself "ooh, where's my tailor when I need him!?".
For the live-action version of 101 Dalmatians, Cruella was reinvented as the head of a London-based fashion house, House of De Vil. Rather than an old schoolmate, Anita Dearly is one of her employees and, it is implied, her best designer. Cruella first takes a fancy to Dalmatian skin when Anita draws spots on one of her dress designs. Along with Jasper and Horace, Cruella had a new accomplice: Mr. Skinner, who is given the job of killing and skinning the puppies. As the head of a fashion house, Close's Cruella was given a more varied wardrobe of furs, including an enormous, red cloak, a Siberian tiger pelt, and clawed gloves. This version of the character was less invincible than her animated predicessor, and it is the animals of a nearby farm who defeat her, in slapstick fashion, to leave her muddy, covered in manure but uninjured, after which she is arrested.
A live-action incarnation was portrayed by Glenn Close for a remake, 101 Dalmatians; this version was not only an heiress but also a fashion designer, and was defeated in slapstick fashion similar to the defeats of the villains of the Home Alone movies (which were produced by the same producer). Glenn Close became famous for her role.
In the film's sequel, Cruella is seemingly cured of her fur (and spot) obsession, thanks to experimental hypnosis. Released from prison, she is eventually released from her kindly state by the chimes of Big Ben, reverting to her old self. She returned to her old ways, aided in her quest for spotted pelt by fellow fashion designer Jean-Pierre Le Pelt and unwilling butler Alonso. Her pursuit of another Dalmatian coat (this time with a hood) is once again in vain, however, as the 102 Dalmatians and the dogs of a struggling animal shelter drench her in icing and batter in a Parisian bakery where she is turned into a massive cake. She is than arrested again and put back in jail for life and her entire fortune goes to the dogs at 2nd Chance Dog Shelter.
Cruella make appearances in the Disney Parks around the world. Cruella usually appears as a meet and greet character. She is considerably more common in Disneyland Paris. Cruella's most notable park appearance in arguably Disney Stars and Motorcars Parade.
On some of the Disney Cruise Line ship, Cruella is featured in several shows including, "The Golden Mickeys" and "Villains Tonight". In the Magic Kingdom, Cruella is featured in Celebrate A Dreams Come True Parade.
Cruella is one of the villain suspects in Midship Detective Agency on the Disney Fantasy cruise ship. However, after finding some evidence, it is reveled that Cruella is not responsible for the crime in question, being absent from the ship at the time the crime was committed. Ironically, one of the crimes she was innocent of was the kidnapping of Pongo and Perdie's 99 puppies.
In Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, Cruella is a villain enemy featured in Main Street, U.S.A. She makes a deal with Hades, under the name Boss Teal, to have all the dalmatians in her possessions in exchange for the legendary crystal of the Magic Kingdom. Cruella sends Jasper to create a fireworks show to distract the citizens of London while she rampage through their homes to find the crystal and Horace to kidnap the puppies. Meanwhile, Cruella breaks into Merlin the Wizard's secret vault to find the crystal. However, Perdita secretly switched the crystal with a chew toy. Once Cruella finds out, she loses her temper over the fact that she's been outsmarted by dogs. With another magic blast, Cruella's fur coat falls apart having Cruella throw yet another tantrum, which causes the floor to crumble having her to fall into the ground.
Cruella appears as one of the villains in the Florida version of Fantasmic!. In the show, Cruella is called forth by The Queen when she plans to destroy Mickey Mouse once and for all with the help of her fellow Disney Villains. In the end, Cruella is killed by Mickey along with the other villains.
In the show, Cruella is the fourth villain Doctor Facilier encounters. She teaches Facilier about fashion and he defeats Cruella using the puppies which drives her to running away.
Behind the Scenes
Betty Lou Gerson, who had previously provided her voice as the narrator of the opening scenes of Cinderella, was inspired by Tallulah Bankhead when voicing Cruella De Vil. This is interesting as it is said that Dodie Smith originally conceived the character as an evil parody of Bankhead. When performing, Gerson was intimidating even to the other actresses working with her. She was the primary inspiration for Marc Davis when animating Cruella. Davis commented that the vocal performance suggested that "this character was bigger than life, high in energy, and, like a shark, always moving".
Though Cruella's basic appearance, in particular her half black, half white hair, were established in Dodie Smith's original novel, the character's design in the film was developed by Bill Peet (who described Cruella as "a fiendish witch of a woman" who "made the story go", Ken Anderson and Marc Davis. In sketches exploring designs for Cruella, Marc Davis experimented with more youthful-looking versions of the character. The juxtaposition of the enormous coat against the rail-thin body was established in these early sketches. Davis exaggerated the size of the coat to match Cruella’s larger-than-life personality, and added three big tails to its back to add a "slightly ridiculous" element; the coat's red clothing was intended to allude to the character's somewhat demonic nature (and corresponding name). The disheveled style of Cruella’s hair was inspired by hairdos seen in magazines between the 1940s and 1960s. The long green cigarette holder was modeled on one used by Davis himself.
Marc Davis, the sole animator of Cruella in all her scenes in 101 Dalmatians, was initially unsure that Cruella would suit the film, worrying that the character was too comic. Indeed, his colleagues criticized him as he worked; Frank Thomas felt that the head was too skull-like, while Milt Kahl demanded to know why Davis had to "make her feet so damn big".
In addition to the voice of Betty Lou Gerson, the animation was inspired by Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis in All About Eve and Rosalind Russel in Aunt Mame. Davis also worked from live-action footage of character actress Mary Wickes. Wickes’ angular physique and sophisticated, smooth movements in this reference footage inspired Davis to incorporate these contrasting aspects in Cruella’s animation. However, Davis used the footage sparingly.
Davis wanted Cruella to move "like someone you wouldn't like" and thought of people who do not listen to any voice other than their own, and thus dominate a conversation or situation. He made specific reference in interview to "one woman I knew who was just a monster. She was tall and thin and talked constantly – you never knew what she was saying, but you couldn't get a word in edgewise".
Though Milt Kahl initially disliked Marc Davis’ caricatured approach to the design and animation of the character (complaining in particular about the size of Cruella’s feet), he was very impressed by the final product and, thinking Davis to be a better draughtsman, appears to have become rather jealous of his colleagues success with the character. When Kahl was given the chance to animate his own flamboyant villainess, Madame Medusa in The Rescuers, he swore to Davis that he would "blow your Cruella off the screen". A fan letter to Kahl from a young Andreas Deja mistakenly referring to him as Cruella’s animator received the reply: "Thank you for all your compliments, but I did not animate Cruella De Vil. She was animated by my friend Marc Davis and, unlike Medusa, was based on live action."
Animation of Cruella De Vil's Car
Both Cruella's car and the Baduns' truck were created as miniature, three-dimensional representations. These models were white, with any corners and edges painted with black lines. The models were photographed and placed on photostats, and the lines made the vehicles seem to have been drawn by hand. The image was then cut out and pasted on a cell before being copied by the Xerox process and painted in flat colours, in order not to appear out of place among the hand-drawn elements of the film.
Early Role in The Rescuers
During early production on The Rescuers, Cruella De Vil was considered for the role of the villain; drawings by Ken Anderson depict her in alligator skins, suggesting that she would have visited, or had dealings with, Devil's Bayou. This idea was abandoned, as the studio was not interested in producing sequels at the time, and Madame Medusa was created. Cruella and Medusa share certain characteristics, including fixation on a single goal, a fiery temper and a tendancy to drive recklessly.
Deviations from source material
In Dodie Smith's original book, Cruella De Vil was married to a furrier, but kept her maiden name. She could be considered more sinister and less powerful than the Disney version of the character, which retains the half black, half white hair, the huge, cape-like mink coat and the hell-like home (suggested in the film by the look of her bedroom).
The 1961 animated version of Cruella De Vil is generally considered Disney’s best interpretation of the character, and one of the greatest movie villains of all time, declared by many critics as the best villain since the Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She was nominated for a place in 'AFI's 50 Greatest Villains list' (along with the Queen, Stromboli, Man, Lady Tremaine, Maleficent and Ursula; the Disney Villains to make the final list were the Queen (10), Man (20), and Cruella De Vil (39)) and was ranked sixth in fan site Ultimate Disney's countdown of the most popular Disney Villains. In an official poll for favourite animated Disney Villains she placed first. Cruella was also ranked as the third greatest Disney Villain in the tongue-in-cheek Disney Villains: The Top Secret Files by Jeff Kurtti. She was voted the 82nd most popular movie character of all time by the readers of film magazine Total Film; she was the only animated Disney character to appear on the list.
Polls held close to the publication of The Disney Villain rank Cruella as the most popular Disney Villain. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (authors of the book) find the character "a sparkling combination of unnerving evil intent and ridiculous farce, played against the innocence and vulnerability of 99 puppies.... Cruella was unique, outrageous, and highly entertaining".
Leonard Maltin considers the character to exemplify the film's "stylistic exaggeration of reality.... her design is a caricature.... even her car is an exaggeration". Times critic Howard Thompson felt that she "makes the Snow White witch seem like Pollyanna.... Imagine a sadistic Aunt Mame, drawn by Charles Addams and with a Talulah Bankhead bass." Leonard Maltin, "The Disney Films" (Disney Editions, New York, 2000) Jerry Beck’s Animated Movie Guide declares that "Disney evildoers of the past were merely dastardly, but Cruella was actually psychotic, a bony, volatile bundle off thinly worn nerves and hysterical egomania.... Cruella De Vil is arguably the most memorable character in any Disney film".
A live-action incarnation was portrayed by Glenn Close for a remake, 101 Dalmatians; this version was not only an heiress but also a fashion designer, and was defeated in slapstick fashion similar to the defeats of the villains of the Home Alone movies (which were produced by the same producer).
- The Nostalgia Critic listed Cruella as Number 11 on his "Top 11 Disney Villians", while his female counterpart, The Nostalgia Chick, listed her as Number 7 on her "Top 11 Nostalgia Villainesses".
- In the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, one of the twins calls Meredith Blake (that movie's main antagonist) "Cruella".
- Bruce W. Smith, an animator at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, used Cruella as a reference when creating Doctor Facilier.
- Cruella was listed #16 in Empire Magazine's The 50 Best Animated Movie Characters. Stating as her Stroke of genius her unique approach to keeping her two henchmen, Jasper and Horace, on her side, constantly slapping them, threatening them and berating them for (admittedly catastrophic) failures.
- Cruella is often seen in Forbes Annual Fictional 15 list of wealthiest fictional characters.