Fashion and fur are the two guiding principles for Cruella. So much so that she is willing to first steal and then slaughter her ‘old school chum’s’ puppies. This is pretty shocking for a children’s movie. I find it interesting that Cruella is never portrayed in a favorable light. In 1961, when “One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ was released, fur was not only acceptable in fashion every woman needed to have at least one fur piece in her closest. Mama Mouse had her very own mink coast in the late 60s that lived in her closet most of my life. In this days and age, fur loving (like smoking which Cruella also does) is a tool used to establish a villain. We don’t approve of killing animals simply for their fur, but in the 60s that would have been a hard sell.
What makes Cruella so villainous? One might argue that with a name that combines the words cruel and devil she never had a chance. The American Film Institute listed her at #39 in their list of 100 Villains for the first 100 years of American film. (Ironically, she is listed across from Lassie, #39 on the hero list). Ultimate Disney ranked her #6 in their list of villains. It is implied in the song “Cruella de Vil” that her list of cruelties is long, but they are never stated. People are afraid of her, but we never get to know why.
What we do know is that Cruella is willing to kill puppies, beloved family pets, simply for a whim. We know that friendship is meaningless to her. We know that she is obsessive, thoughtless, and disrespectful. We know that the only person who matters to Cruella is Cruella and the loss of 99 lives is meaningless as long as she gets what she wants. We know that no matter what else she has done that disregard for life is villainous.