Note: All quotes in this post are directly from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. The film citation is listed at the end of this post.
“Miserable, as usual. Perfectly wretched.” These are some of the first words we hear from Cruella de Vil in 1961’s 101 Dalmatians, and the weight of these words follow her character throughout the film. After several minutes of following both Roger and Anita’s and Pongo and Perdita’s sweet love stories, we get the harsh introduction to Cruella. There’s an eerie sense about her straightaway in Perdita’s reaction to her: “It’s that devil woman.” Roger provides some further context by confirming to Anita that it is indeed “your dearly devoted old schoolmate” at the door. This leaves us as viewers not quite sure what to expect, but Cruella certainly surpasses any guess as to who Anita’s friend could be. She can be instantly identified as flamboyant, over-the-top, and slightly exhausting, especially for Roger who avoids her immediately.
Her appearance is striking, with greyed skin and an accompanying cigarette/holder in hand. She is extremely slender but wears a massive fur coat and has half white/half black hair split right down the middle. She is largely monochromatic, with her grey skin, white jacket, black dress, and neutral hair colors, but she has accents of both red and green scattered throughout her look. The most eye-catching is the crimson lining of her coat. She is a walking dichotomy. She also has one thing on her mind: Pongo and Perdita’s impending dalmatian puppies. Perdita confirms this to Pongo: “That witch. That devil woman. She wants our puppies. That’s all she’s after.” At this point, the pieces of her motive are falling into putrid place, as we learn one other thing about Cruella in her first screen appearance: “My one true love, darling. I live for furs. I worship furs!”
While Cruella’s personality initially seems larger-than-life in way that could be disorganized, we quickly learn that she has omniscient and very calculated qualities about her. She shows up the night the puppies are born without any notice from Roger or Anita, ready to impose her will. Once the puppies are successfully kidnapped a few scenes later, we learn that she has successfully surpassed suspicion of Scotland Yard even though she was the only suspect who made sense.
Cruella de Vil’s deadly sin trajectory breaks the mold a little bit. The pride that runs straight to her soul and stems from her immense wealth creates a need to have more and more exclusive items, breeding greed. She’s easily angered, and sloth is the final straw when she has Jasper and Horace attempt to fulfill her plan in her place. However, running through all of these sins is an overarching issue with a much more nuanced meaning in Cruella’s overall story.
Cruella’s pride is like no other we’ve seen so far; it’s based in her apparent wealth and a resulting need to make others feel small for having less. We see this in that first interaction with Anita: “Sweet, simple Anita. I know, I know! This horrid little house is your dream castle. And poor Roger is your bold and fearless Sir Galahad!” This statement is accompanied by a substantial cackle from Cruella. Anita brushes it off, as it seems that this is just how Cruella is; she doesn’t have respect for how other people live because she’s constantly caught up in her own entitlement. I want to note that this is different than staying in one’s own lane, so to speak, like we discussed in the Evil Queen post. This is Cruella’s complete lack of ability to empathize with another person’s situation, instead resorting to throwing insults at those who aren’t at the same level of financial privilege as she is. In this way, pride can function as the direct reverse of envy; there is still a comparison being made, but it’s not made to show what the sinner doesn’t have, but rather to gloat about what they do have.
Going back to her pride manifesting as entitlement, we see Cruella react extremely poorly to being told no when she randomly shows up the night the puppies are born. She expects to be sold all of the puppies just because she wants them, and when Roger asserts that the answer is not only no but “never”, she is stunned before hurling pointed insults at him: “Why, you horrid man!” To try to rectify the situation and spin things in her favor, Cruella turns her focus to Anita, using that same tactic of trying to make her feel small: “Anita, don’t be ridiculous. You can’t possibly afford to keep them.” She cannot take no for an answer, and when that answer doesn’t change, she concocts a plan to kidnap the puppies to get her way one way or another.
The alluded motive for her actions is something that feeds right into her pride: she wants something so exclusive that no one else has it. And who honestly has a genuine dalmatian fur coat? Well, no one, because that is such a ridiculous and appalling notion, but she sees it as a luxury reserved only for her. And by the time we meet her, she seems to feel awfully entitled to it. The concept of exclusivity and showing off her wealth in a way that makes others feel diminished is the name of Cruella’s game to give her the ego boost she ultimately desires.
I think that greed can be a very natural result of pride. A sense of entitlement is enough to make anyone think they’re deserving of anything and everything they want, and that’s certainly the case with Cruella. Once it’s confirmed that the puppies’ spots will develop in a few weeks, she says, “Oh, well in that case I’ll take them all. The whole litter.” She just assumes that she will be able to purchase all of the puppies and they’re already as good as hers.
We come to find out that Pongo and Perdita’s puppies were just the tip of the iceberg for Cruella; she demanded many more dalmatian puppies from all over to have in her possession. The exact number is confirmed in a conversation with Pongo, Perdita, and Patch when the former two arrive to rescue their children. Patch says, “Now there’s 99 of us.” It’s noteworthy that in this exchange it is confirmed that Cruella’s aim is to “make coats out of us,” per one of the puppies she has accumulated. This is the first time that the protagonists all come to terms with this and react to Cruella’s lunacy. Her greed reaches a point where she has to have an alternative location in her country estate to keep all of the puppies. No matter how many puppies she had (Jasper and Horace mention that she would be able to make several coats from the ones already in her possession), she wanted more. The only reason she was going to complete the plan with the puppies she had was because the kidnapping story was all over the news and she wanted her plan fulfilled before she was potentially caught. Her thought process is an unending cycle of, well, cruelty.
Once again in Cruella’s case, we see wrath quickly rising to the surface as it so often does. When she thinks she will be purchasing the puppies, she pulls out a pen to write a check. When it doesn’t write, she gets disproportionately angry: “Blast this pen. Blast this wretched, wretched pen! Ah!” Her severe annoyance at something so small alludes to a general discontentment in her life, but we’ll touch back on that point a bit later. Once it’s clear that she won’t be getting the puppies like she wants, she says, “But I warn you, Anita, we’re through. I’m through with all of you…I’ll get even. Just wait. You’ll be sorry, you fools.” This threat over someone not wanting to sell something to her is blown way out of proportion, but once again, it’s brushed under the rug in a sense because that’s just how everything is with Cruella.
The extent of Cruella’s viciousness is shown in the wrath she is willing to inflict on the poor puppies she’s gathered. She tells Jasper and Horace to kill them, “Any way you like. Poison them, drown them. Bash them in the head. You got any chloroform?” She is so nonchalant about the murder of puppies that it’s difficult to imagine Cruella any other way than a ruthless, vengeful villain. She has lost all sense through the lens of wrath.
In our final view of Cruella, she is screaming at Jasper and Horace in a very Maleficent-like fashion: “You idiots! You fools! You imbeciles!” Even in the failure of her ridiculous plan, she refuses to take a look at herself and accept responsibility for the outcome. Wrath tends to come about when we’re in the pattern of blaming others for our own shortcomings, and Cruella is no stranger to this concept.
The final step in Cruella’s sin trajectory is none other than sloth. It’s funny how it keeps sneaking its way into these stories, isn’t it? Once again, we see our villain outsource their evil plan so that someone else does the legwork, and in this case the ones sent out are Jasper and Horace. We first see this dynamic when the two men kidnap the puppies from their home while Roger, Anita, Pongo, and Perdita are out on their evening walk. Once they have successfully retrieved the puppies, we quickly realize they are connected to Cruella when they call her. Jasper says, “We don’t want no more of this, we want our boodle!” At that point we know that these aren’t friends of Cruella’s, but rather people she hired to do dirty work for her and potentially take the fall if it came to that. Based on Jasper’s statement, we already know that his has been happening for some time. Once it’s revealed that there are ninety-nine puppies hoarded away at Cruella’s estate, it becomes clear that Jasper and Horace indeed must have been involved for a while. However, the puppies do escape from the estate on their watch, and eventually make it back to London with Pongo and Perdita. Had Cruella handled her plan herself instead of simply ordering others around, things may have gone smoother for her.
Here is where I want to introduce the nuance to Cruella’s story and deadly sin trajectory. It is clear she suffers with gluttony in the sense of almost always having a cigarette in her hand for most of the film; they are her form of overindulgence. However, this is clearly different from her other deadly sins. I’d like to offer up the idea that “sins,” especially these deadly variety, don’t have to be moral failings. Sometimes they are simply comprised of behaviors that we partake in that also end up causing us the most harm. They are still things that we should correct for the benefit of our health and wellness, but my point here is that Cruella’s gluttony isn’t what makes her a villain; her other four sins do. It’s also worth noting that Roger also displays gluttony of his own in smoking his pipe throughout the film, even as one of the film’s heroes. These concepts don’t always have to do with being a hero or a villain, sometimes it’s just being human.
It’s impossible to ignore, though, how such a consistent cigarette addiction must impact her life, especially in the sense of general energy and happiness. Cruella doesn’t look well at any point in this film; she is very frail, and her skin is a grey-ish color. In my mind, then, it’s fair to say that this aspect of her must trickle into other parts of her life, like how reactive she is to things, for instance. This is where the 7 Deadly Sins go beyond their origin and even applications in how we treat others; so many times, the very root of the problem is how we’re treating ourselves, and we may just need a bit of help to overcome that.
In her larger-than-life persona, shocking desires, and rude commentary, it can be really difficult to look for a reason to have empathy for Cruella. However, after thinking about this film for quite some time, I realized why I do, and it’s not just surrounding her addictive behaviors. Truly, Cruella is alone. The only people we see her interact with throughout the film are Roger and Anita, who really don’t want her around them, and Jasper and Horace, who are only there because she hired them. The final time we see Cruella, Jasper, and Horace, after she’s called them that myriad of names in frustration, Jasper gives up on pleasing her and says, “Oh, shut up!” They have been the closest thing she’s had to companions the whole film, and they aren’t even really there for her. They are there only out of monetary obligation.
Cruella is all about contrast: the black and white, the red and green. I think the reason she makes such a fuss about her luxurious lifestyle is because culturally it’s viewed as positive, and the other side of her reality is that she has no one. She’s lonely. She shines in one area but falls completely short in another, so she wants to distract people from that fact. When we’re lonely, it can be so much easier to fall into addictive behaviors and to develop a self-image that only makes sense to us because we are spending so much time solely with ourselves. It starts becoming clearer, then, why she has such a complex about tearing Roger and Anita down. While they may not have a home as large as hers or luxury items like she does, they have each other and their dogs. Cruella doesn’t even have a pet, so in an attempt to build herself up, she tries to tear Anita down about her financial situation. In reality, Anita is perfectly happy because she has her family, but Cruella’s pride won’t let her rest.
In contrast to Cruella, we have our heroes, Pongo and Perdita. They show patience when they wait for leads on finding the puppies, diligence when travelling far and in inclement conditions to find them, charity when they take all of the other puppies Cruella had gathered home with them, and gratitude toward those who helped them along their journey (like Colonel, Sargeant, and Captain). They display the exact opposites of Cruella’s deadly sins, and not only that, but Perdita senses that things are awry with Cruella from the start. When it comes to the sins and the virtues, opposites do not in fact attract.
Throughout the film, a lot of muted tones are used, except for one main one: red. As Cruella’s sins become greater, especially wrath, more and more red finds its way onto the screen. The sins are not subtle, and rarely do they leave things as they found them. At one point in the movie, Cruella says, “So they thought they could outwit Cruella.” Even when we think we are seeing every single possible detail, it’s worth remembering that the deadly sins can work their way into just about anything. It’s not a game of wit; it’s a game of nature in many ways.
“Cruella de Vil. Cruella de Vil. If she doesn’t scare you no evil thing will.” Roger sang those words at several points during the movie, and that may have been true in 1961. At the very least, Cruella is our first villain to survive the sins, even if she didn’t seem to learn from them. But as we move along, we have more frightfully festive villains and all of their sins to share. So, let’s jump ahead a bit, as we can’t possibly cover all the villains. How unfortunate, wouldn’t you say? I know someone who might…
Geronimi, Clyde, et al., directors. 101 Dalmatians. Disney+, Walt Disney Animation Studio, 1961, https://www.disneyplus.com/?cid=DSS-Search-Google-71700000070655584-&s_kwcid=AL!8468!3!610598193342!e!!g!!disney%20plus&gclid=Cj0KCQjwteOaBhDuARIsADBqRejAnBi5BkmUZyIFbgw2gOrTFtT4zjSYJTPC9qOVKDUGmgdTQtNPbBwaAgJ2EALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds. Accessed 26 Oct. 2022.