Cruella de Vil is a character in the 1956 novel, The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, by British author Dodie Smith. She also appears as the villain in the Disney cartoon movie of the same name.
In the novel, Cruella is a glamorous and wealthy London heiress who knew the female protagonist, Mrs. Dearly, in school. Mrs. Dearly was frightened of Cruella in school, and the two were not friends. Cruella was a bully with black and white braids and was expelled for drinking ink. After encountering Mrs. Dearly again as adults at the beginning of the book, the two are on slightly friendlier terms, until Cruelly steals the Dalmatian puppies belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Dearly because she believes they would make delightful fur coats.
Cruella is the last in the line of her formerly prosperous, well-known family. The family keeps up wealthy appearances but is heavily in debt. She is married to a furrier whose first name is never mentioned in the book. She married him only because of his occupation, rather than for love, and she made him take her surname upon marriage so she could keep her family name alive, though the couple had no children together. Cruella bosses around her husband, and he timidly obeys her, giving her all of the extravagances she desires, such as a white mink fur coat.
When Cruella has the Dearlys over for dinner, they notice that all of the food is of strange colors and tastes like pepper. She wears her mink coat all the time, even in warm weather, saying she is always cold, and even keeps a fire in the fireplace at her house when it is hot outside. Her house is garishly decorated in red, green, and black. She also has a Persian cat who she abuses and detests, admitting she only keeps it around because it is valuable on the pet market.
When Cruella first meets the Dearlys, she expresses interest in their Dalmatians, saying that she and her husband had never thought of using dog fur to make coats before. Yet, when she sees that the dogs’ puppies do not have spots, she thinks they are not valuable and offers to have them drowned for the Dearlys, as that is what she does with animals she believes have no value (and has, in fact, drowned dozens of kittens born to her cat). Later, she sees the puppies when they are mature and their spots have come in, and kidnaps them, along with buying all of the Dalmatian puppies in town that she can find.
The puppies escape, and, with the help of the Persian cat, they destroy all of Cruella’s furs and coats. Most of these furs were not paid off, and Cruella and her husband leave England to get away from their creditors. They go into collecting plastic raincoats, and Cruella’s hair turns from black and white to white and green.
In the 1961 Disney movie based on the novel, Cruella is voiced by Betty Lou Gerson and animated by Marc Davis, while Mary Wickes served as her live-action model. Whereas the character in the novel was coolly detached in mannerisms, the cartoon version is crazily manic. She does not have a husband or a cat in the cartoon, and only a vague sheen of glamor as opposed to the genuine but creepy glamor of the novel. Much like the novel, though, the cartoon Cruella is rude and spoiled.
Interestingly, Forbes magazine named Cruella as the thirteenth wealthiest fiction character of all time in 2002, giving her a net worth of $875 million through her inheritance. She is supposed to be sixty-five years old.
In the cartoon, Cruella makes fun of the Radcliffes (who are the Dearlys from the novel, with their surname changed) because Roger Radcliffe makes a living from songwriting. She decides she wants to make a fur coat from the puppies of the Radcliffe’s Dalmatians, not telling the couple this, but simply demanding to know when the puppies are born. When the puppies are born, she is disappointed at their white coats, until Anita Radcliffe tells her that the spots come in later. Cruella offers to buy the puppies, while making fun of Roger and sloshing ink from her pen on Roger and the puppies’ father, Pongo. Roger tells her the puppies are not for sale, and Cruella ends her friendship with Anita, storms out, and vows revenge on the Radcliffes.
Cruella hires two thieves named Jasper and Horace to steal the puppies. Roger suspects Cruella in the disappearance of the puppies, but the police can’t find any evidence of it or any evidence of the location of the puppies. Cruella takes the puppies to her country home to avoid a potential investigation into her and demands Jasper and Horace skin the puppies for her that night.
The parents of the puppies, Pongo and Perdita, find the puppies and rescue them. Cruella finds they have escaped the next day, and leaves in pursuit of them with Jasper and Horace. They track the puppies the next day to the town of Dinsford, but they have all been colored black to disguise them. Cruella almost dismisses them, but recognizes them as the Dalmatian puppies, and pursues the van they climbed into. She tries to ram the van over a cliff.
Jasper does the same thing, but Horace causes the truck to swerve and crash into Cruella’s car. Cruella is left throwing a tantrum in the wreckage of her car and the henchmen’s truck, while the puppies get safely away.
Cruella’s name is a play on “cruel” and “devil” (“de” “Vil” put together spells devil). This is meant to reflect her personality. The décor of her house is meant to depict a luxurious type of hellscape, while her clothes are reflective of the same thing. The song from the cartoon, “Cruella de Vil,” is considered an iconic villain song, and is highly recognizable. Cruelly appeared in the novel’s sequel, The Starlight Barking, and in several follow-ups to the cartoon, including two live-action films, a cartoon series, and cartoon sequels and re-imaginings. She also appeared as a recurring villain beginning in season four of the ABC fantasy TV series, Once Upon a Time.