American video game designer Roger Dearly (Jeff Daniels) lives with his pet Dalmatian Pongo in London. One day, Pongo sets his eyes on a beautiful female dalmatian named Perdy. After a frantic chase through the streets of London that ends in St. James's Park, Roger discovers that Pongo likes Perdy. Her owner, Anita Campbell-Green (Joely Richardson) falls in love with Roger when they meet. They both fall into the lake as a result of their dogs chasing each other, but they return to Roger's home and Anita accepts his proposal. They get married along with Perdita and Pongo. Anita works as a fashion designer at the House of de Vil. Her boss, the pampered and very glamorous Cruella de Vil (Glenn Close), has a deep passion for fur, going so far as to have a taxidermist, Mr Skinner, skin a white tiger at the London Zoo to make it into a rug for her. Anita, inspired by her dalmatian, designs a coat made with spotted fur. Cruella is intrigued by the idea of making garments out of actual dalmatians, and finds it amusing that it would seem as if she was wearing Anita's dog.
Anita soon discovers that Perdy is pregnant and is then informed by Nanny (Joan Plowright) that she (Anita) is, too, much to her shock. Some time later, Cruella visits their home and expresses contempt upon meeting Roger. Her initial disgust at them having a baby turns to excitement when she finds out Perdy is expecting too. Several weeks later, she returns when a litter of 15 puppies are born and offers Roger and Anita £7,500 for them, but they declined her offer. Enraged, Cruella fires Anita and vows revenge against her and Roger. One winter evening, she has her henchmen, Jasper and Horace (Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams) break into their home and steal the puppies, while Roger and Anita are walking in the park with Pongo and Perdy. Along with 84 other dalmatians that were previously stolen, they deliver them to her ancient country estate, De Vil Mansion. Cruella also hires Skinner to kill and skin them to create her coat.
With the family devastated at the loss of their puppies, Pongo uses the twilight bark to carry the message via the dogs and other animals of Britain, while Roger and Anita notify the Metropolitan Police. A dog who had witnessed the stolen puppies follows Jasper and Horace to the mansion, and finds all of them inside, before helping them escape under the duo's noses. They make their way to a nearby farm, where they are later joined by Pongo and Perdy. Cruella arrives at the mansion and soon discovers what has happened. Angry with the thieves' failure, she decides to carry out the job herself, while Jasper and Horace attempt to search for them also. After several mishaps, Jasper and Horace discover nearby police on the hunt for Cruella and her henchmen and hand themselves in, joining Skinner who was beaten earlier while trying to kill Lucky (one of the 15 puppies), who had been left behind. Meanwhile, Cruella tracks the puppies to the farm where they are hiding and tries to retrieve them. However, the animals outwit her, cause her to fall into a vat of molasses and get thrown through a window into a pig pen. Shortly afterwards, the fleeing dalmatians (including Lucky) are found and sent home via the Suffolk Constabulary, while those looking for Cruella arrive at the farm to arrest her. In the police van, she belittles Jasper, Horace, and Skinner for their incompetence before they are sprayed by a skunk which she had mistaken for her bag. Pongo, Perdy and their puppies are reunited with Roger and Anita.
After being informed that the remaining 84 puppies have no home to go to, as they have not been claimed by their original owners, they decide to adopt them, bringing the total to 101. Roger designs a successful video game featuring dalmatian puppies as the protagonists and Cruella as the villain and they move to the countryside with their millions. Roger and Anita have a baby daughter, and a year later Anita becomes pregnant again and the puppies grew up.Glenn Close as Cruella De VilJeff Daniels as Roger DearlyJoely Richardson as Anita Campbell-Green-DearlyJoan Plowright as Nanny The HousekeeperHugh Laurie as JasperMark Williams as HoraceTim McInnerny as AlonzoJohn Shrapnel as Mr. SkinnerHugh Fraser as FrederickZohren Weiss as HerbertFrank Welker as Pongo & Perdy (voice)
The role of Cruella had been previously offered to Sigourney Weaver (Close took it after finishing her run in the musical Sunset Boulevard). Cathy Moriarty was briefly considered for the role, but was later deemed too frightening for a children's film after doing a screen test. The animatronic creatures used in the film are provided by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.
Minster Court was used as the exterior of Cruella De Vil's fashion house. Sarum Chase was used as the exterior of her home.
The UK premiere of the film was held on December 4, 1996, at the Royal Albert Hall, London, and the exterior of the Hall was lit with dalmatian spots. It grossed $136.2 million in the United States and $320.7 million worldwide. The film was released on VHS for the first time on April 15, 1997, and on DVD on December 12, 2000. Due to the high sales of the One Hundred and One Dalmatians Platinum Edition DVD, Disney re-released it on September 16, 2008, in the U.S., along with its sequel, 102 Dalmatians and that to the original 1961 animated version, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure. A video game based on the film entitled 101 Dalmatians: Escape from DeVil Manor was released in May 1997.
On review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 38% and an average rating of 5.4 out of 10 from 33 reviews. Animal rights organizations protested the film's release, saying that Dalmatian sales shot up after the premiere, fueled by impulsive purchases of puppies by parents for their children. Being ill-prepared to care for a relatively difficult breed of dog past puppy-hood, many of these new owners eventually surrendered their animals to pounds, where many dogs ended up being euthanized.
A sequel, 102 Dalmatians, taking place four years after the first film's events, was released on November 22, 2000. The film's early working title was 101 Dalmatians Returns.
Disney is planning a live-action Cruella de Vil film origin story titled Cruella directed by Alex Timbers. Marc Platt and Andrew Gunn will produce; Glenn Close is executive producer. Screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna was set to write it, but Kelly Marcel replaced her. Emma Stone will play the eponymous role.