Cruella's name is a pun of the words cruel and devil, an allusion which is emphasized by having her country house nicknamed "Hell Hall." However, de Vil also implies "of vile," making her name translate as, Cruel of Vile. In Polish, Cruella De Vil is known as "Cruella De Mon", a play on "demon". In Italian, she is called "Crudelia De Mon" (a pun on "crudele", cruel, and "demone", demon). In the French translation of the Disney's animated movie, she is referred as "Cruella D'Enfer" (Literally, Cruella of Hell or from Hell). In Dutch, the name remains "De Vil", while by coincidence the Dutch verb for skinning is "Villen" and "Vil" is the conjugation of this verb for the first person singular.
In the original story, Cruella is a depicted as a pampered and glamorous London heiress who knows the owner of the Dalmatian puppies from school, though it is mentioned that they were not friends and that she frightened the young Mrs. Dearly. She was a menacing student with black and white plaits, and was expelled for drinking ink. However, she appears to be on friendlier terms with Mrs. Dearly when they encounter each other at the beginning of the novel, before Cruella steals Dearly's puppies.
In all her incarnations, Cruella kidnaps 97 or 99 Dalmatian puppies for their fur. In the live-action version, it is revealed that the reason Cruella chooses to skin puppies is that when short-haired dogs grow older, their fur becomes very coarse, which does not sell as well in the fur fashion industry as the fine, soft fur of puppies.
The One Hundred and One Dalmatians describes Cruella as the last of her prosperous and notorious family, with a personal net worth of GB£6 million. She is married to a furrier, whose first name is never mentioned. However, it is revealed that in contrast to the usual patriarchal custom, he has adopted his wife's surname as his own, in an effort to carry on her family name (though they have no children). Cruella is portrayed as the tyrannical figure in the marriage, and her husband as a meek, subservient man who seldom speaks and obeys his wife entirely. He supplies Cruella with extravagances, such as the white mink cloak she often wears with skin-tight satin gowns and ropes of jewels in contrasting colours, such as a black dress with ropes of pearls, or a green dress with ropes of rubies. Cruella's chauffeur-driven car is black-and-white striped, which Mr. Dearly describes as "a moving zebra crossing", and Cruella boasts that it has the loudest horn in London, which she insists on sounding for the Dearly couple.
When Cruella has guests for dinner, all of her food is strangely-colored and tastes strongly of pepper. When Mr. Dearly comments she might find her mink cloak too warm for a summer's evening, Cruella laughs that she never finds anything too warm; she constantly stokes a roaring fire and complains of being cold despite the unbearable heat. The flat is portrayed as a luxurious version of Hell, with all the rooms being made of marble and colored garishly in green, red or purple. Her guests also meet her abused white Persian cat whom Cruella admits she detests and only keeps because of the cat's value.
When invited to a dinner party held by the Dearly couple, Cruella expresses her sinister interest in the Dalmatians, remarking how she and her henpecked husband have never thought of making clothing from dog pelt before. Yet seeing the spotless skins of the newborn puppies she is revolted and offers to have them drowned at once; her way of getting rid of animals she views as worthless, including dozens of her own cat's kittens. Upon a second visit to the house she picks up the mature puppies and treats them like clothing to be worn.
Cruella also makes a brief appearance, albeit asleep, in Dodie Smith's sequel, The Starlight Barking.
Disney's animated version of Cruella first appeared in 1961's One Hundred and One Dalmatians, in which she was voiced by Betty Lou Gerson and animated by Marc Davis who together crafted her into an iconic and memorable character. Disney based its version of Cruella on the personality and mannerisms of Tallulah Bankhead. The cool detachment of the original character was replaced by a crazed mania, in which Cruella only barely clung to a sheen of glamour. For unexplained reasons, Cruella's cat and husband were omitted from the Disney version. Cruella drives a very distinctive automobile, colored red and black, based on a 1936 Alvis Speed 20 SD Drophead Coupe.
In the film, Cruella has become wealthy off her large collection of fur coats, and is consequentially rude and spoiled. She makes fun of Anita Radcliffe and her husband Roger for making a living from songwriting. Cruella desires to make a fur coat from the Radcliffes' Dalmatians, and promises to return in three weeks to collect the puppies when they are born. Upon the night of the puppies' birth, Cruella is at first dismayed to find their coats completely spotless, but cheers up when Anita tells her that the spots would appear in a few weeks. Cruella makes an offer to buy the puppies, all the while mocking Roger for his song-writing career and splattering Roger and Pongo with ink from her pen. However, when Roger firmly states that the puppies are not for sale, she furiously ends her friendship with Anita and storms out, vowing vengeance.
Weeks later, two thieves named Jasper and Horace successfully steal the puppies when the Radcliffes are out. While Cruella is questioned about the theft, the police are unable to find anything against her, and Anita does not want to charge her, despite Roger's doubts. However, as the days go by, the police still suspect her, so she goes into hiding at her old mansion, Hell Hall at Suffolk, where Jasper and Horace and the puppies reside, proving that she was the mastermind behind the theft. She demands that the henchmen kill and skin the puppies for her that very night before furiously leaving the house. The next morning, Cruella learns that the puppies have escaped the house in the night and she and her henchmen begin a perilous search for the puppies on the snowy country roads through Cruella's roadster and Jasper and Horace's beat up truck. Cruella shouts at Horace and Jasper for reckless driving, despite her obviously worse driving skills. The next day, on Christmas Eve, Cruella, Jasper, and Horace realize that the puppies have fled to Dinsford and they begin searching there. While driving her car across town, she sees a long procession of black puppies walking past her into a van. Realizing at the last second that the puppies are the Dalmatians in disguise, she pursues the van in her car as it leaves town. Cruella tries to ram the van over a cliff, but instead collides with Jasper and Horace in their truck. The three villains tumble down a steep mountain and land in the cold snow in a tangle of automobile wreckage. Cruella cries the loss of her dream coat and Jasper tells her to shut up.
The film featured a song, written by Mel Leven, using her name as the title, sung by the Dalmatians' owner Roger (Bill Lee), who holds the woman in contempt. The lyric begins with: "Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil. If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will..."
Walt Disney's early vision for The Rescuers (1977) revolved around the kidnapping of a polar bear from a city zoo; writers considered reusing Cruella as the main antagonist (presumably driven by her desire for the bear's fur). The idea was dismissed when the source for the storyline changed, and Disney did not want to make a sequel out of an otherwise unrelated film. Cruella returned in 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure once again as the main antagonist, where she was voiced by Susanne Blakeslee. Blakeslee also voiced Cruella in Disney's House of Mouse, which featured a running gag in which she inspects dogs from other Disney films with a measuring ruler. She also appeared in Mickey's House of Villains. Cruella appears in animation one more time in Disney's Christmas Favorites during the segment "Santa Cruella". Cruella is also one of the Disney Villains Mickey fights in Disney's Hollywood Studios version of Fantasmic! Nighttime Show Spectacular in Walt Disney World. In Disney On Ice play "Celebrations," Cruella was one of the Villains who appears during the Halloween Party.
From the unsubtle symbolic name to her hideous physical appearance, Cruella's evil is overt. In 2002, Forbes ranked Cruella as the thirteenth wealthiest fiction character, citing the single 65-year-old has a net worth of $875 million, obtained through inheritance. Cruella was listed as the 39th greatest villain in American cinema in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains. Also, in Ultimate Disney's Top 30 Disney Villains Countdown, Cruella ranked #6.
Glenn Close portrayed Cruella de Vil in the 1996 film 101 Dalmatians and its 2000 sequel 102 Dalmatians. The film reinvented Cruella as the vindictive, snobbish and very glamorous magnate of a haute couture fashion house, "House of DeVil", which specialised in fur couture. The character of Anita (played by Joely Richardson) was a couturière and employee of De Vil. Unlike the animated film, the live-action version gives the reason why Cruella wanted to make the puppies into coats at a young age, is that their fur wouldn't be as soft when they fully grow up. At the start of the film, it is revealed that Cruella has secretly had her henchmen slaughtered a white Siberian tiger at London Zoo for its pelt. Covered in molasses and mud, she is arrested and sent to prison at the end of the film.
This film increased the physical comedy of the animated film, even veering into more juvenille humor, such as Cruella falling into a vat of old molasses. Close's performance was universally well-received and her sex appeal as the character was also credited.
The live-action film was not as critically successful as the animated movie, but Close's performance, as well as her costumes, by Anthony Powell and Rosemary Burrows, received appreciative attention, including a spread in Vanity Fair. Claws were applied to gloves, and necklaces were made from teeth, to add to the idea that Cruella enjoyed wearing parts of dead animals. Nails were also projected from the heels to make them especially vicious in appearance. Some of her clothes were made out of leather or PVC, and Cruella always wore lots of makeup. Close has commented on how demanding the slapstick physicality of the role was while wearing nail-heeled boots and corsets. She was always smoking to give the appearance of a mysterious "villain". Close also insisted that she fall into the molasses herself for genuine acting, as opposed to delegating it to a stunt double.
In 102 Dalmatians, while under effect of Dr. Ivan Pavlov's hypnotherapy treatment, Cruella was cured of her fur addiction and released from prison on parole, three years after the events of the first film. She insisted on being called "Ella" because "Cruella sounds so... cruel". Reformed, completely devoted to saving animals, and while experiencing "doraphobia", she was scared by even the smallest sight of fur fashion, especially since she had all of her fur clothing and the drawing of herself in a Dalmatian puppy coat boarded up. Unfortunately, this new persona was not to last for long since the effects of Big Ben's chimes managed to undo the conditioning, reverting Cruella to her former self. During the "Ella" stage, Cruella quit her characteristic habits, such as wearing fur clothing, long nails, extravagant hair styles, and of course, smoking. Once Big Ben jolted her brain waves back into Cruella, her old habits returned. At the end of the movie, she was baked into a massive cake and arrested (along with Jean Pierre Le Pelt) and this time sentenced to life in prison; her entire fortune went to 2nd Chance Dog Shelter.
A live-action Cruella de Vil film is in development by Disney. Screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna most known for writing The Devil Wears Prada is set to write the film for Disney, with Andrew Gunn as the producer, and Alex Timbers as director while Emma Stone is in talks for the role.
In the 101 Dalmatians animated series, Cruella was voiced by April Winchell and was based on Glenn Close's portrayal from the live-action film, but with Betty Lou Gerson's design from the animated film. She is not seen wearing clothes made out of animals, nor smoked (although in the episodes "Smoke Detectors" and "Hail to the Chief" she did) and is totally sane. Her villainous plot in the show was to steal the Dearlys' farm from them, and using the puppies as a ransom, mainly because the old widow Smedly would not sell it to her and that her mother Malevola demands it. She is an archetypal corporate villain who will seize on any scheme to make money, including drilling oil from the swamp near Dearly farm (thereby polluting it), buying Kanine Krunchies and replacing the nutritious ingredients with sawdust and chalk or sending Jasper and Horace to drive out the owners of Mom and Pop's Grocery Store so she can buy it herself.
In the Christmas episode, "A Christmas Cruella", since she was a child, Cruella wanted a Dalmatian puppy, but her parents always go on vacations, leaving her with a foreign nanny and clothes for gifts. During her teens, was the final straw which gave her her half white hairline in her fury (earlier, she is seen with all black hair and a slight gray-ish streak). Her miserable childhood is what drove her to evil.
The series is also the first time Cruella uses seduction as one of her evil schemes. In the series finale, she uses an inflatable body suit to disguise herself as a sexy blond bikini surfer to seduce Roger to make Anita think he is cheating on her so they will split up and she can get the farm. When Anita goes swimming, she makes her move on him. She asks him to go swimming with her and then tries to kiss him, but her suit is deflated by the puppies' chicken friend, and she turns into a surfboard.
Cruella also appears as the main antagonist in the Broadway musical based on the novel. She was portrayed by Rachel York; however, the actress announced on her blog that she had stepped down from the role of Cruella de Vil to pursue other projects. The role was taken over by Sara Gettelfinger.
Cruella first appears in the fourth book Power Play, as a member of the Overtakers. She is valuable to them since she knows the ways of the modern world. Cruella works with the Evil Queen to free Maleficent and Chernabog, while making sure the Keepers stay off their trail. Using DHI technology, she and the Queen head for the power facility and shut down the electricity, allowing Maleficent and Chernabog to escape their cells.
In the following book Shell Game, she assists the Queen and Maleficent in stealing Walt's original notes on Chernabog from the Archives. She then boards the Dream for the two week cruise, along with the rest of the Overtakers. She commands the Lion King' hyenas, Happy and Howley, having them patrol the ship to keep the Keepers from finding Chernabog.
In the seventh book "The Insider", Cruella joins Tia Dalma, the Queen and Judge Doom's group in Toontown; she calls an army of animals to the area with a simple command. However, she is knocked out by Amanda's telekinesis. Finn later discovers Cruella had been living in a luxurious decommissioned train compartment and tries strangling her to death. She flees in terror, but has a wrench tossed at her. She is last seen slumped on the ground, bleeding.
Cruella appears in the fourth and fifth seasons of the TV series Once Upon a Time, where she is portrayed as an adult by Victoria Smurfit, and as a child by Milli Wilkinson, as a witch who possesses the power to control animals. A childhood sociopath, Cruella poisoned her father and two stepfathers. Her mother Madeline (Anna Galvin) kept her locked inside the house to prevent her from harming others. As an adult, she met Isaac (the Author) (Patrick Fischler), who was posing as a regular journalist; through him, she learned that her world, a perpetual 1920s England, was one of many. Smitten with her, the Author gave her the power to control animals. Cruella used the new power to have her mother's dalmatians kill her, and killed them and made their fur into a coat. In a struggle to prevent the Author from writing another note about her, the vial of magic ink spills on her causing her blonde hair to turn into the iconic black and white. However, the pen had a remnant of ink in it, which the Author used to write down a note that would, from there on, prevent Cruella from taking another life. "Cruella De Vil can no longer take away the life of another." Cruella kept this secret, as intimidation would still work for her needs.
She later ended up in the Enchanted Forest, where she became infamous for turning animals into outerwear. Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) recruited her, Ursula (Merrin Dungey) and Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten) to acquire the Dark Curse. However, he double-crossed them and left them to be killed by the Chernabog. Escaping together, Cruella joined the two in trying to get assistance from Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) in preventing the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) from casting the curse. However, the Tree of Wisdom they consulted refused to answer due to Snow's pregnancy. Along with Ursula, Cruella was asked by Maleficent to act as a guard while she went through childbirth as a dragon. As a result, Cruella was sucked into a portal with Ursula and the child to the Land Without Magic, due to a spell cast by the Apprentice. She and the Sea Witch steal the egg the baby was in and use the magic to prolong their youth in the magicless world. She later marries a Mr. Feinberg and lives in a mansion off Long island in New York.
In the present day, Cruella's marriage has fallen apart as the FBI is repossessing her husband's belongings. Mr. Gold and Ursula convince her to join them in finding the Author to get happy endings. Cruella plays little importance in the plot, until the Author is released from the book; unable to kill him herself, she pretends to threaten Henry Mills's (Jared S. Gilmore) life to force Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Regina to do so. However, Emma confronts her, not knowing the restriction the Author placed on Cruella, and magically blasts her off a cliff to her death.
After her death, Cruella ends up in the Underworld, a purgatory run by the deity Hades. While there, she meets David's twin brother James; they quickly strike up a romantic relationship due to their similar personalities. When the heroes arrived with Gold to rescue the recently deceased Killian Jones (Colin O'Donoghue), Cruella is among the deceased of whom they come across. In hopes of returning to life, Cruella appeals to Henry, the new Author, to use the quill to bring her back to life. Later, she helps Regina Mills locate the grave of her lost love Daniel, who has since moved on to a better place. Mistaking David for James, Cruella makes a move on him, then informs him of the hostility James holds toward his brother. Cruella and James then hatch a plan to get out the Underworld by delivering Hades the child of Robin and Zelena. James pretends to be David and puts a magic blocking bracelet on Emma, while he and Cruella take the baby. They take Emma and Robin to the docks, planning to throw them into the River of Lost Souls, until David and Hook stop them. David ends up throwing James into the River and Cruella runs off.
Once Hades' heart is restarted, and he plans to leave the Underworld with Zelena, Cruella teams up with the Blind Witch; Hades offered to let them rule the Underworld in his absence and help trap the heroes there. Delighted with the idea of getting to torment souls for eternity, Cruella agrees to the deal.
Following the heroes' escape back to Storybrooke, Hook teams up with a deceased King Arthur to locate the storybook so they can tell Emma how to defeat Hades. They go to find Cruella at the diner, where she reacts with disdain towards seeing Hook, but she coyly regards Arthur with keen interest because of his good looks. When questioned about the haunting booth, Cruella admits she destroyed it for good, since she doesn't want anyone moving on if it means she has to be stuck in the Underworld too. Hook then presses her about the book's whereabouts, which Cruella is surprisingly forthcoming about. She knows they will eventually figure out the truth even if she lies, and then tells them that she put the book in the River of Souls. Cruella is later dethroned by Arthur who then rules the Underworld for fifty years as she becomes a depressed and bored woman who drinks in the local bar with Sir Mordred.
Cruella De Vil appears in the 2015 Disney Channel Original Movie Descendants. She is portrayed by actress Wendy Raquel Robinson. Along with other villains, Cruella has been exiled to the Isle of the Lost, where she has lived for at least twenty years. She has a 14-year-old son, Carlos, whom she abuses and treats like a servant, making him sleep near the bear traps she uses to guard her fur coats.
Cruella de Vil has become one of the most recognizable literary and film villains, and as such as featured prominently in popular culture:The Queen song "Let Me Entertain You" features the lyrics "I'll Cruella de Vil You!"
The Children 18:3 song "The Cruel One" is about 101 Dalmatians and mentions Cruella de Vil by name in the chorus.
The Deadsy song "Cruella" is written about Cruella de Vil.
Rock band The Replacements recorded a cover of the song "Cruella de Vil" for a compilation of Disney covers. It also appears on All for Nothing / Nothing for All.
In the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, Hallie Parker tells her mother that her father is getting married to a woman as evil as Cruella de Vil.
The Spanish singer Alaska made a cover of song "Cruella de Vil" for the 101 Dalmatians Live-action film Spanish version.
Teen singer and actress Selena Gomez redid the song, based on the song from Disney's 101 Dalmatians. Similarly, Blues Pianist and Vocalist Dr. John did a Big Band cover for an album of Disney's Greatest Hits; which included his cover of the classic 1961 song.
Mark Campbell (of Jack Mack and the Heart Attack fame) sings the funky "Cruella De Vil" in the movie '102 Dalmatians,' and on the 2000 Disney Soundtrack Album.
American singer and performer Lady Gaga dressed up as Cruella de Vil for Halloween in 2010. The performer has had many outfits inspired by the villain.
An inflatable representation of the character made an appearance in the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London alongside Lord Voldemort, The Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook and Child Catcher to commemorate the significance of children's literature to British culture.
In Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, a tabloid once published a story accusing Lois Lane of cheating on her husband Clark Kent with Superman. Lois commented she was under Cruella on the popularity scale.
Singer Melanie Martinez dyed half of her hair blonde, in the same vein as Cruella.
In The Simpsons episode "Two Dozen and One Greyhounds", Mr. Burns plays the role of Cruella De Vil, but unlike her in the movies, where she steals the Dalmatian puppies to make them into fur coats, he steals Santa's Little Helper and the puppies he sired to make them into a tuxedo. And unlike Cruella, who has no hesitation in killing the puppies, Burns cannot bear to kill the puppies himself, because they are too cute. Declaring that he will never kill any animal that can perform good tricks again, Burns pays the Simpsons for the puppies, and he trains them to be world-class racing dogs. The episode also included a parody of the song, "Be Our Guest" from another Disney film Beauty and the Beast.
Coco LaBouche, the antagonist of Rugrats' 2000 spin-off film Rugrats in Paris, has some of the same characteristics as Cruella.
In Jessie episode "101 Lizards", Mrs. Chestrefield plays a role similar to Cruella de Vil.