Cruella is ostensibly an origin story for the 101 Dalmatians villain, but the movie raises more questions than it answers. Why was Cruella’s hair half white from birth? Does she hate Dalmatians or not? And are Pongo and Perdita in an incestuous relationship? We’re here to help you puzzle through the latest developments in the Dalmatians Cinematic Universe.
Are the 101 Dalmatians inbred?
Cruella ends with one of the Dalmatians that Cruella has inherited/stolen from her biological mother giving birth to a litter of puppies, two of whom Cruella gifts to Roger (Kayvan Novak) and Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), respectively. Roger and Anita are the young Londoners who, in both Disney versions of 101 Dalmatians, get married and have, via their dogs, an unnaturally large litter of 15 puppies, the same puppies that Cruella later tries to bring together with 86 others to make into winter wear. The question their origin raises, however, is this: Are Pongo and Perdita, brother and sister, in an incestuous relationship? Are all of their puppies—from Lucky to Patch—severely inbred? Unfortunately, it would seem so.
Why is she giving them to Anita and Roger, anyway?
Cruella is friendly with Anita, her old schoolmate, so I can see why Cruella would choose her to receive a puppy, but there doesn’t seem to be any real reason why Roger would get one. The two characters barely interact, and on top of that, Cruella notes that he blames her for losing his job as lawyer for the Baroness (Emma Thompson). Meanwhile, this doesn’t seem like sufficient reason for him to write a whole song about how evil Cruella de Vil is, per the mid-credits scene, because, if anything, the Baroness was meaner to him than Cruella was. So, basically, Roger just gets a puppy in a half-baked and ill-conceived attempt to tie things back to the original 101 Dalmatians story.
Why would Cruella want to kill their puppies if they’re bred from her own dogs?
This, too, is unclear. The movie may suggest that Cruella was genetically predestined (?) to become a top designer and a fashion genius, by being born to a mother who is one and the same, but she is no longer obsessed with fur the way her animated counterpart was, and the movie makes a point of the fact that she doesn’t kill the Baroness’ dogs despite wearing a spotted coat.
Does Cruella hate Dalmatians?
Not really? The dogs are the tool the Baroness used to kill her foster mother, and are shown to be capable of viciousness when they are ordered to be, but by the time the movie ends, they listen to Cruella and seem to be a part of the gang. She doesn’t have anything against them, and though she has a taste for black-and-white color schemes, she doesn’t really seem to be obsessed with spots, either.
Is she evil, then?
Also not really. One of the big problems that Cruella runs into is that it’s an origin story for an unsympathetic character that’s desperately afraid of that same character becoming unsympathetic. The movie tries to justify the existence of Cruella (versus Estella, her given name) by positioning Cruella as the opinionated one who refuses to be meek, but that’s hardly a villainous trait. On top of that, by the movie’s logic, Cruella can’t just be mean—she has to have a reason for being mean, or else later apologize for her mean behavior, as she does with Horace and Jasper, who are less than thrilled with how inconsiderate she’s becoming. She’s canonically a villain, yes, but this movie requires her to be a hero. Just let her be a villain! Then we wouldn’t have half of these questions!
So her hair is just … like that?
Yes. There isn’t any explanation for the half-black, half-white ’do beyond the fact that she was [Lady Gaga voice] born this way. That said, in featurettes for the film, Emma Thompson can also be seen with half-black, half-white hair, the difference being that her split is top-down rather than side to side. Was the movie originally planning to reveal that Cruella inherited her two-tone hair from Thompson’s Baroness? And is that why the Baroness spends so much of the first half of the movie with her hair hidden under hats and headscarves? And did they later decide to abandon this reveal and just give the Baroness regular brown hair? We’re just asking questions!
Why is she called “Cruella de Vil” again?
It’s a very “Han Solo is called Han Solo because he was traveling solo when someone asked if he had a last name” story. “Cruella” is a nickname from her childhood, which her foster mother used to address her rebellious streak, and “de Vil” comes from a happenstance run-in with a Panther De Ville.
She started the movie by saying she was dead. What’s up with that?
Right. So the Baroness goes to jail because everyone at her big party sees her pushing Cruella (in “Estella” guise, i.e. with red hair) off of a cliff. So it’s really “Estella” who’s dead. Cruella is still alive and presumably about to set off on many more hijinks. So Cruella is bidding farewell to her former self by letting “Estella” die for the sake of putting the Baroness away. The movie seems to want us to think that it’s like if Two-Face said that Harvey Dent were dead.
But isn’t it more accurate to say that the movie really ends with Estella/Cruella killing off her evil, dog-hating, toxic-boss side and returning to being a good friend to Jasper and Horace and dogs everywhere? In other words, isn’t Cruella ultimately less an origin story for “Cruella” than an Estella who just wears edgier clothing and really knows how to make an entrance? And wouldn’t this seem to fundamentally fail to deliver on the movie’s central promise of telling Cruella’s origin story?
For more on Cruella, listen to Karen Han and Slate movie critic Dana Stevens discuss the movie in spoiler-filled detail.