Cruella DeVille is a great villain. When I was an earnest freshman at my first college, in Iowa, I went by myself to see 101 Dalmatians at the town's one screen theater. A couple of rows in front of me was an upperclassman who I recognized as being one of the prominent out gay men at the school. When Cruella came on the screen, he began to laugh archly and applaud pointedly. Throughout the show, it became increasingly clear to me that she was his favorite part of the whole movie.
Now, I grew up with a lot of gay men, and yet I had somehow missed out on Camp. Perhaps campy humor had been going on around me for years, but like the sweet smoky smell from my mother's parties in the 70's, I didn't clue in to what it was until I went to college.
My daughter, on the other hand, seems to understand it instinctively. For weeks before I recieved the DVD, she was telling people how excited she was to see "Dwu-ella DeVille," the mean lady who wanted to make puppies into coats. And then when she finally did see her for the first time, and I asked her opinion, she said "She seems nice."
As the movie progressed, she admitted that Cruella really was very mean, but I could tell that she enjoyed the villainess more than she did the puppies. That's my kid for you.
It's a beautifully drawn movie in that cool, early 60's way, especially in the beginning shots of the city. There's a square hipness to their neighborhood, complete with the resident beatnik artist and her doppleganger dog.
My daughter is 3-and-a-half, and got a little shifty in the middle part, when the dogs were doing their barking communication chain. It was a little over her head. But, the cool car chase and, of course, more Cruella made up for the brief lull. The puppies are adorable; that goes without saying. There's a brief shot of the puppies in the back of a truck that made my daughter and I both a little giddy and giggly with the cuteness.
Oh, yes, and there's smoking! Cruella smokes, using a long cigarette holder, naturally. The smoke is green and choking and nifty to watch. Because of this, there is an anti-smoking ad before the movie starts. Why not an anti-fur ad? Surely PETA could have drawn up something involving Cruella's pubic grooming!
It's a film well worth showing the kids. It's not my favorite Disney, but it's very good. Cruella really is fun to watch. Heck, watch it with a bunch of gay men and swig cocktails. Smoke cigarettes out of long holders. Make a night of it. Do a double feature with Sunset Boulevard.
The world was such a wholesome place until Cruella, Cruella de Ville!
The two-disc Platinum Edition DVD of 101 Dalmatians is available now, for the first time this decade, for a limited time only.