For those who have never seen 1961’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians or need a refresher, it’s a pretty simple story. There are the hero Dalmatians Pongo and Perdita who have a bunch of puppies. These puppies are then kidnapped, so they set out to save their children and find their 15 kids along with 84 other Dalmatian puppies. They’ve been kidnapped by henchmen Jasper and Horace, who are working for the vain and fashion-obsessed Cruella de Vil, a former classmate of Perdita’s human, Anita. Cruella wants the puppies killed and skinned so she can make them into a coat. And that’s it. The plan doesn’t make much sense, but it’s a movie for children who can easily understand that wanting to kill puppies is bad.
So how do you make Cruella de Vil into a sympathetic protagonist if her defining trait was wanting to kill puppies? For Cruella, the answer is simple: You change her defining trait to an obsession with fashion and also make her firmly pro-dog. In the first 10 minutes of Cruella, the young Estella (played as an adult by Emma Stone) gets dumped into a dumpster by her mean classmates, but in the bin she discovers a stray dog and adopts him. He then becomes her companion for the rest of the movie, which emphasizes that she would never harm a dog.
But what about those mean-looking dalmatians in the trailer belonging to the villain The Baroness (Emma Thompson)? So those dogs are mean and Cruella does kidnap them because they’ve swallowed a necklace that belonged to Cruella’s mother but the Baroness stole it. So to get the necklack back, Cruella needs to wait until the dogs crap it out. At the climax of the film, the Baroness tries to use the dalmatians to knock Cruella off a cliff like the Baroness did to Cruella’s mother, but Cruella has tamed the dogs and they now obey her. After the Baroness goes to jail, Cruella ends up adopting the Baroness’ dalmatians.
There’s also an end-credits scene where Cruella sends Roger (Kayvan Novak) and Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) the puppies Pongo and Perdita, respectively. I suppose you could read this scene as Cruella sending people she’s knows the parents of the puppies she plans to kidnap and turn into a coat, but that simply makes no sense with everything else that’s come before. Everything prior in the film confirms that Cruella’s malice is focused solely on the Baroness and that she’s not vain, but merely wants to be a rebellious fashion designer. There’s nothing in the character established by the movie Cruella that would connect to the puppy-killer established by One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
And that’s how Cruella gets around the whole puppy-killing thing from One Hundred and One Dalmatians: they simply choose to ignore it and say that Cruella was “smeared”, but that the character they’ve built would never do such a thing. She may be bad, but only towards bad people, not towards innocent puppies.