I must have read it a hundred times this weekend: that beloved story of Pongo, Perdy, the odious Cruella de Vil and the ninety-nine black and white spotted puppies she tried so maliciously to kidnap. "Would you read 101 Carnations?" Sooby asked again and again, book in hand. Two things about her repeated request amused me--her confusion over those two similar words and her obsession with the character of Cruella.
Time after time, we stopped to dwell on the pages with images of Cruella, whom Sooby (a drama queen in the making) would actually address: "You can't have those puppies, Corella [sic]! You mustn't!" These conversations afforded me ample time to consider the obvious negative influences contributing to Cruella's character, leading me to the conclusion that she may be more tragic heroine than villain.
First, every day for Cruella is a bad hair day, because her half black and half white hair is parted right down the middle, a severe breach of fashion etiquette. Truly, she is the unwitting victim of an inept hairdresser.
Another strike against Cruella is the fact that she smokes. Not cool, Cruella, not cool at all. She obviously began this nasty practice to try to fit into a peer group of equally repulsive loser thugs. That fancy cigarette holder she flaunts does nothing to glamorize what is, in reality, a filthy, stinky habit.
Dangling at the end of Cruella's other arm is a purse adorned with the bushy black and white tails of a host of unknown, but nevertheless unfortunate, animals. This, plus the fact that she wears a floor-length white fur coat, puts her right in the crosshairs of PETA, already suspicious of her motive for stealing the dalmatian--er, carnation--puppies. No political correctness for Cruella.
Next, Cruella's car, apparently a convertible, is downright ugly. Its pink top clashes hideously with the red body. A shot of the inside ( p. 5) shows no gear shift, light knobs, or radio controls. Most certainly, Cruella was duped by a fast-talking car salesman or she would be driving a more attractive and serviceable vehicle.
Finally, Cruella seems unable to get good help. Her goons, Horace and Jasper, remind the reader of Harry and Marv, the bungling burglars of Home Alone (Joe Pesci would have made a good Horace.). They are easily outsmarted by Pongo and Perdy, otherwise known as Mommy and Daddy Carnation. Horace and Jasper should know better than to fool with mad dogs.
Cruella de Vil, then, is nothing less than tragic, meriting more our pity than our disdain. With all this going against her, she never had a chance to be a decent villain. Sooby had the right idea: who knows how differently she might have turned out if, as a young high school girl in black and white pigtails, she would have received 101 carnations from an admiring suitor? Not to mention how much better her house would have smelled minus all those dogs.