It’s Halloween and that means villains, and I’ve been musing this evening about one of my favorites. It has never quite occurred to me before just how psychotic Cruella de Vil is. Like bag-of-cats nuts. And I can’t get over it. Pretend you’re at a cocktail party with all the assembled Disney villains, and ask them why they did it. Almost all of them will at least give you a tangible motive: power or greed or revenge or something. Even the vanity of Snow White’s Queen and the imperiousness of Alice’s Queen held some guiding impulse at their core.
But ask Cruella why she did it, and she won’t say power or greed or revenge. She’ll say, “Because I’LL STAB YOUR EYES OUT!!! I’LL STAB THEM OUT AND THEN MAKE THEM WATCH WHILE I STRANGLE YOU WITH YOUR OWN LYING TONGUE!!!” And then you’d back slowly away and spend the rest of the evening trying to make small talk with Shere Khan.
Even worse, the older you get, the scarier she seems. Most Disney villains are plenty scary when we’re young, but become more endearing when we grow up. With Cruella, it’s just the opposite. As kids, we innately understand that she’s evil without having to dwell on the specifics. Then we grow up and start to think it through. She wants to make a fur coat out of puppies. PUPPIES. Why? Because she’ll stab your eyes out, that’s why.
That’s Heath-Ledger-Joker levels of nihilism. That’s the kind of crazy that makes Norman Bates say “whoa, let’s think this through.” And yet I think she sometimes takes a back seat to more recent Disney villains, or to the innate spookiness of the classic witches. She is more actively terrifying than any of them…. and she’s doing it without much more than a flashy car and a couple of bumbling henchmen to help. Here’s to you Cruella, and to the puppies (four-legged and otherwise) who still sleep with one eye open because of you.