The original 101 Dalmatians movie was a Walt Disney animated classic, made in 1961, that my kids loved. Often when animated human characters become real humans in a film remake, the result suffers. But when the 101 Dalmatians remake hit the big screen in 1996, its real people and spotted dogs running around London had a charm of its own. (Although I did miss the great Disney songs.)
The best part was bringing to life one of the worst villains of moviedom—Cruella de Vil, played to the hilt and beyond by Glenn Close. After all, you don’t even have to be a dog lover to despise a woman who plans to slaughter about a hundred Dalmatian puppies just to make herself a spotted fur coat.
As this movie starts, Roger Dearly (played by Jeff Daniels) is an American video game designer who lives in London with his Dalmatian, Pongo. One day as Roger is walking Pongo, the dog sees a beautiful female Dalmatian named Perdita and isn’t afraid to give chase. Once Pongo and Perdita meet—in that way that all dogs do—it seems clear that Perdita also likes Pongo. And Perdita’s owner, fashion designer Anita Campbell-Green (Joely Richardson), is equally attracted to Roger when they meet in St. James Park. The canine and human couples merge when Roger and Anita marry. And fairly soon, the patter of little puppy feet is heard around the apartment.
Anita is a fashion designer at the House of de Vil. Her bad-tempered boss, Cruella de Vil (Glenn Close), loves only two things: cigarettes and fur. Inspired by the beauty of her dog’s coat, Anita designs a lady’s coat made with spotted (fake) fur. Cruella becomes obsessed with having one of them. But she wants her personal coat created from real fur—the softest fur—from Dalmatian puppies. Cruella’s henchmen—Jasper (Hugh Laurie but nothing like his Dr. House character) and Horace (Mark Williams)—have soon bought (or stolen) all the Dalmatian puppies in the area. However, she needs a few more. When Cruella learns that Anita’s Dalmatian has given birth to 15 puppies, she is desperate to buy the litter. Roger and Anita don’t know Cruella’s diabolical plan, but they know her well enough to refuse. Flying into a maniacal rage, Cruella fires Anita. She orders Jasper and Horace to steal the puppies and deliver them to her country estate, De Vil Mansion.
When Perdita and Pongo realize their puppies are missing, they set off an alarm with their howls that is picked up and passed on from dog to dog all over London. With the help of other animals, the puppies manage to outwit Jasper and Horace and escape to a farm. Their parents are told where to find them (and you thought dogs couldn’t communicate!). But Cruella shows up first and tries to re-capture the puppies. In pure slapstick humor, a pig sits on her, she falls into a vat of molasses (arranged by raccoons) and a horse kicks her into a pig pen. By then everyone is cheering for the animal vigilantes that help rescue the Dalmatians. The puppies make it home, and the police arrest Cruella and her henchmen who hardly know what hit them.
SPOILER ALERT: Because no one knows where the puppies Cruella gathered came from, Roger and Anita adopt all of them, bringing their total dog population to 101. With ripped-from-life inspiration all around him, Roger designs a successful video game. In it Dalmatian puppies are the protagonists and Cruella is the villain. And the whole family moves to a country estate with the fortune they make from the game.
In the original Disney version, a song about Cruella points out her character was just like her name. She was cruel. Similarly, one female Bible character’s name has come to mean the worst of many traits. For that reason, no parents today name their daughter Jezebel.
Have you ever thought that there aren’t many bad women mentioned in the Bible? Although stories about men certainly outnumber those about women, women can be glad that those who are represented are overwhelmingly pictured in a good light. Except for a few. Except, especially, for Jezebel.
Jezebel was an Old Testament Cruella de Vil. The first part of her story is told between 1 Kings 16:31 and 21:25. She wanted what she wanted when she wanted it, and she wasn’t afraid to use any means to get it. The king of Israel, Ahab, may have gotten her in some political marriage deal, but he lived to regret it. First Kings 16:31–33 says that marrying her was what got him involved in idol worship: “he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.”
Because of their evil, Elijah told Ahab God was sending a drought on the land until he would announce its end. The Lord then hid him from Ahab (in Jezebel’s home country!). While they hunted for Elijah to try to make him stop the drought, Jezebel began killing off God’s priests and filling the country with 450 priests of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (Baal’s sister, a goddess whose rites included sexual perversity of all kinds). In the third year of the drought God told Elijah to return to Israel and challenge Jezebel’s priests to a contest. On Mt. Carmel the 450 priests of Baal built an altar and prayed to their god all day to burn up the wood and sacrifice on their altar, but not a spark was seen. Then Elijah prayed for the God of Israel to send fire down on his altar. He had soaked the wood and sacrifice with water just to make it more difficult. Everything immediately went up in flames—including the water and the stone altar. Elijah had all of Baal’s priests killed to help purge idolatry from the land (1 Kings 18).
Elijah probably felt pretty good about this coup until he got a message from Jezebel that she was going to hunt him down like a dog. He knew her reputation so well he temporarily forgot Who was more powerful than Jezebel. He took off running. How God met his frightened prophet and calmed him down with a “gentle whisper” or “a still, small voice” (KJV) is a great lesson for those of us who tend to fear the wrong things (1 Kings 19:1–18).
Jezebel failed in killing Elijah, so she threw herself into other ventures. She manipulated Ahab and pushed him into doing worse things than he might have on his own. When he coveted his neighbor’s vineyard and he wouldn’t sell it to him, Ahab went to his room and pouted. Jezebel had men paid to lie about the neighbor so that he would be killed. Then she told Ahab that she had taken care of the problem and he took the vineyard (1 Kings 21). Go through the commandments—she broke most of them.
Although Ahab bore responsibility for his own actions, God wrote an epitaph on his life and put some blame squarely on Jezebel: “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife” (1 Kings 21:25). In verse 23 God had said clearly what would happen to Jezebel for all her idolatry and cruelty: “And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.”
In 2 Kings 9:30-37 the prophecy came true. Jehu, the new king who was tasked with destroying the family of Ahab, saw Jezebel taunting him from a window. He asked her servants to throw her down. They did (probably happily). She was trampled by horses and feral dogs ate her corpse.
It’s not a bedtime story for kids but poetic justice for this Old Testament Cruella de Vil who did exactly what she wanted and valued no one’s life but her own.
©2016 by Vicki Huffman
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