Say what you will about Disney, the studio knows how to build a franchise, and it’s been at it for longer than you may think. Take the popular 101 Dalmatians series, for example. Did you know there’s a whole Dalmatians-verse? Beginning with the original animated film in 1961 (officially released as One Hundred and One Dalmatians)—and still going strong 60 years later—the franchise includes sequels, prequels, spinoffs, TV shows, books, and games. Fans can’t seem to get enough of those spotted dogs and their nemesis, the despicable Cruella De Vil.
One of Disney’s best and most fashionable villains—and certainly public enemy #1 on PETA’s list—Cruella is best known for her plan to capture 101 Dalmatian puppies and turn them into a fabulous fur coat to wear at London fashion week. But have you ever wondered how she became oh so cruel? Or where her flair for fashion came from? Those questions (and a whole lot more!) will be answered in the latest addition to the franchise, Cruella, premiering on May 28 on Disney+ and in theaters.
Although Cruella is technically a stand-alone prequel, there are bound to be some Easter eggs from various projects through the years. To get you caught up before Cruella decides to kill some bunnies or another poor defenseless animal in the name of fashion, here’s your guide to the 101 Dalmatians universe (all titles are available on Disney+).
The 1961 film (originally based on a book) is an adorable and short little romp about a group of Dalmatian puppies who are dog-napped. It begins innocently enough, with a Dalmatian (what else?) named Pongo (voiced Rod Taylor) trying to find a mate for his “pet” Roger (Ben Wright). Pongo succeeds and hooks Roger up with Anita (Lisa Davis) while also finding himself a mate too, in the shape of Anita’s pet Dalmatian, Perdita (Cate Bauer).
All is well for the happy family, until Perdita becomes pregnant and Anita’s old classmate Cruella (Betty Lou Gerson) shows up, demanding the puppies. It’s unclear why the hell Anita would keep in touch with this person—she’s vile, and insults Anita’s husband, home, and fashion sense. Perhaps this relationship gets further explained in Cruella? The puppies arrive (yay!) but Cruella shows back up (boo!) and Roger refuses to give them to her (yay!). He even writes a top-40 hit about what an evil creature Cruella is: “This vampire bat, this inhuman beast, she ought to be locked up and never released.” Now that’s petty.
Cruella doesn’t let this nonsense stop her—she sends her goons Horace and Jasper to kidnap the puppies. Since the humans of this film (with the exception of Cruella) aren’t very bright, Pongo and Perdita set out to rescue their puppies, only to find a total of 101 of them in captivity. The film includes cameos from another Disney dog-centric film, Lady and the Tramp, and introduces us to a few of the puppies who will become important in later films and shows. The best of these is Rolly, who simply wants to eat all the time and can’t make it across ice without slipping. Rolly may be the most relatable Disney character ever created.
Written by John Hughes (yes, that John Hughes) this live-action remake gave the original film a modern twist. Updated to 1996 (when the film was released), the story once again follows Roger (Jeff Daniels), now an American video-game designer, who is dragged by his dog Pongo to meet fashion designer Anita (Joely Richardson) and her pup, Perdita.
Anita is in the ultimate The Devil Wears Prada situation, with Cruella (Glenn Close) as her boss. Despite knowing that Cruella loves fur and is a bona fide sociopath, Anita designs a coat that looks like it’s made of Dalmatian fur. Not satisfied with faux, Cruella desperately want the actual puppy fur and—just like in the original film—sends out her henchmen to kidnap them. And once again the animals end up saving the day (albeit without speaking).
Glenn Close’s iconic performance as Cruella was pretty much the only thing critics liked about the film. Despite the critics’ yawns, it was popular with moviegoers, and although it isn’t as charming as the animated film, it’s still a cute watch.
Being the snake that she is, Cruella just couldn’t give up the idea of a dramatic fur coat. In this sequel to the live-action 101 Dalmatians, Close returns as Cruella, who’s been in the slammer and is supposedly cured of her fur obsession thanks to Dr. Pavlov (a fun psychology reference). As she’s released, she’s reminded that if she breaks parole, her fortune will be taken away.
Unfortunately for Cruella, her parole officer Chloe (Alice Evans) has one of the original Dalmatians, who gives birth to a litter of her own. Oh, the temptation. Meanwhile, Dr. Pavlov turns out to be a pretty crappy psychologist, because once his clients hear loud noises, they revert back to their original personality. (Does this make any sense? No, but the film needs you to just go with it.) Cruella, now back to her evil self, designs a new Dalmatian fur coat and goes after the new set of puppies.
There isn’t really a reason for the film to exist (beyond seeing Close’s playful portrayal of Cruella again) and it’s highly doubtful that it will tie into Cruella. However, if you want to see some more adorable spotted fur babies, this one’s worth a watch.
If you grew up in the 90s, you may remember this short-lived cartoon that aired on ABC. Combining the plots from the animated and live-action films, the series focused on three specific puppies: Lucky, Cadpig (possibly the most unfortunate name for a dog ever uttered), and the G.O.A.T, Rolly. The three pups romp around the “Dalmatian plantation,” where they get into various adventures.
Other puppies show up from time to time, such as Mooch, the family bully, and the frequently urinating Wizzer (I am not making that up). Cruella does serve as the main villain of the cartoon, but this time is more focused on getting hold of the entire “Dalmatian plantation” than specifically skinning any of the pups (though why else would she want it?). Expect your basic ’90s cartoon quality here.
The first actual sequel to the original animated film—and one of the few Disney sequels of the direct-to-video era that isn’t soul sucking—101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure is a charming little adventure. Released on VHS in 2002, it takes place a year after the events of the first film.
Roger and Anita are preparing to move the family to the “Dalmatian plantation” (don’t expect the timeline of the Dalmatians-verse to make a lot of sense), and Patch (Bobby Lockwood), one of the pups, wants to be just like his TV hero, Thunderbolt (Barry Bostwick). When his family accidentally leaves him behind, Patch decides to go audition to be on the show, but bombs it. Meanwhile, the actual Thunderbolt has his own problems when his sidekick, a corgi named Lightning (Jason Alexander), convinces him he needs to secure his job by going out and committing heroic acts. It’s all just a ruse to get him away from the set so he can steal the spotlight, but it turns out to be a stroke of good luck when he runs into Patch. The two become friends and team up to perform a daring rescue.
Elsewhere, Cruella (Susanne Blakeslee) briefly finds a substitute for her unhealthy fur obsession when she discovers an artist named Lars (Martin Short), who creates nothing but black and white spotted paintings. She becomes his patron, but being Cruella, takes it too far and envisions a masterpiece using actual puppy hides as a canvas (which might be even more diabolical than turning them into furs). Once again, she resorts to dog-napping, but after her plans are thwarted by Patch and Thunderbolt she ends up being dragged away to a mental institution crying, “Spots! Spots! They’re everywhere!”
Unlike other films in the Dalmatians verse, 101 Dalmatians II was embraced by the critics, and the film even received its own video game. It will be interesting to see if Thunderbolt (a character dating back to the original film) and his backstory are revealed in Cruella.
Set in the present day, the British-Canadian animated series 101 Dalmatian Street premiered on Disney+ last year (after making its debut on The Disney Channel in the UK in 2019). It follows the adventures of a family of 99 boisterous puppies (some of which may secretly be rabbits?), often left to fend for themselves while their parents, Doug and Delilah (a descendant of the original Perdita and Pongo). As the title implies, they reside at 101 Dalmatian Street in Camden Town, London. The lucky puppies have an entire mansion all to themselves, left to them by their human owner Dodie (a tribute to Dodie Smith, the author of the book that started it all).
The animation style is deliberately modern and frenetic. Other than the fact that the main characters are Dalmatians, it doesn’t have much in common with the previous films and series. Cruella isn’t an antagonist here (she’d likely be in her 90’s by now), in fact humans are mostly relegated to the sidelines. The focus is strictly on the adventures of the puppies (all of them with “D” names) and their animal friends and neighbors. Since Cruella takes place in the 1970s, it’s doubtful 101 Dalmatian Street will tie in, but you never know—maybe they all join the Avengers at the end.