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I am counting down AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains, looking at the greatest film showdowns that never happened.

Okay, AFI had to have planned this one. There’s a few this well matched, however this one is perhaps the tightest race. Get your canine crunchies ready, kids, because today it’s…

 

#39. Lassie vs. Cruella de Vil

40s movies were less subtle about the "based on a book" part.

BACKGROUND

Timmy’s in the well! Originally, actually, Lassie was the pet of a young boy from Yorkshire named Joe (and played by a very young Roddy McDowall) and, instead of rescuing the-man-who-would-be-Snowball from a well, old school Lassie was running solo across the Scottish countryside back home. Along the way displaying exceptional intelligence, dexterity and loyalty.

Cruella de Vil, Cruella de Vil, if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will. The sunken cheeked, bulimicly thin, maniacal fur collector from one of Disney’s blessedly princess-free films. (101 Dalmatians may not have any princesses, but it sure has plenty of bitches! Zing!) There isn’t much depth given to her character but, while that often leads to unconvincing climaxes (see: Nero in ‘Star Trek’ [2010]), that works in her favor.

Disney concept sketch

Like many other villains on this list, the absence of depth just adds to the terror. Moreover, of Disney villains, de Vil is the easiest to hate (especially among children) as her nemeses are helpless little puppies and her aim is the possession of yet another fur coat (an article of clothing most children don’t see the appeal of).

 

THE SHOWDOWN

Lassie, being a collie, is not in line to be made into a coat. However, someone’s got to get those puppies out of there and who better than Lassie? After all, they have an instinct for herding and Lassie herself is renowned for escaping pursuers. However, Lassie is a loner in her exploits (yes, Lassie is one of only 8 heroines on the list) and loners are notoriously bad leaders, in film. Plus, even if we remove the henchmen from the equation, Lassie can’t lead the puppies to safety while fighting off Cruella.

It’s a pitched battle, I’m telling ya. Just as Lassie is thrown back, unable to rescue more than one or two puppies, the bitch has a trump. (In the words of Bart Simpson: “Well, that’s what she is. Look it up!”) Remember Timmy in the well? One of Lassie’s most unique qualities is her ability to communicate basic information to humans. Or, at least, convince humans to follow her places.

"What's that, girl? You say Verbal is Keizer Soze?"

And do you remember why the puppies are being kept in a barn to be killed by common cockney street toughs? Why not a factory? Because it’s illegal! Cruella

Sexy Cruella because why not?

orders her cockney cronies to do the puppies in quickly because the police are on to her.

Now, I’m not sure if Lassie’s testimony qualifies as “just cause” under British warrant laws, but I’m pretty sure Hollywood would allow it. So, there you have it, after a failed attempt on Lassie’s part leads Cruella to get to the skinning right away, she is interrupted by the bobbies following said collie amidst a chorus of “What’s all that then?”

WINNER: Lassie

"Alright, now I'm gonna go hang out with Liz Taylor!"

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