Is Cruella de Vil, The Murderer of Puppies, Capable of Sympathy?
Prior to watching ‘Cruella,’ my viewpoint on Cruella de Vil, the murderer of innocent puppies to create fashion, was not of anything but disgust. So, I thought, how can Disney conjure up sympathy for a character that has proven herself unworthy of? Now, I’ve written an article before on my nature of admiration for villains but, I do know the boundaries one must never cross, and murdering puppies is that line. And yet, after watching ‘Cruella,’ I am once again enlightened with sympathy for an old villain from my childhood just as I was with ‘Maleficent’.
Some reviewers say that this recurring theme of villain origin stories has become “old,” but I could not disagree more. Would they like more heroic stories because we all know there is more than enough happily ever afters? I say, bring on the villains full force because if there is one thing I know for certain, a villain’s purpose of evil always has a reason. And with respect for both sides of a story apart from the heroic protagonist, we must sit back, indulge ourselves with some popcorn, and take a moment to understand the villain’s reasoning for kicking some ass and raising some hell.
Directed by Craig Gillespie (‘I, Tonya’), ‘Cruella’ is a prequel villain origin story from the villain we all know all too well, Cruella de Vil, the murderer of Dalmatians for luxurious fashion. The tale of Cruella de Vil originates from the 1956 novel “The Hundred and One Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith, later produced by Disney in 1961 in the animated film ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians.’ The world saw Disney’s first live-action recreation of the villainous story in 1996 with Glenn Close playing the female puppy killer; however, unlike ‘Cruella,’ this film depicted only evil and murder within Cruella. Up until now, Cruella de Vil was a monster with no traits offering sympathy or recollection.
Many reviewers are stuck on the note that Cruella de Vil is a puppy killer, and while I coincided with them before watching ‘Cruella,’ I am now against them. Old stories are allowed recreations just as old laws and values are permitted reformation. If we continue to be stuck in the past, believing one way to be the way it is, the room for growth is practically non-existent. In the Dalmatian story, the reasoning of Cruella’s madness was never explained, and all we saw was the viewpoint of the owners of the Dalmatian puppies. In ‘Cruella,’ Cruella, herself, challenges how it was practically impossible for her to be good, but unfortunately, without spoiling the film, I cannot tell you why that is.
Seeing women in positions of power with no love interest supporting the story, especially at a time like this, I will never say that it should not be done. Disney gets many critiques on their live-action remakes, and each time it astounds me as I almost adore each one. Are they perfect? No. But are they trying? Yes. I mean, come on, a badass female protagonist with a hard rock edge and zero need for a love interest, I could not be more pleased.
“I saw the world differently than everyone else.”
The story begins with Cruella, in her teenage years, who goes by Estella (Emma Stone) and has a dream of becoming a fashion designer. From birth, she is judged for her natural-born hair color split down the middle with a contrast of black and white. While her mother pushed baby Estella in a stroller, a neighbor could not hold back her tone as she spat, “That’s unfortunate.” Knowing her differences, Estella never remarks negatively about her individuality but instead sees herself as powerful and beautiful. “I saw the world differently than everyone else,” says Estella. Estella is a rebel with a cause, and her strength of knowing who she is even before reaching her adult years is brilliant and intimidatingly impressive.
Her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), is the biggest supporter of her abnormal existence with individuality, strength, and passion. While not entirely joyful with the circumstances that Estella got herself expelled from school, Catherine wants her daughter’s desire to become a fashion designer to come to fruition, so the pair plan to move to London. Her mother is like her second half, the one person in the world who never judged her for her abnormal tendencies. Estella is without a doubt talented, innovative, and wildly eccentric in all of her opportunities and successes; however, as with most villain origin stories, all of the odds are stacked against her.
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While only a few minutes in, we get a voiceover of a supposed older Estella that remarks about a necklace her mother wears, “That necklace is the reason I’m dead. But I’m getting ahead of myself.” Without even getting a solid bit of information, we are intended to go through the rest of the film knowing she has died. Or has she? The red amulet that her mother wears that is presumed to be a family heirloom is the one thing that ultimately sends Estella into her madness of becoming Cruella de Vil. But, just as quickly as it’s said, the scenes move on.
On the journey to London, Estella and her mother stop at a luxurious party, where Catherine tells her daughter that she has a small matter to deal with before continuing on their travels. Trying to stay still in the car, Estella cannot keep herself from interrupting the party causing vicious Dalmatians to chase her and her puppy “Buddy” through the ballroom. Running rapidly away from the aggressive three Dalmatians, Estella finds herself running outside to find her mother standing near a ledge alongside an unknown woman. With the sound of a whistle, the Dalmatians change direction from their previous mission towards Estella and charge her mother, Catherine, pushing her off the cliff to her death. Given this is a Disney film, the death of a mother is practically one of the most supportive claims for an audience to forgive a villain’s future actions.
After her mother’s death, Estella believes she had killed her mother by causing the Dalmatians to chase after her. Imagine being a child and having one person in your life that ever really loved you and understood you but in a matter of seconds, that one person is murdered by Dalmatians who had previously been chasing after you. At the age of only 12, Estella became an orphan after witnessing her mother’s death. Alone in the world, two orphan boys, Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) find Estella near a fountain where she reveals she is alone in the world and her dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Jasper remarks how it’s practically impossible for a fugitive and orphan to become a fashion designer, to which she agrees. So, being alone in the world and falling into her new life as an orphan, Estella dyes her hair red and takes on this new life as a fugitive alongside her two new best mates.
Now older, Estella designs brilliant garments and costumes to be purposeful for her pick-pocketing fugitive career from bellhop, maid service, and a rich woman alongside her husband. “I got to do what I love. We were reaping the rewards,” a voiceover of Cruella says. Being poor beyond belief, Estella finds a single opportunity that catapults her into wealth and fame, although everything comes with a price. On her birthday, Jasper and Horace get her an offer of employment from Liberty of London in an entry-level position. This is the most fashionable department store in London and one of Estella’s biggest dreams as the picture of the store hangs just beside her bed as she stares longingly at it from time to time. Obviously, the position was gotten by being conniving, but “Estella is way too talented to be doing grifts with the likes of me and you,” Jasper says to Horace.
House of Baroness – Estella’s Beginning of Change
Although, her new job at Liberty of London is nothing but fashionable as Estella ends up scrubbing bathrooms and floors while everyone else is dressed in luxury and creating fashion. She continues cleaning with her chin up because she is Estella, and her remarkable attitude for success is unmatched, so any opportunity she gets to nag her boss requesting a chance, she does just that. One night, when she is ordered to clean her boss’ office while everyone is away, she decides to take the opportunity and run with it as “These Boots Are Made for Walkin” by Nancy Sinatra plays. Drunk, she messes with the design in the front window, gaining the interest of the fashion designer, The Baroness (Emma Thompson), who hires her on the spot. The Baroness, yes, that is her name, she is your ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ Meryl Streep character but even more cold-stoned, mean, and thoroughly psychotic.
On the first day of Estella’s new job at the House of Baroness, she throws together a look, and as The Baroness walks down the aisle of designers hating each of their looks, she comes across Estella’s and is pleased. After work, Estella finds a second-hand store where she meets Artie, a gay fashionable young man, who later becomes one of her designers and a very good friend.
Artie: “I like to say that normal is the cruelest insult of them all, and at least I never get that.”
Estella: “I couldn’t agree more.”
Impressed from day one, The Baroness says, “Grubby girl, get me lunch. Soy salmon, lemon-zest risotto, cucumber sliced into two-inch diagonals at an eighth of an inch width sprinkled with seven leaves of parsley, shredded, not torn.” The Baroness is not one for compliments of any kind or style, so requesting her to do something other than designer is a supposed good thing. From the beginning, The Baroness is truly hateful, like when she cuts Estella; instead of remorse or forgiveness, she asks one of her workers for fabric in the exact color as the blood seeping from Estella’s finger. When speaking to men, she says, “You’re short, you’re fat, you smell like an anchovy, you’re color-blind, but you pretend you aren’t. — You’re a man who can’t take responsibility.” Speechless, the men leave but not before she spits out, “Imbeciles.”
Very quickly, Estella becomes The Baroness’ favorite as she brings her along practically everywhere as her personal designer. When The Baroness has her write up a design, she asks Estella to make changes that she would do without The Baroness’ input. After the changes, The Baroness says, “I think you’re something.”
You Should Always Fear A Woman Who Has Revenge On Her Mind
Throughout the film, Estella revisits the fountain she went to after her mother’s death and speaks to her mother, telling stories of her success and how she is trying to be what her mother had always wanted. One day, Estella finds The Baroness wearing the necklace her mother wore when she was a child. Stunned, The Baroness reveals that it is a family heirloom, and an employee once stole it. Disgusted by this, Estella says, “No. She did not,” that is until back-tracking and siding with The Baroness so as to not lose her job. Instead, Estella decides to get information by asking about this employee cunningly.
Estella: “Did she work for you?”
The Baroness: “Mmm. Once. Years before. She stole this, was stupid enough to come back, and then she fell off a cliff and died. — It was during my winter ball, and her death really overshadowed the whole thing.”
Estella: “Who was the woman?”
The Baroness: “Not really the point of the story. The story’s about how lucky I am, but anyway, she had a kid. Kid’s a snowflake. Special, blah-blah-blah. It was a basic shakedown situation, actually.”
Estella: “Maybe she just really loved her kid.”
The Baroness: “Maybe she only had one person to take care of, and she failed dismally.”
With an increase of power music, this is the beginning of the fire within Estella. As we get a voiceover of Cruella saying, “My mother hadn’t failed dismally, I had. And I wasn’t going to fail her again.” With a past in pick-pocketing, Estella, Jasper, and Horace plan to steal The Baroness’ necklace because, to Estella, it belongs to her mother. Estella had lost it after her mother’s death when she ran away, never taking a moment to think about it because she was filled with grief. The three of them plan to steal it at the Black and White Ball that The Baroness is hosting. When Jasper and Horace reason with Estella, telling her that she would immediately be spotted within the crowd since she works closely with The Baroness, Estella says, “You’re right. She will recognize me. So Estella can’t go to the ball, but I know someone who can.”
At the party, The Baroness enters the party with her three vicious Dalmatians that were the same ones who had killed Estella’s mother. Cruella’s introduction to the ball is rather impressive as she wears a white cape before a flame erupts, revealing a red dress sporting a cane and a mask. The Baroness is infuriated by this strangers’ introduction that stole the attention away from her, so she requests her security to take her away. But, Cruella does not go down without a fight. “I’d like to remind you all that I’m doing this in heels,” Cruella says as she fights man after man. The feminist tone lying within ‘Cruella’ is one of the main reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed it so dearly.
Instead of the necklace being in the vault, it is being worn by The Baroness, making the original plan much more difficult. When rats appear causing mayhem, Cruella, sneakingly, rips the necklace from The Baroness’ neck and throws it to Buddy, hiding under a table. Knowing her necklace is gone, The Baroness uses a dog whistle along her neck, casting her vicious dogs to attack Buddy. The sound of the whistle triggers Cruella to remember the night of her mother’s death and how she heard those noise moments before her mother fell to her death. When the whistle happens and The Baroness points, the dogs attack, and with information adding up, Cruella now understands that The Baroness caused her mother’s death.
Cruella: “The Baroness killed my mother. Her whistle, she called the dogs on her, — It wasn’t my fault. She killed her. Like she was nothing.”
This is the beginning of Cruella de Vil, as she says, “They say there are five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Well, I’d like to add one more. Revenge.”
Goodbye, Estella. Hello, Cruella de Vil
With revenge against The Baroness on her mind, Estella loses the innocence of her former self and quickly becomes a hard-edge, blunt, and powerful Cruella.
Cruella: “I’m not sweet Estella, try as I might. I never was. I’m Cruella, born brilliant, born bad, and a little bit mad.”
She is now sporting a cane and has ditched her red hair dye and gone with her black and white split hair-do. She’s talking differently, acting differently, and even being a bit more rude and blunt to everyone around her. One of the Dalmatians swallowed the necklace by accident at the party, so she requests Jasper and Horace to steal the dogs to retrieve it from their feces. Her friends are highly displeased by how she is treating them and miss the old “Estella.”
Horace: “Yeah, well, can’t you walk ‘em as well? There’s no “I” in team.”
Cruella: “Well, there is an “I,” an imbecile. Go!”
Jasper: “Hey! No, no, no, you can’t talk to us like that. We’re helping you here.”
Cruella: “So don’t.”
With her relationship with Jasper and Horace on edge, she starts returning to work wearing a red wig and appearing as her former self, Estella. Under the eyes of The Baroness, she starts appearing as Cruella outside of work, making a fashion statement and marking the world with her style, saying she is the future. The Baroness is threatened by Cruella’s new appearances, with police and the news never knowing when Cruella’s next appearance will happen. With her dogs missing, necklace stolen, and Cruella is winning the game of fashion and brand, The Baroness is slowly falling apart.
Baroness: “You can’t care about anyone else. Everyone else is an obstacle. You care what an obstacle wants or feels. You’re dead. If I had cared about anyone or thing, I might’ve died like so many brilliant women with a drawer full of unseen genius and a heart full of sad bitterness. You have the talent for your own label. Whether you have the killer instinct is the big question.”
Estella: “I hope I do.”
On the topic of looking at the past Cruella de Vil characters, Emma Stone’s Cruella never truly crosses the line into murdering innocent puppies. In fact, the entire topic of the dalmatians is not the leading cause in this film but rather a second thought tribute to the character’s former representation.
Cruella: “They really would make fabulous coats.”
Jasper: “The dogs?”
Cruella: “I’m joking.”
Never once in the film does Cruella ever come close to wanting or hurting the dalmatians but instead, they take a liking to her. Although, at one of Cruella’s events, she wears a gown of dalmatian spots, and The Baroness marks her image and a dog murderer when we know Cruella never harmed the dogs and instead was using a pattern.
Cruella: “I’m gonna kill you. And your dogs.”
The Baroness: “I’m waiting.”
This line still has not come full circle to make sense to me as Cruella never appears to have ever really wanted to hurt the dogs. But, the film does open up for a sequel in the end, so this might be brought back into perspective if they choose to go that route with this new Cruella de Vil character.
“And I call that a happy ending.”
Without spoiling, the rest of the storyline follows a natural progression into her spiral of becoming a version of the Cruella de Vil we know from our childhood. The film ends on an open note, considering if this film succeeds, I am sure there will be a sequel just as ‘Maleficent’ received with its villain origin story remake.
Cruella: “The good thing about evil people is you can always trust them to do something, well, evil.”
Cruella may be my new favorite villain to exist, which seemingly is wild considering I hated her beyond belief before watching ‘Cruella.’ Emma Stone is without a doubt one of the most humble, talented, and inventive actresses of our generation. Her portrayal of Cruella was balanced with a free-spirited Estrella to the psycho maniac fashion designer that is Cruella de Vil — doing this alongside Emma Thompson, whose usual motherly touch is extracted, turning her into an unsympathetic and psychotic female villain.
The influence this film will have on social normalities, I suspect, will happen from the resurgence of the split-hair dye, punk-rock edge of the fashion with pins, layers, and black makeup and red lip. The fashion in ‘Cruella’ is wildly impressive, with Estella’s fashion sense, even as a child, has encrypted itself into my heart with its individuality, maximalism, and layers of texture. From loads of unique pins, jackets with strange structures, sneakers with art designs from markers. From the day she was born, Estella was born to stand out. It’s completely high fashion rock material with ripped tights, layers, dark wild makeup, ratty hair, and headbanging.
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The 70s punk rock revolution within ‘Cruella’ is brilliant, especially within the soundtrack with its punk rock edge and popularity. While sometimes a bit on the nose, the lyrics and tone always make a note to match the events to come, whether that be the spiral of becoming Cruella de Vil or losing herself in the battle of learning who she is. With songs such as “Sympathy for the Devils” by The Rolling Stones, “Time of the Season” by Zombies, and “One Way Or Another” by Blondie, the soundtrack is killer material.
Where To Watch ‘Cruella’
‘Cruella’ releases on May 28, 2021, available for viewing at select theaters and Disney+ with a subscription and premier access. Rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements.
Where To Find The Stars
In the pre-production process, Craig Gillespie is set to direct ‘Pam & Tommy’ starring Lily James, Sebastian Stan, and Seth Rogan. Check out this article on Hollywood Insider for all of the behind-the-scenes information about the upcoming limited series.
In the pre-production process, Emma Stone can next be seen in Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘Poor Things’ alongside Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, and more. As said on IMDb about ‘Poor Things,’ “The film will be a Victorian tale of love, discovery and scientific daring, Poor Things tells the incredible story of Belle Baxter, a young woman brought back to life by an eccentric but brilliant scientist.”
In the post-production process, Emma Thompson can next be seen in Shekhar Kapur’s ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ alongside Lily James, Shazad Latif, and more. As said on IMDb about ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ “A cross-cultural romantic comedy.”
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Isabella Brownlee is an experienced writer, video editor and filmmaker. She is currently a writer for Hollywood Insider, focusing on detailed and thought-provoking film reviews and articles discussing truth and impact in the film industry. Driven by self-awareness and unique perspectives, she takes utmost pride in providing others with emotionally impacted knowledge about the film industry. As a writer, her main goal is to connect with the audience and those who find themselves in the back of the bleachers unknown to anyone but beautifully aware of the world. In addition to her primary job functions, Isabella creates and edits videos/films personally and professionally. Aligning with Hollywood Insider’s mission of sharing impactful and influential content, Isabella hopes to enrich her readers with positivity and truth.