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As far as iconic Disney villains go, Cruella de Vil’s goal has always been a surprisingly modest one. In ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’, all she wants is one thing: the perfect fur coat. Of course, her wickedness comes from the fact that she’s all too eager to kidnap, kill, and skin innocent Dalmatian puppies to achieve that goal. So for all intents and purposes, right down to her unsubtle name and sinister appearance, Cruella is as overtly evil as they come. Trying to paint a redeeming or more complex portrait of her would be a challenge.
But that’s not stopping Disney from giving it a try. Adding to their catalogue of live-action adaptations of their animated franchises, we now have the upcoming ‘Cruella’ — a live-action prequel and spinoff that follows the titular character’s origins. Normally I don’t really care much for these remakes and mostly find them unnecessary, but I must say judging by the first trailer this one actually looks kind of interesting. In anticipation of the film’s release next month, here’s everything we know so far about ‘Cruella’.
“I’m Cruella” — The Plot of the Movie
As mentioned the film follows a young Cruella de Vil (played by Emma Stone) and traces her origins, and the events that shaped her to become the villain we all know and love to hate now. Per IMDb:
“‘Cruella,’ which is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they’re able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute. But their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable, and revenge-bent Cruella”.
The Creative Team Behind ‘Cruella’
As a character, Cruella de Vil was created by English author Dodie Smith in her 1956 children’s novel ‘The Hundred and One Dalmatians’; the plot of the book is similar to both the 1961 animated film and the 1996 live-action adaptation of the animated film. Actress Betty Lou Gerson was the first to play the character, voicing her in the 1961 film. Her indelible portrayal of the villainess, together with animator Marc Davis, would lay the foundation for Cruella’s iconic image.
It set a template for Glenn Close to follow in the live-action adaptation and its sequel, but she also brought her own spin on the character, reimagining Cruella from heiress to intimidating and glamorous fashion magnate and delivered an equally memorable performance. And in turn, Close’s interpretation of the character is now most likely laying the groundwork for ‘Cruella’.
In addition to Emma Stone as Estella/Cruella, the film also stars Emma Thompson as Baroness von Hellman, and Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as Jasper and Horace, the thieves/brothers Cruella befriends (and would go on to be her henchmen). The cast also includes Mark Strong (as most likely an associate of the Baroness), Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Emily Beecham, and Jamie Demetriou.
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The film comes to us from director Craig Gillespie, whose previous film was ‘I, Tonya’. The screenplay is written by Dana Fox (‘Isn’t it Romantic’, ‘How to Be Single’) and Tony McNamara (‘The Favourite’, Hulu’s ‘The Great’), based on a story by Aline Brosh McKenna (‘The Devil Wears Prada’, ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’), Kelly Marcel (‘Venom’), and actor Steve Zissis.
And producing duties go to Andrew Gunn and Kristin Burr, who between them have produced other Disney movies like the ‘Freaky Friday’ remake, ‘Sky High’, and ‘Christopher Robin’, as well as veteran producer Marc Platt (‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’, ‘La La Land’). Keep a few of these film credits in mind. In addition, Stone and McKenna serve as executive producers along with Close; it’s safe to say Close’s involvement adds a bit of credibility to the project, knowing that one of the definitive Cruellas is on board.
The Enduring Appeal of Cruella de Vil
Sixty years since her first feature film appearance, and Cruella de Vil endures as arguably one of the most iconic villains in movie history. She’s ranked 39th on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains list, one of only three Disney villains to make the list (the other two being The Queen from ‘Snow White’, and “Man” from ‘Bambi’), and she’s pretty much a symbol of greed, vanity, and evil. And one can argue that she’s influenced other scheming Disney villains like Ursula, Scar, or Yzma (‘The Emperor’s New Groove’).
As for the reason behind Cruella’s staying power, it comes down to the fact that she was the first modern Disney villain. The original animated film told a more contemporary story in a then-contemporary setting. And Cruella de Vil was a villain befitting that setting: a narcissistic, arrogant high society fashionista. Unlike most Disney villains at the time who were obsessed with power or revenge, there’s something about Cruella’s motivation that feels more modern — it’s materialism (the perfect fur coat), simple greed, and vanity. She’s basically a modern villain for modern times. And according to Marc Davis, her over-the-top theatrical nature most likely made her villainy easier to swallow: “She was a funny villainess…while what she was doing wasn’t very nice, she herself was an entertaining character”.
Is ‘Cruella’ the Next ‘Joker’? Probably Not
After watching the first trailer for ‘Cruella’ when it first dropped back in February, I went to Twitter to look up other people’s reactions to it and wrote: “Oh good, I’m not the only one getting Joker/Harley Quinn vibes from this”. Obviously, I wasn’t alone as the Twittersphere went wild in comparing ‘Cruella’ to ‘Joker’. “Cruella really giving off Joker vibes,” wrote one fan on Twitter. “I had no idea CRUELLA lived in the JOKER cinematic universe!” joked another fan.
In fact, the phrase “Disney’s Joker” started trending as it became a common reaction to the trailer — the idea that Disney was following Warner Bros.’ example in reinventing one of their biggest villains into an antihero. Or at the very least the marketing is making Cruella out to look like a Joker-type character, especially by leaning on the character’s “madness” in the trailer. Like ‘Joker’ there’s the worry that this could be another film to draw a link between mental health and evil. And considering Cruella’s future as an almost dog-murderer, the idea of humanizing or possibly reimagining her as a sympathetic figure a la Maleficent doesn’t sit well with some fans.
But there’s also the potential for the final product to skew closer towards ‘Harley Quinn’, depicting Cruella as an ambitious schemer who embraces being bad and is determined to ascend to the top on her own terms. It would certainly be possible for Cruella to stay true to her villainous nature while still being a flawed and complicated figure. And if you go back and look at some of the creative team’s previous films mentioned above, several of them do center on complex women (especially ‘I, Tonya’, ‘The Favourite’, and ‘The Devil Wears Prada’). They could be bringing that same energy here, but it’s still too soon to tell just based on a trailer or a sneak peek. And we all know trailers don’t always represent their movies accurately.
But of course Emma Stone and Craig Gillespie are fully aware of the ‘Joker’ comparisons; in fact, they recently addressed it to Total Film. As Stone explains, while she can see why thematic parallels are being drawn between them, the two films are different: “It’s very different from Joker in many ways…I would never even remotely compare myself to Joaquin Phoenix, I wish I was more like him”. Gillespie echoes the sentiment, saying “There are some really deep, emotional things that Cruella’s dealing with that send her to the villainous darker side. So in that sense, it is [similar]”. He continues, “But it’s definitely its own thing. Just to sort of reframe Cruella, I thought it was important to show this darker side of her. But there’s going to be a lot of fun, a lot of humor in it. There’s a lot of absolutely delightful banter and rhythm to the style of it, which is different from Joker”.
So comparing ‘Cruella’ to ‘Joker’, the journey might be the same and they might hit upon the same story beats, but it’s all in the execution. And ‘Cruella’ promises to be a more darkly comedic ride.
As I mentioned at the top of the article, the trailer looks promising. It’s got style to spare, especially with the prospect of Cruella bringing a punk rock aesthetic to the 1970s English fashion scene. Emma Stone looks like she’s having a great time in the role. And judging by the trailer, all signs point to Disney not trying to force Cruella to be a hero and is just letting her be bad, which is good. Again it’s too soon to tell, but as far as Disney live-action remakes go this could be one of the more interesting ones. So here’s hoping.
Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Jamie Demetriou
Director: Craig Gillespie | Screenplay by: Dana Fox, Tony McNamara | Story by: Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, Steve Zissis | Producers: Andrew Gunn, Marc Platt, Kristin Burr
By Mario Yuwono
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