Where to begin with an origin story about a villain who wants to use puppies as a coat. Well, you probably need to break down a very traumatic childhood. Cruella is a punk-rock heist movie that works to construct and deconstruct the psyche of a madwoman. Emma Stone owns the character. She brings a thoughtfulness to Cruella’s choice craziness that the whole film is far more fun than expected.
The past shapes her future crafting two conflicting personalities. The genius design of this story is how they brought about the idea of Cruella separate from Estella. Estella fancies herself a fashion designer who is profoundly underappreciated by most people around her, except two close friends and ironically, dogs. She lives under this persona for most of her life in order to be less damaging to those around her.
Later, a grown-up Estella gets an opportunity to work for a 1970’s British, Miranda Priestly-type called The Baroness, played by Emma Thompson. Cruella begins to emerge as Estella sees an opportunity to dethrone The Baroness. This woman who will give anything to keep her spot at the top of the fashion hierarchy quickly becomes challenged by newcomer designer Cruella. Once Cruella unleashes on the world, there is no stopping her. It is hard to design a villain in a villain origin story who is worse than the villain herself. Yet, the humanization of Estella and Cruella brings about an empathy for the character that makes you root for her to take down The Baroness.
Dress for Success
Further, the story twists and turns as Estella’s relationship with The Baroness evolves. This film morphs from a “learning from the master” tale to a “the student becomes the teacher” story. Once Estella’s nice girl personality loses to the madness of Cruella the richness of the story unfolds. The costume design shows this arc with dramatic and divine looks. Although, a montage mid-film moves so rapidly that some of the best wardrobe moments are not able to be savored. This movie’s production design in total demands Academy Awards attention. Emma Stone carries the costumes like a badge of honor. Everything is too much yet just right. There is a brilliant stark contrast between The Baroness’ pristine, controlled life and Cruella’s colorful and expressive presentation. Cruella really is black and white and red all over.
The love story of this film is between Estella and Cruella. Which of her personalities will win out, but also can she learn to love who she really is. This complicated personal journey left little room for romantic entanglements. Yet, laced throughout is the connection between Jasper and Cruella. Not much explored, this relationship does not mirror the stepped-on lackeys of the original 101 Dalmations. In the original, the characters of Jasper and Horace are just fools who work as Cruella demands. In the film, they still do her bidding, but they are evolved enough to reject her rudeness. Jasper, particularly, loves Estella but finds it hard to appreciate Cruella. So until Estella and Cruella find equilibrium, Jasper finds himself chasing after a girl who may no longer exist.
Because of Jaspers’s shift and wanting to reshape some of Cruella’s image, this film could be called revisionist history. We may think we know where this story is going, but based on the twists in turns, any sequel may not lead to the cruel Cruella we are waiting for. Yet, it should. The purpose of an origin story is to craft an impactful narrative that explains the hero. This character did not reach villain status. Eventually, she will need to become an antagonist herself. The big question about Cruella is what makes her mean, rude, and bitter and we still don’t have the answer. A sequel will change the way the audience feels about her knowing there is a big leap she will need to make to change into the Cruella we all know is coming.
- In Theaters or on Premier Access