Cruella: Villain By Design and the Upcoming Sequel

Emma Stone as Cruella De Vil in "Cruella".
Image Source: Walt Disney Pictures
Heavy Spoilers Bar

What’s black, white, and watched all over? Cruella arrived in near-perfect fashion, earning Disney a chic $26.4 million over the four-day 2021 Memorial Day weekend. Between theaters and Disney+ Premier Access, the numbers have since continued in the film’s favor. To no one’s surprise, Cruella was a bonafide hit. Disney was quick to greenlight a sequel (rumor is they’re eyeing 2024) but what could that film entail? In order to figure out what’s next for the devilish designer, let’s examine what went right in the first installment.

A Story About Estella

Emma Stone as Estrella in "Cruella"
Image Source: Walt Disney Pictures

Cruella is the tale of Estella (Emma Stone), an impoverished, aspiring designer with a mean streak that dates back to her childhood. In a stroke of luck, she’s hired by the Baroness (Emma Thompson) a wicked fashionista who is intrigued by the young woman’s edgy take on the style world. 

But when Estella notices that the Baroness has stolen a necklace that belonged to her late mother, she hatches a plan to get it back. With the help of her cohorts, Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry) Estella unleashes her alter ego that simmers just below the surface: Cruella. And her once streamlined plan to retrieve a family heirloom evolves into a dastardly tale of self-discovery and revenge. There are dress parachutes, the best costuming Hollywood has to offer, and a one-eyed chihuahua named Wink (A new character who will steal your valuables and your heart). 

The storyline of Cruella is a little wackadoodle. I can only describe it as a couture Tim Gunn fever dream. But it’s filled with careful decision-making to appease the Disney fanbase that knows and loves their villains. Don’t believe me? Check the 97% Rotten Tomatoes audience score. Emma Stone is undeniably good in this role. I don’t how much she practiced her Cruella laugh in the mirror, but it was worth every bellowing trial run. The mod-punk fashion is so fun to watch on screen. To allow for these looks, the creatives moved these characters from the 1950s (like we met them in 101 Dalmatians) to the 1970s. This setting choice also opened the door to an incredible roster of era-specific soundtrack tunes, from the likes of The Doors to Nina Simone.

Emma Stone as Cruella De Vil
Image Source: Walt Disney Pictures

The Baroness is another great edition. She’s far more unlikable than Cruella at her worst. Which allows us to side with Stone and emotionally journey with her through the film. Making a baddie likable is tough, but Cruella pulls it off with ease. One of the strengths of this film is the dichotomy of Estella. Her evil alias is believable because the groundwork is set for potential villainy. Which is something I felt Disney missed the mark on in their first villain live-action adaptation, Maleficent.

Avoiding Maleficent Mistakes

When you only have two live-action stores featuring popular bad gals, it’s difficult to not make comparisons. To be fair, that they’re both good in their own regard (except the Maleficent sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is very bad). But Cruella simply succeeds in ways the latter does not.

Like most films, the De Vil is in the details. So is good decision-making when building out a character. Starting Cruella out sporting black and white hair as a child may seem like a no-brainer, but it speaks volumes. This choice shows the duality of the character, split right down the middle. Cruella always had the capacity for bad. When she later capitalizes on it in the film, it feels like a just evolution. We as the audience anticipated this might happen. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is a kind fairy who after trauma, goes through a metamorphosis which leads her down the path of an antagonist. It’s far more difficult to believe that young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) could ever lean into evil. Also, why did her parents name her “Maleficent”? That’s like calling your child “Destruction” or “Sinister”? Nothing like setting your kids up for success. 

Angelia Jolie as Maleficent in "Maleficent".
Image Source: Walt Disney Pictures

Furthermore, the writers go on to declaw Maleficent, so to speak. She loves Aurora (Elle Fanning), she loves the Moors, she’s depicted as a fierce protector. Cruella loves her late mother. But she abandons her morals for a large part of the film to pursue her wants. She acts impulsively, selfishly. Cruella even revels in the rumor of being a puppy killer. Villains should be villains. No one is watching this to see that their favorite wrong-doer did no wrong. As a viewer, I want to witness the villain’s descent into madness. Maybe even empathize at times, but I don’t want to feel lied to. Word to the upcoming Madame Mim origin story film, don’t stray too much from the heart of the formula. Being bad can be good.

The Sequel: A Doggone Retelling

Of course, Cruella wasn’t the last we’ll see of the titular character. Emma Stone has signed on the dotted line to reprise her role. As far as the next installation goes, I’d go the route of retelling 101 Dalmatians. Only this time, it’s told through Cruella’s perspective. This approach is much like what the Maleficent movies did, but in reverse. First, tell the origin, then the sequel revolves around the OG property.

My film synopsis: 

Cruella and 101 Dalmatians: In this story, we catch up with Cruella; who is now more famous for her garments than ever. However, she’s facing a creative block. Seeking inspiration she visits Anita and Rodger who have recently started dating. Their dalmatians, Pongo and Perdita have caught the love bug as well. Perdita is very pregnant. As the many dalmatian puppies are born, Cruella realizes she must go back to her most controversial era. She must design a line inspired by the pups. Even if that makes her look bad, it will get people talking.

Through spending time with the couple, Cruella constructs her most daring line yet. But everything comes to a screeching halt when a woman appears on a television broadcast (Olivia Wilde) claiming that she is the true heir to The Baroness’s fortune, a fortune that now belongs to Cruella. Her demands are simple, Cruella’s monetary possessions, Hell Hall, and the dalmatians. All of them. Including the pair, she gifted to Roger and Anita and by extension, their puppies.

Cruella's Panther De Ville from "Cruella".
Image Source: Walt Disney Pictures

Cruella will not stand for it. But the dogs are stolen in the middle of the night. It’s up to Cruella, Horace, Jasper, Rodger, and Anita to team up, catch those puppies, and prove that she is the one true heir to the Baroness’s fortune. The film could end with Cruella publicly revealing the woman to be a phony, an actress hired by the Baroness from behind bars. The message of the movie: we are not the sum of where we come from, we can break stigmas and control our destinies.

The last scene of the film would depict Cruella’s wedding to Jasper. All of the characters and puppies are in attendance. Cruella stands before the crowd dripping with diamonds, decked out in a half black, half white, dalmatian-spotted wedding gown. She throws the bouquet and Anita catches it. Cruella and Jasper drive away in the iconic Panther De Ville with a just married sign across the bumper. Pongo and Perdita nuzzle each other, creating a heart within the negative space of their bodies. After all, happily ever after is in this season.

4 stars

What did you think of Cruella and the plot for the upcoming sequel? Let us know in a comment below. 

Cruella is streaming now on Disney+

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