In the Disney realms of magic, princesses, and happily ever afters, there exists a little evil and cruelty but there’s also Cruella de Vil, undoubtedly the evillest of villains to ever exist in the House of Mouse.
If you think about it, every villain in the Disney roster of evil has an underlying rationale that… well, makes a little sense. Gaston was in love with Belle and believed that she was being threatened by the Beast, while Ursula was (from a certain point of view) giving Ariel what she wanted, and teaching her a lesson to not change herself. Meanwhile, Hades isn’t evil: he simply punished bad people and rewarded the good when they died, which is kind of his job.
But in 101 Dalmatians, Cruella is a narcissistic snob who skins innocent puppies for her self-serving needs, so when director Craig Gillespie had the opportunity to do a movie on the renowned fashion designer, he made it a mission to change viewers’ perceptions of the villain.
“It was really important to me that it’s not black and white – obviously no pun intended there with Cruella – but I wanted there to be this gray area and be able to empathize with the choices that she was making and the situations that she was responding to,” said Gillespie during a press conference for the upcoming live-action origin story that Geek Culture attended.
“Villains are always so fun to portray because you have license to do things that aren’t quite appropriate or push the boundaries, and create these larger-than-life characters.”
Set during the 1970s London punk-rock era, Cruella looks at the villain’s childhood, formative teen years, and her early adulthood narrated and portrayed by award-winning actress Emma Stone. Whilst most origin stories pertaining to a villain have a ‘good gone bad’ turning point ala Maleficent, where the faerie set out to harm Aurora in an act of revenge against the King for sexually assaulting her, Cruella – whose real name is Estella – has always been mean and calculative, she just doesn’t think she is.
“I don’t think I would ever be able to play a character if I truly thought they’re just bad, they’re just a villain. Do you think anybody evil walks through the world thinking they’re evil? I think they think they’re right,” shared Stone about her character.
Whilst admitting that de Vil is in fact a bad person, Stone finds the villain an undoubtedly intriguing character to play. Given the choice of being Estella or Cruella, the actress chose the latter. She continues, “Estella is sweet but she’s not fully embodied so there is something about Cruella that’s pretty enticing because she is just kind of who she is. She’s in full acceptance and autonomy, so I am kind of interested in that Cruella world. That said, she does some things, some lines that I don’t think I would necessarily cross but to be honest, I sort of prefer Cruella.”
In Cruella, fans also meet the famous villain’s henchmen, Horace (Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (Joel Fry), as well as beloved 101 Dalmatians characters Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and Roger (Ayvan Novak) too. Whilst seeing these characters brought to life will definitely excite fans, the story also introduces a much bigger evil in the form of another Emma, The Baroness, played by Emma Thompson.
Disney’s very own Miranda Priestly of The Devil Wears Prada, The Baroness takes de Vil under her wings and lunges her into the insanely cut throat industry of fashion, but albeit, with lesser love compared to Priestly. Just like Cruella, The Baroness is just as narcissistic, and very competitive.
The two big bad rival each other in anything and everything, each exposing their unwavering genius and evil. The movie presents the dark side of the ‘girl boss’ attitude and how self-preservation can take an ugly turn, and Stone would go so far as to say that Cruella is the darkest Disney film to date.
“Craig and (scriptwriter) Tony (McNamara) kind of write and make what they wanted to make. I think it’s definitely dark for a Disney movie. Maybe not for like a really intense kind of R-rated film but yeah, it was darker than I’ve seen a Disney movie for a good long time,” shared Stone. “I mean, you know, the original character of Cruella de Vil does get to some pretty dark places.”
Thompson couldn’t agree more and is in fact, excited that Disney is exploring rotten bad women without hesitance or as we previously said, without rationale. After all, Thompson has, for years, always played “good women in frocks”, either as Nanny McPhee, or the eccentric Professor Sybill Trelawney in the Harry Potter series. Now, she could play a big bad woman who not only knows that she is bad, but is completely unapologetic about it too.
“Like [Emma], I am very interested in the dark side of a female character, because they’re so rarely allowed to be dark. You know, we’re all supposed to be nice and good, aren’t we? But The Baroness is just so single-minded, and she says this wonderful thing – ‘If I hadn’t been single-minded, I might have had to put my genius at the back of the drawer like so many other women of genius who died without producing anything and without using their genius’,” recalled the 62 year old British actress.
“I wouldn’t necessarily walk that path but her commitment to her own creativity is rather admirable.”
With Disney’s most recent movies like Raya and the Last Dragon, Mulan and Frozen focused on women overcoming odds, Cruella takes a shocking turn that is both welcomed and exciting. If Cruella de Vil is the future of fashion, then the edgy Cruella movie is the future of Disney films.
Catch Emma Stone as Cruella and Emma Thompson as The Baroness in Disney’s Cruella when it releases in cinema on 27 May 2021, and Disney+ via premier access on 28 May 2021.